Why Our Wiring Matters

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m just wired that way” when explaining why they think the way they do?

Or conversely, “we’re just wired differently” when agreeing to disagree?  It’s as if our individual brains are all just a bunch of computer boards put together with a unique set of blueprints. None of us are exactly alike when it comes to how our minds work. And while there are external factors and forces that affect how we think and react, much of our behavior is in fact hard-wired.

Have you ever predicted how someone close to you will react in a certain situation? Have you ever dreaded having to confront someone about a situation because you just knew they would lash out, be defensive or perhaps burst into tears? If you answered yes, it’s not because you are psychic, more likely it’s because you understand their wiring (and have a certain level of empathy).

And understanding someone’s wiring is a powerful tool. It can be used for good (learning how to communicate with them more effectively) or evil (knowing how to push their buttons).

Although most of us are intrinsically aware of what our “wiring” is, it takes effort and perhaps an “aha moment” to put this knowledge into actions and positive results. I was recently made aware of this concept when I took a Gallup Strengths and Behaviors survey as part of a professional workshop. The “survey” was a series of what seemed to be alternately common sense and obtuse questions. There was a time limit for each question  with the reasoning that the first “go with the gut” answers are preferable to over analyzing.

As with most personality tests, the same questions were asked in a myriad of ways and the respondent was asked to rate themselves on a scale sort of like: “applies to me, somewhat applies to me, neutral, somewhat doesn’t apply to me, etc.” Questions related to things like leadership, ability to execute ideas, strategic thinking, empathy and adaptability. The results were presented as “signature themes” focusing on core strengths. In other words, identifying your strengths with the goal of maximizing them in the workplace and beyond.

I found the results of my survey to be both validating and surprising.

For example, I scored high in empathy, which was defined as “the ability to sense the feelings of other people by imagining themselves in others lives or others situations.” I fully agree with that part of my assessment as I consider myself a people person and love opening up to others. “They really nailed this” I thought.

On the other hand, I also scored high in the “Activator” category which is described as: “People who are talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.” Okay so far, but the analysis went on to say “It’s very likely that you are aware that people say you can be both domineering and threatening.” No, I thought, I was not aware of that! But upon further review, that may explain some things. Hence, the “aha” moments.  And there’s more, the report stated: “your forthright approach encourages many individuals to be as open with you as you are with them.”  This was good. Mutual openness in relationships has always been important to me.

As I read through my analysis, I found myself nodding in agreement at many of the statements, and occasionally stopping to ponder others. It’s always kind of strange to read an analysis about yourself.

My top five “themes” are; activator, input, maximizer, empathy and adaptability. One of my highest scoring traits is leadership, which makes me a bit uncomfortable. To acknowledge myself as a leader seems like I am being arrogant or something. Maybe it’s a hard-wired female thing, the need to be  humble and follow. I would never want my daughter to feel uncomfortable being called a leader. But there it was.

In the interest of full disclosure, and because my father always told me to “know your strengths and weaknesses,” I will share the areas in which I did NOT score particularly high. These were; analytical thinking (I’m more go with the flow), strategic planning (I’m definitely not a visionary) and execution (I have lots of ideas and enthusiasm but it takes me longer to get things done). There, my weaknesses bared for all to see!

Much of the analysis described me as a strong, take action type of person with good people skills,  which I mostly agree with, and yet I still wondered how a series of seemingly random and often strangely worded questions could result in an accurate description of how I’m wired?

Particularly since I believe I was not always wired this way. In my own story, I remember myself as a very shy, sensitive child. I rarely spoke up and never disagreed with others.

As I grew older, I was drawn to people who had strong, outgoing and sometimes opinionated personalities. Did this change who I was to become as an adult or was I always wired this way and just needed to push the “on” button?

Part of this shift could be explained by the fact that people tend to develop more confidence with age. There is the saying that after a certain age (40/50?) you stop caring what other people think. And that may be part of why we become more outspoken with others. Does this mean our wiring changes? Or does it just evolve? Sidebar: Maybe thats why women seem to go into politics later in life. Food for thought..

So, what to do with this newfound understanding of my “wiring”?

The “empathetic” part of me will use it to understand how others may view me, ultimately leading to better relationships and connections. (I should point out that the empathetic side of me is largely what drives this blog.) The Activator and Maximizer in me will use this information to capitalize on my strengths to improve my performance at work and in relationships. Which was after all, the point of this particular assessment.

All in all, I was impressed with the accuracy and in depth analysis that resulted from taking the survey. I believe that understanding my own wiring a little better will lead to a more rewarding life in many areas. I am all about self improvement and to me, this is just one way of getting to know your strengths and weaknesses and making changes if needed.

There are many personality, career and strengths assessments available. The one I took was called Clifton Strengths Finder. I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences with this type of survey. If you took one, did you find the results to be accurate? Useful?

Here’s to continual self awareness and growth!


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