Deeply embedded in nearly everyone are some similar core values like integrity, fairness, justice, and equality: granted each of us understands them differently. These values get “tucked” into our beliefs, which are impacted by a variety of things including influential people and life experiences. Additionally, we carry mental models which color our perceptions of the world.

Let’s imagine I value my ability to make quick decisions and take decisive action. My belief about you is that you take way too much time to make decisions and send me long emails (sometimes two paragraphs!). You also speak slowly and frequently don’t get to the point for quite a while. In other words, working with you is often frustrating.  

Now let’s say yesterday you sent me one of your long emails. I was in a hurry so I didn’t take the time to read the whole thing—thus not responding when you wanted me to. Today I’m walking down the hallway at work and I perceive you walking towards me. What do I do? Without thinking I turn and walk in a different direction, completely avoiding you. In other words, without being consciously aware of it, my value for quick action and belief that you don’t share that value, at all, triggers an immediate behavior when I perceive you walking towards me. Now I’m going to bring you into the picture. You perceive me walking towards you and then see me turn and walk the other way. You have already observed that I did not respond to your email when you asked me to and now I am avoiding you. It’s frustrating for you to work with me because you place a high value on the quality of your work and believe some people, like me, rush things and waste time because we aren’t as thoughtful or careful when we make decisions. Because of your values, beliefs, and perceptions about me, you now change your behavior. Maybe you go back to your office and send me an urgent email requesting an immediate answer to your email. Or, maybe you come after me as I walk the other direction, pretending I didn’t see you.  

Now I see your behavior of pursuit and this cycle between us starts to create a pattern.

If we had a high level of trust and respect between each other, the dynamic of perceptions, values, beliefs, and behavior between us would flow quite freely. But in our relationship, trust and respect are low, which is impacting our ability to get work done as effectively as possible.

It’s reasonable to believe we need to communicate our expectations to each other or to change our beliefs about one another. These things can certainly be helpful—and might be all we need to do—but what if the behavior that caused the challenges in our relationship doesn’t change?  Will communication or a change of beliefs be enough to build trust or respect? (Just think for a moment about all the times you’ve talked with someone repeatedly about something but the frustration has continued.) If not, what must change if trust and respect are going to improve?

If any variable in this perceptions/beliefs/behavior shifts, the entire cycle will change, at least to some degree; however, if the behavior that created the frustration doesn’t change, a revision of beliefs, perceptions, or even values probably won’t matter to the other person because behavior is the only thing they can fully access. In other words, if one of us has an evolution in perceptions, beliefs, or values, it could positively impact the relationship—but only if that change is reflected in outward conduct.