One of the key concepts developed by Ruby K. Payne in her books A Framework for Understanding Poverty, and Bridges out of Poverty, Strategies for Professionals and Communities is that of “mental models”. Simply put, a mental model is a mental image that you have of someone that determines the language and behavior that you use when interacting with, and amount of respect that you have for them. Dr. Payne specifically applies this concept to how we form images of people from generational poverty, middle, or wealthy classes.
We also form mental models of people who we interact with on a daily basis at work. These models are based upon our own experiences in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, and influenced by culture, race, economic status, family, friends, faith, spirituality, conflict, living and work environments etc. As such they are highly biased and confirmed by selective reinforcement (confirmation bias) over time. These mental images become our fixed reality, accurate in analyzing and interpreting action and value of others.
All too often our mental models blind us from recognizing and appreciating the thinking and unique problem solving approach brought by diversity. While at work, we tend to judge coworkers and team members who have similar behavior, disposition, values, and work patterns as being an asset and those who are dissimilar as being a liability. Highly motivated coworkers sometimes find themselves performing tasks that have become misaligned with the values that initially attracted them to the team or organization resulting in poor performance. Those who are “different” or poor performers are often devalued over time without regard to their function or work environment.
While work ethic, job specific practices, competency, and procedure are very important, so is a sense of individual competency, value alignment, and a work environment where people are appreciated for their personalities and divergent skill sets. Developing relationships of mutual respect is transforming. Feeling like others believe in you is very powerful!
Why not set aside that mental model of your team member and free yourself to fully release your gifts in the process?