Through our experiences with friends and colleagues, we form a mental model of each person we know.
1. The “Business Card” Stage
When you meet a person for the first time, you tell each other basic facts about yourselves. You exchange business cards (or calling cards or name cards). You get to know superficial information about each other:
- Organizational affiliation
- Position in the organization
- Academic “pedigrees”
- Telephone numbers: direct landline, cellphone, fax line
- Geographical addresses: work and residence
- Email address
- Website of the organization
When you accept each other as a friend or a link in a virtual social network such as Facebook or LinkedIn, the same thing happens when you access each other’s profile page, except that you get usually more information about each other through this medium. Members of social networks can also update, add/modify, decide who gets to see how much about himself and engage in a large variety of voluntary interactions with each other.
People can become “acquaintances” but this is a superficial level of relationship. Most relationships stop at this stage. A small percentage proceeds to the next stage.
2. The “Regularized Communication” Stage
When two people communicate regularly for personal, work-related, social or other reasons, they begin to see behavior patterns of each other and they form mental models of each other. This process is very often an unconscious process on both sides. Our mental model of a person we know consists of:
- Memories of his actions particularly those that we liked or disliked
- Personal or work-related qualities we attach to the person based on the pattern of our experiences with him
- Labels or words we associate with the person
- Our judgments or attitudes towards the person or how he “measures up” to our own internal standards
- Our memories of pleasures or hurts we experienced with or due to (in our perception) the person
- Our level of comfort or trust on the person
3. The “Mutually Imprisoned” Stage
It is an unfortunate fact that in most cases, we form and revise mental models of people we know largely in an unconscious and therefore unsystematic manner.
Yet, our mental models of people we know, once established inside our heads, affect the way we behave and communicate with those people. They provide screens which color or slant our perceptions of those people. We stop seeing them as they truly are because our mental models act as if we are looking at them through colored eyeglasses or lenses. If our mental models of a person includes a strong judgment we have formed about him, for better or for worse, that person becomes the beneficiary or victim of our (internal) judgment.
We stop seeing people as they truly are because our experiences about him from the past intrude in how we experience him in the present. Our mental models then become our self-inflicted but unconscious mental box or mental prison that dictates how we relate to the person for the rest of our life. Then, we both become the unknowing victims of our unconscious mental models of each other. Unfortunately, we are often unaware that we have entered the “mutually imprisoned” stage.
A common negative result of this tyranny of our mental models of each other is divorce. It is likely that spouses who have come to dislike each other have formed mental models of each other that are no longer true representations of the other person. A well-known positive result of the tyranny of our mental models is the public adulation over Michael Jackson. It is likely that the mental model of Michael Jackson in the mind of a fan is a distant or perhaps distorted representation of the true Michael Jackson. Whether positive or negative, our unconscious mental models can act like tyrants who distort our thinking and seeing without our knowledge and permission.
To escape this stage, we need tools for consciously managing our mental models about people we work with — a pre-requisite for productive learning and working together as a group. We need Indigo Learning Practices.
Thanks to Wikimedia Commons and my acknowledgement to Alan Light for the use of the image in this blog post.
Tags: communication, divorce, friendship, indigo learning, indigo learning practices, judgment, knowledge management, learning, mental model, Michael Jackson, personal KM, personal knowledge management, relationship, relationship capital, social network, team learning, trust