Of course, observing others’ behavior doesn’t mean much if you don’t have something to compare those behaviors to – a reference standard as it were. The most important thing to compare others’ behavior to is your own system of values. What are values? Values are beliefs that are so deeply entrenched that they consistently drive certain behaviors. Our beliefs actually lie on a continuum that ranges from “opinions” through to “beliefs” and ultimately to “values”. At each stage on this continuum, the beliefs become more solidified; opinions are fairly open to re-evaluation when new information is acquired. Beliefs are more entrenched, but remain malleable although they require a lot of new information to change. But values are very deeply set and are usually interwoven with the personality. That’s why understanding someone else’s value system is so important…it reflects that person’s personality and predicts a set of behaviors that will ultimately be very difficult to change in your relationship with that person. Values tend to relate to things such as honesty, fidelity, generosity, child-rearing, education, spending priorities, etc. As you can see, cluing in to someone’s values can have critical diagnostic value for you.
The third step then, is to understand your own values. What is really important to you? What are your non-negotiables? What kind of person would bring out the best in you…and what kind the worst? Only if you understand your own deepest and most important beliefs, can you relate to what you see or don’t see in someone else.