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Ignoring Social Cues

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It’s ironic that Trust Agents talks about two things that are equally important, but actually contradictory.

What are they? The first of the behaviours is understanding social cues, and the second is pattern-breaking. Why are they opposites? See below.

Social Cues

Being a human artist implies an understanding of social cues, like body language, status, and a million other things that people feel out in daily life, largely without knowing about it. For example, you show an understanding of status when you act differently with your boss than your co-worker, for example. But whichever social cues we’re talking about, they are an example of behaving the way others expect us to, and fitting into their ideas of how to interact with them.

Basically, when we behave in a way that makes people feel comfortable, we do it by not setting off any alarms or behaving differently. By doing so, we can make sure they aren’t defensive and, as a result, become closer to them.

Pattern-Breaking

When we talked about patterns in Trust Agents, they’re discussed in our Make Your Own Game chapter, which is about “dominating niches,” to use a phrase I kind of hate… but it’s true. I’ve talked about pattern-breaking in talks I’ve done (as has Chris) so many times that it’s gotten very basic for us, but it remains important to understand that it’s about discomfort and making people see you in a different way.

Do you see why the two are opposites now? One is about fitting in while the other is about standing out. So basically I’m wondering whether it’s possible to do both at the same time (with the same people).

Here’s the way I see it: Fitting in is valuable if you’re not “not important,” while being an iconoclast is a good strategy if you’re “important.”

Another way to look at this is: In order to make yourself seem “important,” become an iconoclast (disrupt patterns). This shows people that you don’t follow the rules, which makes you seem like you’re a leader in the space.

Does that make sense? Or am I totally off my rocker?

* Filed by Julien at 12:00 pm under direction, strategy


Hi, I’m Julien Smith. I'm the founder and CEO of Breather.

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11 Responses to “Ignoring Social Cues”

  1. Jana Says:

    What I’ve found is that you need to fit in enough that when you come up with something totally different, people listen to you.

    If you are always an iconoclast, you run the risk that people will stop paying attention to you totally at which point you’ve lost your ability to influence people.

    I think that there’s a time and a place, and that they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Or maybe that’s just my Rotman-branded Integrative Thinking curriculum coming out.

  2. Whitney Says:

    I think once you establish a rapport or common ground, then you are expected to stand out and deliver something to the table. If you are in the problem solving business, you really have to “get” a client’s position, and feelings and perspective in order to do a good job in finding a solution they can use, live with and implement. You stand out by showing you understand them and can reach out to them where they are, yet bring them along forward and provide the boost they need to raise their game.

    It’s a dance, really, between same and different, between old and new, and the trick is to bring folks along at a pace that doesn’t cause too much pain, unless of course, you have a great group that loves the “band-aid” pull result, in which case, you can avoid what Dr. Martin Luther King called “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

  3. Eric Says:

    You have to completely understand something before you can know the best way to advance within in. You have to learn the intricacies of social cues in order to know which ones can be pushed or even broken. Instead of thinking of it as fitting in and simultaneously standing out, think of it as fitting in to know how to stand out later.

  4. Lisa Yallamas Says:

    I don’t know if “unimportant” is the word. “Chosen”. The chosen ones are rarely pattern recognisers. They use pattern recognisers. The leadership skills set of these two are completely different. The former need to control social patterns. The latter need to understand them.

  5. Lisa Yallamas Says:

    What you seem to be identifying is the difference between monochromatic monolithic cultures versus vibrant diversity – which takes a more skilled leadership model. Like Obama versus Bush.

  6. Andrea Ross Says:

    According to Crash Davis, we earn our right to be pattern-breakers:

    “Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press’ll think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you’re a slob.”

  7. Tamsen Says:

    I think the mark of true Trust Agent is knowing when and how to use both.

  8. Darin Persinger Says:

    I look at the book INFLUENCER in regards to this. They share the idea of “positive deviance”, “Vicarious experience”, “Actual experience”.

    By listening, joining the community, becoming one of them, you can discover where they want to go. No human being wants static, status quo. We desire growth and change.

    Many people want to go some where and make changes but might not know how. If you can break their pattern or give them a vicarious experience its now up to them.

    You can lead a horse to water…Or you can find a thirsty horse and lead it to water.

  9. Joseph Engel Says:

    In high school my jazz improv teacher would always say, “Learn the basics, then throw them out the window.”

  10. Michael Bigger Says:

    Coming from a small town in Quebec(LaTuque), wanting to go work on Wall Street and knowing only French, I never fitted in. I basically kicked and screamed my way to New York. All along I have told the naysayers they were full of sh*t.I made it pretty big considering my humble beginnings. Being a disrupter worked for me because I had no alternative. Maybe I am not a disrupter but instead a delinquent. I don’t know.

  11. Amber Whitener Says:

    I don’t know if you are off your rocker or not, but you do bring up a good point.

    The thought provoking part, for me:
    Why am I wasting time trying to “fit the mold”?

    I have a great one of my own to fit into.

    I guess it’s seemed easier to try to fit someone else’s mold rather than create my own and then try to fit into it. It’s all about potential vs. comfort. hmmmm. . . I guess that’s my next blog post. Thx Julien!

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