Here at EIA, we spend our daily lives immersed in various aspects of the science of human behaviour. As well as conducting analyses, our own research, and keeping up with new research from others, we also teach, consult and coach others in these diverse areas of science. In doing so, we’ve noticed that there often arises a divide amongst students and clients in respect to what they are looking to achieve through learning about human behaviour. This split, in simple terms, is between external and internal analysis of behaviour.
Those with a more external focus of analysis are motivated by the ability to learn more about, and gain greater insights into, the behaviours of others. The direction from which behavioural data is collected, and the perspective from which the considerations are made on this data are looking through the focused lens of answering questions on what is happening ‘over there’ with ‘that person’, and why?
- What might the use of that particular phrase have indicated in the performance review with your employee?
- Why did your partner suddenly change the style of their language use to a more formal sounding language when you mentioned last night’s party?
- Why did your teenage son’s face flush red, and his jaw tense, when you mentioned his schoolteacher?
These are all useful questions and answering these may be important to better understand those we interact with personally and professionally on a daily basis.
Those individuals that have more of an internal view in understanding human behaviour, have a different driver. The direction from which their behavioural data is collected, and the perspective from which considerations are made in this group is more self-directed, reflective, contemplative, and developmental. Looking in the metaphorical (or literal) mirror and asking… Why am I behaving in this way, or feeling this way?
- What can I notice about my heart rate and breathing when I’m feeling anxious?
- Why did I shout when my manager gave me that feedback?
- How can I manage my responses more effectively when I notice myself getting angry?
Again, these questions are extremely useful to ask and reflect upon, and the importance of self-awareness, self-understanding, and self-management are fundamental ingredients to living a more positive and constructive life.
However, we need to find a balance between the internal and the external analysis of behaviour. There are times when our analysis may seem passive, such as analysing CCTV footage, or audio and video recordings of interviews. In these contexts, you may argue that only an external focus is required… But that’s far from the truth. Without a strong foundation of understanding ourselves, our triggers, our biases, and our responses and unconscious reactions to the ‘external’ subject of analysis, our conclusions on the data can be tainted and contaminated without being aware of it.
Equally, too strong an internal focus has its own issues. Our daily interactions are a dynamic feedback loop between us and those that we interact with. We need to consider the environment we find ourselves interacting in, the context of the interaction, as well as carefully monitor how the nature of our behaviour is impacting the behaviour of others, and then how that, in turn, is, once again, influencing us.
Considering a situation, interview, conversation or engagement of any type with only a first-person mindset, is to ignore data and contextual information that could be detrimental to our decisions, our actions, and our wider relationships. Then, only considering the external data ignores the impact on ourselves and those subtle psychological and physiological changes in our body and mind. This doesn’t give us the opportunity to learn, grow, and manage our responses appropriately in the moment and beyond.
When it comes to developing ourselves to be the best analysts of human behaviour, in a way that allows us to use our learning and skill to help ourselves and others effectively, we need to have a holistic approach to our development. We need to balance the internal with the external and, more importantly, consider the impact that they have on each other. In this way, we can utilise the information we gain in far more effective and efficient ways to understand, develop, and guide appropriate action.
So, on your behaviour analysis journey, be sure to use both the lens and the mirror when considering the world in which we live and those we live with.