Sunday, March 30, 2008


Psychologists have these things called schemata. A schema is like a dominant narrative in your brain for how things work: many and specific things like what’s supposed to happen when you walk into a hotel lobby or how the steps in a staircase are supposed to be evenly spaced.

If you go to your friend’s house and all the steps are different heights, you’ll probably trip once or twice if you try to skip up or down the stairs the way you usually do.

Is that your fault for not watching where you’re going? Or is it his for violating our unwritten social agreement on how steps are supposed to work?

When you violate the schema it makes people very uncomfortable. It’s not necessarily bad; it just makes people think when they’d rather be experiencing something else. Try this mini experiment: As you pass people in the hallway at work, ask how they’re doing. EVERY TIME. Wait for an answer. Don’t resort to that head-nod or eyebrow-raise on the fourth or fifth encounter. Start that fifth meeting with something like, “So what else did you do this weekend?”

Then sit back and let the breakthrough communication honey flow.

Or duck.


People – in general – don’t like to be made to think. They like to sort things quickly into comfortable and pre-determined categories. They don’t like different – at least not at first.

Still, we all want to be different. When people come to your house … or your place of business … is your brand of different “meeting or exceeding expectations” or just making everybody uncomfortable?

h/t Chad who doesn’t have a Web site yet.

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