When is Like Attracted To Like?
This blog series began by exploring the ‘law of attraction’ as derived from ‘The Secret’ (Yes, I am still saying it in hushed tones!) Last entry dealt with the question, ‘Do Opposites Attract?’ My answer, no, but differences can be attractive. In this post, I want to pick up with the last thing I said last time, which is that when it comes to building relationships, common ground is essential.
Like Attracted To Like
Ok, I’m going to let the researchers from the Iowa Marital Assessment Program share their work, then I’ll comment some more.
“People may be attracted to those who have similar attitudes, values, and beliefs, and even marry them – at least in part – on the basis of this similarity because attitudes are highly visible and salient characteristics and they are fundamental to the way people lead their lives…However, once people are in a committed relationship, it is primarily personality similarity that influences marital happiness because being in a committed relationship entails regular interaction and requires extensive coordination in dealing with tasks, issues and problems of daily living.”
Is it just me, or is this maddeningly obtuse? Personality similarity? Does that mean that two analytical socializers are going to be happy together? And if so, how do you explain the fact that in almost every successful couple I have known, there’s a more gregarious person with an often shy person, or someone with lots of libido with someone who has low libido, or someone with strong social leanings with someone who prefers their own company.
Let’s Define Terms
As for putting attitudes, values and beliefs in the same collection…I think that makes for a muddier set of study results. Let me define my terms. Attitudes = our motivations and opinions about things. Values = that which we deem important enough to use as the bedrock of our lives. Beliefs = assumptions, limiting or useful, formed through generalization, deletion and distortion of the available data.
Of course, I should ask my wife, she reads different things into this kind of stuff than I do. But it seems that the researchers are attributing personality distinctions to their subjects that are actually behavioral in nature. And if you remove the word personality from their writing, it doesn’t cost you anything and the meaning becomes clearer, people like people who are like them in some very basic ways.
Common Ground Found In Shared Values
I believe the most powerful common ground in relationships is that of shared values. If you and another person believe or think the same kinds of things and experiences are important, you’ll be able to work together to problem solve and share the positive results after. If you deem the same things to be the important things, when divisions arise, your shared values will hold you together.
Couples who build their relationships on the common ground of values can survive all kinds of life cycle events, even thrive, in spite of the differences that inevitably arise. But couples that lack shared values are likely doomed, regardless of how much else they have in common, to fight over and eventually move away from each other because of the lack of this basic bond.
When Values Are Different, Blend With Behavior
In lieu of having shared values with people we seek to work with, lead, manage or persuade, our main vector of approach is through behavioral blending. That’s where we send signals to others that we are on the same side. Since we people are more alike than different anyway, finding common ground ought to be a fairly simple proposition. Yet most people find it incredibly hard to do when their attention is on the differences that divide us one from another. That’s why the idea of blending is to move to common ground as quickly as possible.
Something as seemingly inconsequential as how fast or slow you talk, how loud or quiet you are, how assertive or passive you are, and even whether you’re standing or sitting, can have profoundly powerful effects on people sorting through their differences. They create enough of a connection, enough of a sense of common ground, that you may actually succeed in identifying more meaningful areas of common interest, and even work together for some soon to be agreed upon common good.
The Bottom Line In Resolving Conflict
A limo driver in Connecticut asked me as we drove to my hotel, ‘What are you here for?” I told him, “To give a speech.” “What about?,” he inquired. “Dealing with difficult people,” I told him. He practically swerved off the road, as he turned around and asked me, point blank, “HOW DO YOU DO THAT?” I told him I’d be happy to tell him if he promised to keep his eyes on the road, and apparently getting an answer to his question was important enough to get him to do just that. And there I was, asked for the bottom line of what I teach people. Here’s what I said, that day, and I’ve been saying it ever since:
“When we, as people, stand together on some common ground, we can resolve any differences that face us, overcome any challenge that threatens us. But when we stand apart and emphasize our differences, no solution is possible, because nobody cooperates with anybody who seems to be against them.”
I Offer You A Helping Hand
If you’d like to listen free to a $49 one hour audio program on “Dealing With People You Can’t Stand: How To Bring Out The Best In People At Their Worst,” simply head on over to LearnToPersuade.com. It’s fast paced, funny, and filled with great ideas for meeting people where they are and persuading them to change their bad behavior into something more productive.
I’m eager to hear your thoughts on common ground as the basis of successful persuasion and conflict resolution. Next post, I’ll talk about the real world practicality of visualization and affirmation, as opposed to the kind of fuzzy thinking about it promoted in ‘The Secret.’
Until then or sooner, be well,
Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.