Matters Column

People’s core values predict what can be expected from them

March 28, 2014
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Predictability: It’s almost never found — not in the weather, stock market, government, or almost any other facet of life.

There is one area of life where predictability is crucial to your well-being, and that is the predictability of people.

We make many decisions in life based on an assessment of the predictability in a long-term relationship with another person. The relationship may be political, such as voting and financial support for the candidate. It may be in choosing an employee, employer or business partner. It may be in choosing a spouse. It may be picking a vender for your business.

All of those decisions have significant impacts on your life.

There is a song whose lyrics fascinated me years ago and have stuck with me for 40 years. Listen to “The Snake” by Al Wilson on YouTube. It’s about a woman who takes in a snake she finds frozen by the roadside. When the snake becomes healthy after the warmth and shelter of the woman's home, it kills her. That was predictable: It was a snake.

If you understand the core values a person holds, you can predict in the long run what they will do.

We have an example of predictability ensconced in the White House. For example, the question has been raised as to why the president seemingly dislikes the British. It doesn't matter that they are our strongest ally in the world and we can depend on them. Obama's father is Kenyon. In the 1950s, Kenya experienced the Mau Mau uprising led by the future president of the country, Jomo Kenyatta. The Kenyans definitely deserved their freedom, and the Mau Mau uprising against elements of the British Army brought it to them, but it was a bloody uprising with horrific atrocities committed by both combatants. It is therefore predictable that Obama would have a cold feeling toward Pax Britannica.

When you hire people or form partnerships, you must try to find the core values of the person with whom you are forming a relationship. The quality of their work and their dependability will flow from their values — what culture, education, belief system, etc., governs them.

If they believe in honest hard work paying off, they will work hard and expect a reward. If you treat them fairly, they will treat you fairly. They will treat your business with respect because they will feel it is in their best interest if you succeed. They understand a symbiotic relationship where groups of people work together to accomplish a mutual goal.

On the other hand, if the employee, partner, spouse, etc., believes success is a function of luck and birthright, then you have a problem. Individuals do not respond to events taking place consistently. Each has their own response to an event. Facts are almost irrelevant. Because people have core values that determine their response to a stimulus, you can predict their actions through understanding what they believe.

Be careful about what is presented to you. My father told my brothers and me to be wary of the person who sings the loudest in church. Marcus Aurelius in “Meditations” warned about people who have to tell you how honest they are. Philosopher and comedian Chris Rock said that when you meet someone, remember that, in reality, you are meeting their representative. It takes awhile to find the real person — the person you will be dealing with in the long run.

And who are you? Are you someone people can depend on? What are the core values to which, over your lifetime, you will adhere? Putting aside the concept of good and evil and just being honest — who are you? If your partner, employee, vendor, etc., are honorable people, then in fairness shouldn't they find the same traits in you?

I have known some remarkably good people in my business career. They seemed to be aware of who they were and that it was important to be good people. I have known some remarkably evil people in my career. They did not seem to be self-aware or self-activating. It was as if they were acting under the influence of some outside force. The really troubling aspect of these people is that if someone were to pick the five most dangerous people to your business, they often would be the five most charming.

I believe in being aware. I once heard a conservationist say the reason coyotes today are so smart is because the dumb ones were killed off over the past 100 years.

The same is true in business. If you are unaware of predators, you risk being their victim.

A coyote’s core value is to eat your cat. He doesn't think about it or feel guilty. It's what he does. He is what he is. Unfortunately, human coyotes come well disguised. 

Paul Hense is the retired president of local accounting firm Hense & Associates and past chairman of the Small Business Association of Michigan.

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