Questions to make sense of someone’s values
Beyond admiration and trustworthiness, when working with other people, it helps to have values aligned.
Someone’s actual values are what makes people tick. The main challenge when trying to infer them is to go beyond both the superficialities (i.e. all the talking people have rehearsed beforehand).
I posit that actual values can be inferred by figuring out: whom you look up to, how your non-working time is allocated, and how your major life decisions were carried out.
Here are the exact questions I use to learn about them:
People you admire. And why.
You’re looking for her role models and for what being “successful” means to her. Understand well the whys. It’s usually better to have more examples than just one person (three is probably the sweet spot).
What did you do yesterday after work/school? And last Sunday?
You want to get real, unfiltered data about how the person spends her “free time”. Time being the scarcest resource of all, this correlates very well with her actual priorities (even if she’s not aware of them). Interesting people to me tend to have some kind of obsession and actually invest time on it.
Understand what really drove her key life decisions.
Choice of college (plus major/minors), city and job changes. Everybody tends to have a well-rehearsed explanation for these topics. You must go beyond it. Life is not as smooth as the stories people usually tell in retrospect. Find who took part and influenced her decisions (e.g. what her parents wanted her to be? why?). Find all alternatives that were considered (it helps to deconstruct the excessively linear narrative and uncovers her actual decision process at the time). Look for the gaps, the periods in time that people do not highlight. Etc, etc.
Here’s the best technique I am aware of to detect bullshitters:
- Ask the person to explain you in details something she’s done (especially if she inadvertently claims to know it well.)
You know that there are people who like to amplify their own importance and to claim a lot to themselves in a way that doesn’t really matches reality. The test to uncover them is: If someone really knows something, she should be able to explain it to you in a very detailed but also, at the same time, in a very clear manner. (Corollary: don’t believe someone who hides herself behind complexity.)
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