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How People Work

This model anchors our workshop on understanding and valuing differences. It demonstrates how individual differences in observations, judgments, and actions can be a source of innovation, creativity, and performance. Click on the model to explore the elements of how people work.

— Interactive Diagram: Use Mouse to Navigate  —

How People Work

A major piece of equipment comes with an instruction manual that tells you how it works and its compatibility with other pieces of equipment. Although people are a significant investment, they do not come with an instruction manual that tells you how they work, or their compatibility with other people. It is hard to maximize performance when you donít know how you work, or how you work with others. Itís even harder trying to work with you.

At the most basic level all people are designed to perform the same basic tasks — we observe, make judgments about people and situations, and chose a course of action that is in our own self-interest. It is this ability to walk into any situation and come to actions that are in our own self-interest that makes people extremely powerful and versatile. It allows us to survive and prosper in any situation. It makes us more powerful than any piece of equipment.

Although we all do the same process, there is a great deal of variation in our observations, judgments, and choices of action; even when we are in the same situation.


When we walk into a new moment of time we observe people and the situation. Through our five senses we take in about four million bits of information every second — that is a lot of observation about the world around us. This ability to quickly accumulate a great deal of “sense data” provides a tremendous information rich environment for making our judgments about people and situations.

But what we observe varies greatly, even when we are in the same situation. When we argue about our observations it reduces our ability to develop a thorough and accurate description of a situation. When we share our observations and build lists, it increases our ability to accurately and thoroughly describe a situation.

Judge People and Situations

Our ability to think allows us to analyze our “sense-database” in order to make judgments about people and the situation. Thinking is a process of developing criteria and applying logic to organize and interpret our sense data. The more we think, the more alternatives we identify for taking action. The more alternatives we have the better chance we have of finding the action that is in our own best interest.

But our criteria and logic varies greatly; even when we are in the same situation with the same people, we often make very different judgments. If we understand and value these differences it allows us to see complex situations from many different perspectives and, as a result, make better judgments about people and situations.


Based on our judgments we make a choice on what we want to do — we form intentions. Our intentions focus on what we want for ourselves, what we want for others, and what we want for our relationship with others. Once our intentions are formed, we will chose the action that gets us what we want.


We fulfill our intentions when we take action. The actions we chose vary greatly, even in the same situation, because we have different observations and different judgments about people and situations. When we understand and value differences in action it provides us with a range of alternatives. Exposure to other peopleís alternatives often leads to insights and innovation when choosing the best action for a given situation.

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How People Work (PDF)

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