Friday, 28 October 2011

Sameness or difference - where's your attention?

Time for a drink.
Here's another 'pattern' of thinking, or 'filter' which we use to make sense of the world. One to look out for in yourself, your partner, friends, colleagues, people you want to sell something to, in fact just about everyone!

Take a quick look at the two mugs in the picture. What do you notice about them? Go with your first reaction.

You may say "They look the same to me with maybe a few differences" or "They are different. But on reflection I can see some similarities". If at this point you find yourself shouting at the screen "They are totally different!" then you are probably one of the 20% of the population who make sense of things by noticing what's different. If you are having trouble seeing any differences at all, then you may be one of the 5% who sorts things out almost exclusively by sameness. Most of you will be in the 75% who start by noticing similarities and then notice the differences.

What does this mean?
To understand the distinctions between these two patterns, we need to explain the extremes. Of course you will be somewhere in between!

People who are motivated to look for similarities in things are less comfortable with change and uncertainty, more likely to stay in the same job, respond well to instructions, enjoy timetables, agenda & structure, prefer routine and dislike surprises. If you filter for sameness you will probably be good at seeing how people and things relate to each other.

People who are motivated by difference notice things that don't match, prefer variety, take risks to discover something new and prefer to find their own way rather than follow instructions. If you filter for difference you are likely to embrace change. Living with someone who filters for difference can be challenging as their strategy of refining distinctions between things, concepts etc makes it appear as if they are disagreeing with everything!


With many of us sorting information in similar ways this 'pattern' only becomes a problem in relationships when your styles are very different - when it can be quite difficult to see the other person's point of view.
This is something Jenny and I have had to learn ways to manage. Jenny is drawn to sameness, with difference. I am drawn to difference and often away from sameness. Again this is context related, which makes it hard for us to assume what the other will do in all situations.We can be contrary and confound each other by not doing what is expected. We manage this by checking out assumptions, often using the Reflective Listening technique we've described in previous posts.

What's your pattern?
What motivates you about your next holiday? Is it returning to the same favourite place, where you can feel at home with the area you know and people you know, yet still find new places to explore and new things to do? Or are you looking forward to going somewhere you've never been before, doing things you've never done before, meeting new people?

Here are some question areas for you to explore - to identify if this is a possible area of conflict for you:
  • "Tell me about the last two (handbags, cars, houses, kettles, dogs, outfits - or other item) you bought".
  • You will probably get a list of the benefits or features of the items. Along with this listen for how they are compared or contrasted by noticing words like: alike, similar, both, keep, the same, different,  unique, no relationship.  
  • Especially notice what they say first, or if you are asking yourself, what you say first.
  • If you can't hear a clear pattern probe a bit further, with"What influenced your choice in the end?"
  • If necessary repeat this in relation to another situation becaus the response may be clearer in a different context
There are of course subtle variations and as with all 'filters' or 'patterns' this can be 'context' related. That is you may choose your next holiday by going back to the same guest house you go to every year (sameness) but choose your food in a restaurant by what's new on the menu (difference).

We'd love to hear what your pattern is? How about your partner? Let us know what you have discovered and what the implications of this might be. Leave us a comment below.

How is this helpful?
Knowing that 80% of the population are more comfortable with similarity can influence how you present things. For example, we live in a house with a quirky layout and chose an estate agent who specialises in more unusual houses. ('Character home' in estate agent speak!) The treatment of the particulars and advertising was therefore skewed towards people who like something a bit different. To be successful this strategy needs to appeal to both partners buying a house in the case of a couple. Not surprisingly the statistics showed many people choosing to look at our house details - and then not taking their search any further once they viewed the floor plan.

We all missed the point that our house is in so many ways the same as other houses in the area. There's plenty of evidence to suggest we would have been more successful in achieving vieweings if we had started with its similarities and then introduced its differences as further features and examples of its character.
We'll remember that for next time! It just goes to show how you forget to apply what you know as second nature in one context, when you are operating in a quite different environment.

Want to find out more?
We highly recommend Justin  Collinge's book: Knowing You, Knowing Them, if you want to know more about this and other filters.

If you and your partner are having difficulty communicating and you don't quite understand why, then a session of couples coaching focussed on your language patterns may be just what you need to take the tension out of talking. Email us or telephone: 0800 298 5938

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