Although I love Mark Twain’s delightful advice in the image above, from speaking with more than 100,000 people over the years in settings that minimize threat (and so the need for self-defence) I have uncovered one or two secrets about human beings that come in pretty handy. They are just about as close to ‘psychological laws’ as anything you are likely to encounter. The main ones are:
1. Absolutely everybody wants to be liked.
2. Everyone feels different inside (less confident, less able, more unstable etc.) from how they imagine other people feel
3. Even honest and courageous people who have accomplished things of real value in life feel a fraud much of the time.
It is Laws 1 & 2 that create particular problems in research – or at any place where we are engaging with others. This feeling that we will be disliked, that we appear ignorant or ineffective, that we don’t have status in the group, that we have little to offer, can reach epidemic proportions in situations where the tensions of time-limits, status, financial rewards and rivalry all take their toll. It is highly likely that people will put away or hide the best of themselves (as a defensive measure) in such circumstances. Everyone, from the CEO to the average Jill or Joe feels these things:
Law 4 is: as much as we might like to imagine we are free & independent, no-one is unaffected by the pressures both of the group and the voice inside their head!
So much is wasted in defensive strategies, repetition, denial and withholding. It is quite usual to go around the block seeing the same things over and over again in research. We need a Law 5:
Here is my attempt at it:
In spite of feelings of vulnerability and uncertainty it is possible and beneficial to create a setting that not only minimizes threat but that maximizes possibility. (law 5)
I thoroughly recommend a download of these suggestions, especially if you are a beginner and just setting out for some fieldwork that you feel nervous about. Just read through & remember, before you kick off your sessions! The pdf is here: