August 29, 2021
What are the "relating" languages? What strategies do we use when interacting with each other under various conditions? How does one formulate a new taxonomy in a field? What information can we glean from our own emotional and physical reactions? What is authenticity? What are the strengths and weaknesses of various personality typologies?
Sara Ness is a facilitator, teacher, and community-builder who is internationally known for popularizing the field of Authentic Relating. Among other things, she co-founded and ran two of the longest-running AR communities in the world, compiled the source text for Authentic Relating, and built an online platform for AR and Circling practice that has run events for more than 1,200 consecutive days. Sara has worked with tens of thousands of students in sectors from Google to Mindvalley to Burning Man, teaching authentic leadership and social health. Her passion is in understanding how people can work together to create fulfilling groups that balance belonging, productivity, and self-expression. You can email her at email@example.com or learn more on her website, authrev.org.
JOSH: Hello, and welcome to Clearer Thinking with Spencer Greenberg, the podcast about ideas that matter. I'm Josh Castle, the producer of the podcast. And I'm so glad you joined us today. In this episode, Spencer speaks with Sara Ness about the Relating Languages, communication patterns and styles, and emotional awareness and authenticity.
SPENCER: Sarah, welcome. It's great to have you on.
SARA: Thanks, Spencer. I'm so glad to talk to you again.
SPENCER: So I first wanted to ask you about this idea that you've been developing, the Relating Languages. What are the Relating Languages? And how can we use them?
SARA: Yeah. So I guess I want to say something first about why I thought that they were useful to come up with. So I teach this practice, Authentic Relating. And I've been really interested, for a long time, in how people communicate, starting from like co-living, and then into just like, ad hoc communities. And I got really into my practices, but then realized that for as good as these communication practices work, when people tried to do them with folks, they really didn't get along with or had a history with, like their parents or people they were on opposite sides of the political divide from, it just seemed like it broke down.
SPENCER: So we needed more like buy-in on both sides, or a warmer relationship, what was missing there.
SARA: I couldn't figure it out for a long time. But it was almost like both people had to be willing to have the same conversations for the conversation to happen. And also the people that had learned really "good communication" thought that everybody should do it. Like there was this strong bias of, okay, now that we've learned these really good communication skills, we just need to teach them to the rest of the world, and then everyone will get along.
SPENCER: Right. But the reality is, most people aren't going to have the skills, right.
SARA: I just looked at history, and I was like, wait for a second like that has never happened. We've never come up with an amazing idea, and then just gotten everyone to adopt it and solve all our problems.
SPENCER: Maybe toothbrushing is the closest.
SARA: Whoo, yeah, good one. But even then you've got all the arguments about fluoride? I don't know. So I started questioning if I'm not anticipating that people are going to change, is there something that would describe more of how we relate with each other? And why we get into some of the conflicts that we do. And I realized that there were, as far as I could tell, like a lot of good systems out there for testing personality, but very few that described interaction styles. And obviously, this wasn't just like, I woke up one day and went, aha, here's an idea. It was like a lot of interacting with people and going, why can't I talk with them, and then paying more attention to their communication and realizing that people are kind of biased towards different forms of communication, right? Like some, you'll notice that some people tend to ask a lot of questions, right? And some people tend to tell a lot of stories. And other people always want to talk about certain topics, or it comes up in moments that they want to talk about topics, some people tend to be a little on the outside, observing some people crack a lot of jokes. So all of these I started thinking of as different languages. It's like you speak English, and when you walk into a space where everyone else is speaking Spanish, you're gonna feel really on the outside, right? For example, I lived in Italy for a while. And I had this experience once of being on a train, and I overheard these people, and it sounded like they were speaking Italian. But it was like, a little bit off. I couldn't understand anything about it. And I couldn't figure out why I didn't understand what language it was. And so finally, I went up to them, and they were speaking, I think it was Bulgarian. It was a language that was really similar to Italian. But just far enough off that, I couldn't understand what they were saying. And I think that there's a way that we get that a lot in social situations where even though we're speaking the same national language, we're communicating in really different ways. And it's not just about the intention behind what we're communicating. But it's like, that's part of it. But it's also just what we consider polite and what we consider normal. So if you're raised in a culture, where it's really polite to ask people questions, when you first meet them, and you meet someone that's from a culture where what's really polite is to tell people stories or introduce conversation topics, you're going to feel like the other person is really rude and doesn't want to get to know you. So that was kind of the theory that I worked off and as I discussed this with people and tested it, especially one of the things that were happening was I joined a new community. I was on this you know, Authentic Relating Conscious Communication, let's really feel each other. Let's be very curious. Let's hold lots of space, you know, all these kind of jargon words of basically how do we be the kindest and open to each other and really listen, and I was entering this community of artists and performers, folks that were really familiar with the nightlife, folks that had really interesting backstories and I just continuously felt missed and hurt and like, nobody there wanted to know me. And they had this little clique that was on the outside of. And after a while, I started questioning why do I feel like that. And I noticed that they just talked really different than me. And just everything that I assumed was politeness and interest and curiosity. They didn't show any of that because that wasn't what the culture was about, like it was implicit in them that they wanted to know. But they didn't like to go about it the way I was used to. And I spent a whole year just feeling offended and shut out to the point where I was actually considering just telling my partner like, I'm sorry, like, this is a breaking point for me, like, I cannot be around your community anymore.
SPENCER: Were you able to find a way to integrate?
SARA: Yeah, it was actually when I started coming up with this communication typology. And I started listening, from that point of view, like, started going, well, if I assume that they do actually want to get to know me. And that something about the way they're talking is telling me the opposite. What is going on here? Like, how do I create a theory about this and test it? So I started just trying to integrate, to watch the way people were interacting with each other and do more of that. So for instance, I would start telling more stories about things that had happened to me, and then they would interrupt, which to me historically means somebody doesn't want to hear what you're talking about if they interrupt you. But I kind of changed my perspective. And I was like, well, what if I'm in a storytelling culture, where the point isn't so much to listen to the whole of each other's stories, but it's actually to like keep the conversation going. And like get to know each other through this back and forth, what is it something between, like storytelling and like bringing up conversational topics. So I started just trying to do more of that. And take on this idea that interrupting wasn't automatically meant as an offense, and almost like develop a little bit of a thicker skin, where instead of having all my attention out towards the other person, I still had some in towards myself. And all of a sudden, like my relationship with them, changed. It wasn't that anything they were doing changed, but my perception of what was going on, and how much I was taking things personally, kind of loosened. And then I found that when I was more comfortable interacting parts of me that hadn't been comfortable before started coming out, like, I really like cracking stupid jokes. But when I didn't feel comfortable around them, I didn't feel comfortable cracking jokes, because I was worried that I would get judged by a community, I wasn't already part of. All of this kind of ended up going into the model where, after I've kind of also, like, I wrote this up, I sent it out to about 60 beta testers, and they tried it out for a month and reported back in like a couple of different Western cultures.
SPENCER: This goes through the elements of it, yeah, looked at the theater, break it down.
SARA: Okay, so for one thing, this is a little different from a typology system, where you basically get typed, and you're like, you're an Enneagram-seven. And that's kind of what you're always going to be, although you can be more or less skillful. And the way you do it, and you have types and subtypes, this is more like, as far as I've been able to tell, we err towards certain types, usually one, sometimes two, when we feel in situations of stress, and unsafety. And we err towards other types of when we feel safe. So as an example, when I feel safe, I really like cracking jokes, I'm what I call a clown. But when I feel unsafe, like that capacity really goes away. And I go more towards this kind of observing, like, I'm just gonna wait and see if I understand what the social norms are. And we also have the capacity to use any of these languages anytime. So more than anything, I'm hoping this will be a developmental system where we see what languages we're not skillful in with different people in different situations and can try on and learn new ones. So as you're listening to this, like, think about, not so much, which of these am I as like, which of these do I use in different situations, which bugged me when other people do them? Which do I want to develop more competency in and especially which do I use when I feel safe and when I feel stressed?
SPENCER: So it'd be fair to say, essentially, what you're doing is categorizing the strategies people use to relate to others. And then additionally, you're observing that the strategies people use tend to change when they feel comfortable versus uncomfortable, isn't right?
SARA: Yeah, it's a little bit like where the center of gravity individuals have is, it's not like we all adapt the best language for any given situation, or we're chaotic in our languages. People do have certain languages that they've learned work better for them. Usually, when you're young, what you see or what makes your parents and the people around you respond to best are the primary languages you learn, but then you develop more over time. So it's something between a category of universal interaction styles and a bit of a personality assessment of what do you err towards? And who do you gather around you?
SPENCER: Right? Because if you categorize them as strategies, you can say, well, some people are going to use some strategies much more than others, then you can use typology and say, Okay, this type of relator. So what are top-level styles of communication?
SARA: Yeah, so there are six Relating Languages. And each of them has to what I call dialects. There's a spectrum between the two dialects of each language that is based on how much of your attention is based inside yourself versus out towards the other person. So the top-level languages are questioning, storytelling, joking, doing, conversing, and observing. And this is what you tend to lead within a conversation, it's not necessarily what you tend to do all the time. Or you maybe don't string one question after another for the entire conversation, but it's what you kind of orient towards. So under Questioning, to use an example, the spectrum is between the more internally focused scientist and the more externally focused space holder. So in both of them, you're gonna see them asking questions that the scientist – their questions are going to be a little more almost like what we're doing now, but it's like, questions to understand the world. Scientists might have more of a model on how things work; they might be very curious. But it's almost more like leaning forward curiosity, like how does this function? How does this person work? How does the world work? Sometimes the questions are even a little more rapid-fire. Oftentimes, scientists want to have a motivation of safety, like they want to understand the world so that they know how to orient towards it and know what to expect from it. And then on the other side of the spectrum, which is externally oriented, you have the space holders, and when space holders are asking questions, it's almost they're leaning back or sitting still, with their arms open like their questions are about really wanting to hold space for the other person and be curious and wait for the person to emerge. It's not so much based on what information do I need to understand this person, but more like, "Who is this person?" And "Who are they to themselves?" and there's kind of a different tone towards it. Like, I always think of space holders, kind of as mothers, but there are lots of men and people of any gender that embody these qualities. And of course, there's kind of not so much a goal of letting me be one or the other of this, it's more like, most people lie on a spectrum between them. Like, sometimes your questions are based on a desire to really understand, and sometimes they're based out of a desire to just like, hold, and be with. Being entirely on the ends of either spectrum in any of these types can be difficult. Because if you only have attention towards yourself, you lose awareness of what's happening with other people, you can seem insensitive, or empathetic or self-centered, whatever it is. But if you're entirely on the other side, and all your attention is put towards other people, you lose awareness of what your boundaries are and your desires. And space holders especially often end up getting taken advantage of because people want their attention. And they have whole conversations where like, nobody asks them a question in return.
SPENCER: Right. So I'm just gonna kind of break this down the way I understand it. I guess, the way I look at it is asking people questions is one way we relate to them, right? Like, if you just got thrust into a new situation, you might start asking the person that you're interacting with questions, then if we think about why might you ask them a question like, What are the motivations? It's like, well, one motivation is you want to understand things. And that's kind of the scientist. Another motivation is you kind of want to use the questions as a way to kind of open space for the other person to talk about what they want or what they're interested in or for them to get value out of it. And that's kind of a space holder. Am I getting that right?
SARA: Yeah, that's a great recap.
SPENCER: Okay, great. So shall we go to the next one?
SARA: Yeah. So the next one is the Storyteller. And these are in no particular order, by the way. They're just in the order that I kind of thought them up in. So the Storyteller, they go between the Chronicler and the Bard. Chroniclers, honestly, are one of the types that get the worst rap, but they're one of the best ways to explain Relating Languages because they're the people who if you meet them at a party, and you ask them how they're doing, they'll just kind of go on a monologue. Like sometimes they don't even need to be asked a question. They don't have much awareness of whether people outside them are tracking what they're saying or interested in. They really want to like, get the facts out there and have the story complete, they can actually even get upset if they're interrupted because it really does feel like rudeness. And it kind of disrupts the flow of where they're at in the story.
SPENCER: I've definitely met that person at the party before.
SARA: Yeah, everybody's met at least one of them. I have some that are really close to me. And I'm like, you're really well-intentioned. And once you get the story out, you do have some spaciousness, but you just don't seem to notice if I'm losing attention. It can be really frustrating. And it's one reason why understanding like why'd they do that and that's a conversational style can be useful because then you can have some ways to orient around it. On the other side is the Bard. And Bards, when they tell stories, they're like, I call them the Bard because you can imagine them sitting by a fire in some kind of old forgotten land and kind of telling the story is about the gods and the feats of great heroes. They are very expressive, they're all about communicating the story to their audience, they're responsive to audience cues. So whereas, if you interrupt a Chronicler, the Chronicler might get offended. If you interrupt a Bard, it just becomes part of the story. They tend to be animated in expression, or at least have the ability to really like get a vision across of what they're talking about. But they can also take up a lot of the space in the conversation sometimes because they are so interesting.
SPENCER: Great. Any else or should I go to the next one?
SARA: So yeah, the next type is the Joker. And I honestly kind of like this type one of the best because it was one of the most kind of biggest epiphanies of creating these languages for me, was realized that I have a lot of the Joker type. And I always kind of looked implicitly for people that could meet that in me, but never knew that was actually what I was looking for, and always felt kind of like why don't people around me want to play with me and felt kind of offended. And when I realized I had this type, I was like, Oh, of course, this is my safety type. And I want other people to speak it with me so that I can be in that mode of just real enjoyment. So I started looking for those people more since developing this, but the Joker goes between the Cynic and the Clown. Cynics, and mind you just as like a little bit of a kind of superscript on all this. This is still in development. And I'm aware that I'm trying to work with a psychometrics researcher to develop assessments on this and make sure it has internal validity. So if I say any of this, and you're listening, and you're like, that's not quite how I work, like do I fit any of these, just be aware that like, you may be realizing a flaw in the model or a place that it needs to be improved. But from what I've seen, the more internally focused Joker, they often stand a little bit on the outside of groups, they tend to see the big picture of what's happening. The comments aren't always jokes, but they're usually pretty insightful. And oftentimes, they can be a sharp edge, like they can occur as joking or sarcastic. A lot of comedians can be cynics or the other side clowns, but the ones that are kind of most almost like skewering political thought or social thought cynics, they just tend to have a pretty clear view on the world. And that can often make them feel, I don't wanna say depressed, but it can be hard to have that wider view and not just want to state the cosmic joke all the time or lampoon what you see happening. People can feel really hurt by them, people in my field have often felt really hurt by them because they require a lot of safety for you to get close. They use jokes oftentimes as a way to keep people a little bit away from them. And so you have to kind of be able to play with them to earn some of their trust or make really clear requests of what you want or be around them for a while before you get more let in. But they're brilliant. There are some of my best friends. On the other side, you have the Clown, which is what I identify as a lot of the time. Clown – their jokes are oftentimes pretty improvisational from the moment. Sometimes they're the folks that just do dad jokes, they're all about what their audience reaction is, but they're often the people that will laugh loudest at their own jokes than anybody else. Their jokes aren't necessarily funny all the time. But they're less kind of considered than the Cynics' jokes are. And they tend to be more towards the center of a group than the Cynic which is often a little bit on the outside. Force is the Doer. And this one's interesting because the Doer, like the Observer, can be a little bit hard to see in social situations. But I include it because, for a lot of people, this is actually their most comfortable relating language. And one reason why some people don't feel comfortable in social situations. The Doer goes between the Maker and the Helper. Makers are more internally focused, both these sides like they oftentimes prefer to have something to chew on with their brain and or their hands. So they could be doing physical things, or a Maker could be you know, someone that's coming up with theories like it can also be more mental, but they're really like interested in oftentimes their particular field or fields of interest. If they get bored in a conversation, they'll just kind of start constructing those in their head. And thinking about the topic, as they can kind of check out or even wander away. Makers oftentimes pretty comfortable spending some time alone, and they interact with other people. As far as I've seen. One of the main things that they'll interact with is when they have projects that include a lot of people but then, you'll see them like burners, for instance, very often have a lot of Maker in them, where their talk is about the topic. So if you're in a conversation, you catch that topic they're really interested in, they become a fountain of information and Really excited. But if you don't catch to that they'll oftentimes seem a little bit distant or disengaged. On the other side, Helpers are much more focused externally on what can I do that's going to assist others? Or what can I do in response to what's happening around me? They're more comfortable if they're at a party help make dinner or doing the dishes than they are just having a conversation, that you could have a great conversation with them while they're doing that, but they really like having something to do. And even in conversation, if you are talking about a thing, they might be the one that's like, "Oh, I've got like, an idea of a person that could help with this" or like, they can orient towards what can I do? Both those types can show up a little bit as high anxiety if their basic needs aren't being met.
SPENCER: Okay, and the fifth in the language.
SARA: Yeah, so two more fifth languages are the Conversationalist. I'm still figuring it out, I think this one is different than the Storyteller, but they might be similar enough to combine parts of them. But the Conversationalist, conversations are more topical, and less focused on completeness than the storyteller. So they go between the internally focused Teacher and the more externally focused Turn-taker. Teachers, want to get their ideas across pretty much like they are the most likely to give advice. If they hear something from someone, they're like, oh, yeah, you know, here's the experience I have in this or yeah, let me tell you about whatever they want to be helpful. They want to show that they know what's going on, they're not always super great at checking if the other person wants to hear it. So that's like a major growth path with them. And then on the other side, you have the Turn-taker, the Turn-taker really just wants to keep a conversation going. They oftentimes are kind of lambasted for being the ones that do a lot of small talks. Because for them, it's not even always so important, what the content of the conversation is, as long as everyone's engaged in it. So they'll bring up topics, they might ask questions, but they don't always follow with more questions, they're more likely to like respond with like a similar idea or anecdote or whatever. But it's like very much of back and forth. And then the last type is the Observer, which at first, it was really funny. This was the only one that at first I didn't have in my model at all, until the beta testers started coming back with like, "Hey, I think there's this type." And they all described it a little bit differently. And then when I looked at it, I was like, "Oh, there's an Observer type," that because I'm pretty talkative, I just don't notice. And that was really telling for like, oh, I wonder how many Observers have that experience of just going unnoticed, a little harder the categories, because what you see on the outside, unlike the other types is pretty similar with the Observers, you'll just see them being silent. But I think what's happening on the inside is pretty different. And they go between the Guardian and the Witness. Guardians, are observing, and they have their attention more internal because they don't quite feel safe to speak. Like they want to figure out what the social rules are before they jump in and engage. Oftentimes, the Guardians I've talked to have come from somewhat unsafe family environments where they had to try to find a way to predict their parents' behavior, but it was difficult to predict or changeable. So they learned to not talk until they really thought what was going on, can be like a little bit towards frozen. But also sometimes like wandering, wanting to offer value before speaking up, the Witnesses are more kind of out towards the space observing because like, they genuinely don't feel a need to say something until they have something that feels really pertinent to say they can be tracking the conversation. If you ask them, they can have really great insights about what's going on, but they might not speak just because they don't really feel a need to. I know one friend who just has like an example of a growth path who definitely like grew up being a Guardian, and then through a lot of like, meditation and Authentic Relating, and like really paying attention to their internal state and learning to comment now like has moved much more towards a Witness and is just this immensely kind of calming and present person to be around. And very insightful, even though he oftentimes won't volunteer things unless you ask.
SPENCER: So I really like this framework. But I want to go meta for a second. I want to talk about what is it really means? Like, what is it really doing and try to preempt some things that I think listeners kind of might have in their head? Because I think that one thing that can happen with a framework like this is people could say, well, you know, what's the evidence here? Like, aren't you just making this up, right? So I think there's sort of like different forms of validity for a framework like this. And the most basic form of validity is that you could just be claiming to be categorizing the things that there are, right? So if you this idea of a MECE framework, which stands for mutually exclusive collectively exhaustive, and so you can take any kind of thing whether it's animals or relating styles or love languages or whatever. And you can just empirically look at the world. Look at all the different kinds there are trying to notice. Other ones that exist. And then you can try to build a MECE framework where you just kind of cut it into groups that are mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive to try to cover everything, right? So that's one thing that this could be trying to do. It's just saying, "Hey, I've noticed that there are these different patterns in the way people relate to each other. Let me just cut them into these groups, and then I'm going to group them." And there's a sense in which it's empirical. It's trying to catalog what's actually there. But it's not making sort of additional, like predictive claims. It's just saying, these are the different kinds of patterns that we observe. And so at that level, it seems to me that you could ask, okay, first of all, are they mutually exclusive? Well, I don't think you're really claiming that you can't be multiple of them. I think you just say that, "Well, typically, people will have one or two that they tend to do more than others," which I think is fair enough. Certainly, it seems like all of these types are real patterns of behavior of people actually have. And then someone could say, "Well, are they collectively exhaustive?" Like, are you claiming there are no other ways of relating? And my guess is you would not claim that you would not say that this is fully exhaustive of all different ways. Is that right?
SARA: Probably not. Eventually, I'd love it to be in terms of like, at least that major ways the people relate, but at the moment, I don't think it is.
SPENCER: Right. So you added the Observer because you could notice there was this missing pattern. So I think at the sort of the most basic level, what I see you trying to do here is catalog different ways people relate. Try to capture the major ones, those common ones, and then be able to describe them in a useful way. So people can think about which of the patterns I tend to use, and which to I aspire to use, and which to my friends use and so on, there's an additional thing that a system like this could try to do, which is harder to do and harder to prove, which is they could try to make predictive claims like say, "Ah, well, we can assess who's a joker, let's say using a personality assessment." And then we can actually make predictions about them and say, "They're going to behave differently in such a scenario, or they're more likely to have this problem or let's look at this problem, and so on." And my guess is that's where you want to get eventually, but you have to collect large datasets and do statistical analysis and so on. Is that, is that how you're thinking about it?
SARA: Yeah, I think my main desire, in terms of the next steps with it, is to understand what the motivations of different types are, I feel really interested just in this question of how people can relate better, and how we can have more understanding with each other. And so yes, I'm curious how people behave in different situations and how to predict their behavior. But a lot of it is like, why do they behave that way? And how can I meet more of those needs? Or how can I be aware of the reasons why they're interacting the way they are?
SPENCER: Right. And I think with these dialects, you're talking about, you know, the internal versus external, that does get it motivation somewhat about why is someone doing this, like someone could be making jokes because it's trying to have 10 people or they could be making jokes because they're trying to entertain themselves or express their own worldview or something like that. Right? And that's like a different motivation. Is that how you think about the sort of dialects?
SARA: Yes, and the other reason that I think that dialects could be really useful in terms of the utility of this model. For example, I have two family members, who most of the time are more internally focused types. One of them is a Cynic. And the other one is a Scientist. And they get along pretty well, because they kind of know what their interaction is, they know what their boundaries are, they know how much they can push on each other. When they get stressed, one of them stays and internally focus type, and the other one becomes more external, she becomes a helper in the dynamic between them flips. And it's not just because they're using different languages, it's actually because like, one of them is like trying to pull back into himself and has a lot of attention internally, and the other one has all her attention extended towards him, and is really susceptible to being hurt. And you can almost think of it as like, I haven't really wanted to correlate this with attachment styles, I feel like I need a ton more research for that. But I've been thinking of it as if you have two people that are used to being at similar levels of avoidance, and all of a sudden one of them becomes anxious. It's a real shock to the dynamic. So that's actually a place I think this could be really useful is understanding, when we kind of switch types. Why do we run into some personality conflicts? And why it's so confusing? Why is it like, I get along with this person. So well, most of the time, but when they're stressed, all of a sudden, they've addicted me, part of it could be this internal-external flip.
SPENCER: Yeah, that makes sense. And I think that also speaks to why frameworks like this can be useful, which is you're noticing these patterns on how people relate, you're giving them names. And then once you give them names, they become a lot easier to think about and talk about. So you can think to yourself like, oh, yeah, I do notice that I tend to relate in a certain way to other people. And then you can also notice how "Hey, I realized where I'm most comfortable, I'm actually in this different way." And now you have a sort of way of understanding your own behavior, but then also telling other people you could express it to your loved ones like, oh, you can kind of explain to them and I visit why I think this sort of the idea of love languages is so valuable. For those who don't know, the Love Language is this kind of framework about how do people like to receive love? Do they want to be given gifts? Do they want to be given quality time with the other person? And once you have a name for these things, now you can start having conversations with people around them and thinking about what do I want? Why do I feel unloved by this person, what would make me feel loved? And similarly, I think with this framework, you can start thinking about how to relate to superstition situations. How do I desire to relate? How do other people relate in a way that is not working for me? So it's kind of a useful communication tool.
SARA: Yeah. And I very obviously kind of based the name of languages worked really well for the purposes I was going for. But also I did like, definitely correlate it with Love Languages, because I just think that model was brilliant. And yeah, has a lot of the same utility. At first, I was thinking of it as like, how do I change someone else's behavior so that they'll be like, less of a Chronicler. And then as I went into it, I was like, "Wait for a second, I know that you can't change other people's behavior, but I could change the way that I listen to them, or how I interpret them or in Love Languages, like how much I extend myself towards giving touch even if it's not my primary language." Well, If I'm in partnership with the Chronicler, how much I extend myself towards listening for a while and then making requests around how long I am willing for that, or what needs that person has around being heard that I might be able to meet a little more than I currently am.
SPENCER: Now, one thing I think you'll find when you start collecting more data on this, I know you've beta testers is awesome. I also know you're bringing a psychometrician, who's going to start actually helping you design studies and collect more data on this, you might find that this way of kind of covering things up doesn't quite work. Like you might find that, "Oh, wait, there's not actually a natural division between Conversationalist and Storyteller," which you were saying you weren't sure. And then maybe, in fact, in the data, they kind of merged together, you know. So I imagine this will shift as you click more empirical data. And I think one thing we can consider sort of this spectrum of evidence spectrum of competence. And like, the way I look at this, I don't know if you agree, but like, the thing that we can be most confident in and your framework is that it provides terminology to talk about how we relate to each other. And that terminology might be useful for explaining ourselves and explaining other people. So that seems like the thing that kind of needs the lowest bar of evidence. And then kind of a little bit more evidence, you need to say that this is actually categorizing people into a way that most people will fall in one of these buckets, or one or two of these buckets. And that will require somewhat more evidence. And then you add even more evidence to make claims about very specific claims about well, Clowns tend to behave exactly like this. And this motivation and Clowns are predictive of this other thing, and that that's kind of requires him the most intensive research, it's kind of hardest to conduct. Do you think that's fair?
SARA: Yes, I think predicting individual behavior and situations will take some time. And I'm hoping that a lot of this gets proved differently than I think it is right now. I mean, that would be upsetting for the work that I've done. But also, I'm a really big fan of the scientific process and figuring out what is most true about something. And I feel like right now, I'm drawing from the beta testers, and the people I know are only like, 100, 150 people's sample size. And so I'm really excited to see what happens as I tried to test and expand this and also see what is different if I do have the languages, right? What are different permutations that I didn't know, like, even just meeting some new friends the other day, I realized that one of my presumptions about the Clown, which was that their jokes are improvisational, the from the moment I met someone that taught a lot of dad jokes, and I was like, "Wait for a second, he has his jokes prepared in advance, but he's totally a Clown. It's all about the other person's reaction." So I feel like I'm constantly getting new data on them, which is fun.
SPENCER: Yeah, kind of fleshing out your models. One more point I want to make about that is, if you have a categorization system, there's some sense in which categorization is arbitrary, right? Like, let's say you had 100 animals at a zoo, there are many ways you could divide them up, right, you could divide them by, you know, mammal versus reptile, etc., you could divide them by size, you could divide them by how much they cost. And all of these are sort of reasonable ways to divide up a set of animals. But for any particular goal, some of those will be more useful than others, if you're the kind of CFO of the zoo, and you're to make financial decisions, maybe one divided by cost, whereas if you're a biologist, you probably want to divide them up by you know, mammal, and reptile is probably the more useful division. And so there's no right way to categorize things. But there are more and less useful ways to categorize things. And so I think one way to refine this over time is to say, are you carving reality at the joints in such a way that people are finding these categorizations useful like they're resonating saying is really that does characterize me really well? Or oh, you know, I'm not, that's not quite hitting the mark. Maybe you want to just adjust your category boundaries a bit because people are falling kind of on the edges of their boundaries, too much not falling into the middle of the category.
SARA: Absolutely. And one of the things that I've just had my eye on a lot is where is this useful? Like, if it's just kind of fun mental exercise, then that's great. But the thing I care about is what is actually going to decrease the degree of loneliness people feel in the world, which I think is one of our greatest sources of suffering. That's kind of my mission. And if this model works well, it helps people understand each other better and thereby develop better community and better friendships, and better family relationships. Awesome. If it doesn't, I need to work on something else. So that's really the question I'm working on within it, in part also has a question of what are the best ways to frame this like, is it about how do you change your own behavior? Is it about how do you recognize the groups of people that you get along with most? Or what are the motivations of different types? And how do you relate? And that's still an open question for me.
SPENCER: That's a really cool mission. I think that's really important.
SPENCER: So you said that you often play the Clown, what are the other types that you can fall into?
SARA: Well, what's really interesting about this is like, I spent so many years leading an Authentic Relating community that I developed this really strong Questioner type. So when I started building Relating Languages, I was like, I'm a Questioner. But I mostly only do that within that community. So I think like within an Authentic Relating community like I've learned to chameleon the Questioning type when I feel most safe, I'm at the Clown when I feel really unsafe, I tend to be like, at most unsafe, I'm kind of like an Observing Guardian, because I really didn't learn a lot of social norms. When I grew up, I think I was probably somewhere along the spectrum and just really didn't understand the ways people interacted and very much lived in books. So I would have this constant reaction anytime I was in social situations where I would just freeze and not be able to interact and actually had like distance from the whole group. And I do that much less these days like I think I've grown. But still, when I'm like, in really uncomfortable situations, I'll orient towards that.
SPENCER: But that's a remarkable shift going from some physics spectrum to where you are now, where you're the expert and how people relate to each other.
SARA: What was so cool is like when I stumbled across communication methodologies, and I was like, Oh, my God, you mean, somebody actually studied this? Like, I can learn ways to interact? This is crazy. Like, why didn't nobody teach me this in school, it's like, it went from being very consciously incompetent for a very, very long time to like, now I've developed a little bit of a schema for how people work, and it's become less mental. But I think probably where other people develop that as somewhat of an emotional intuitive sense, it very much had to go through mental learning for me before I understood a lot of the rules of human interaction, which the benefit of that is like, I think it's easier for me to create models like this because it's the way that my mind naturally is working on social situations.
SPENCER: Yeah, I've heard this for many people who struggled with social interaction when they were young. Some of them just kind of never learn it. But those that do learn it, often learn it by first learning kind of system to cognitive, reflective rules about how to do social interaction, but then they still suck at social interaction until they can practice, practice, and practice to get them down into the system one so that they can do them in real-time very naturally. And that's when they become really good at socializing, and sometimes even better socializing. Because, as you said, they now not only have the intuition of how to do it, because they practiced, but they also have a cognitive understanding that very few other people do, that actually gives them advantages, because they can kind of reason about the right way to do it in different situations that where intuition might go haywire.
SARA: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's just such a fun thing, especially because as we're understanding more and more about the emotional body, and starting to bring that into communication, like that was honestly the reason I got into AR in the first place was being like, wait for a second, there's this entire field of understanding that has to do with emotions and intuition and embodiment that even beyond communication, I just didn't know existed and like, I could study that my entire life and it requires me to develop a really different part of my mind and consciousness that I just found it really fascinating. And so as we bring those together more, I think there's a lot more richness,
SPENCER: AR is Authentic Relating, right? What is the emotional body? I'm not familiar with that phrase.
SARA: I think I just made it up right now. But the way it was existing in me is like, I don't think the mind and body are separate. And there are neurons in my stomach and in my heart as well as in my brain and so like, I think of my emotions as kind of a body within my body in a way like they are having their own reactions. which are sources of information to how I process so I have like a mind-body, and an emotion-body, and a somatic-body. And all of them are kind of collaborating to make the system of cells that I'm trying to interpret. And the language that my emotional body speaks is so different than the language my mind speaks. There's very little translation between them. So a lot of my interest in the last couple of years has been how do I listen in a way that's actually going to get that information across?
SPENCER: Can you share some insights you had about that? It's just a really important topic.
SARA: Yeah, very much still in development. But the place that I've needed it most is both in boundaries and in leading a company. So I've like led my company for the last eight years, at the first very badly, and now maybe slightly less bad, I hope. But in terms of boundaries, I would just kind of constantly ended up in situations that I didn't want to be in or didn't feel safe being in or had to go back later and say, like, "Hey, I know I said yes to that social engagement, but I actually don't want to go" or sometimes even "Hey, I know I said yes to that, like the important business arrangement but actually, I don't feel good about it." Or, more often, I would just stuff that. And then I'd end up in bad situations. And so I really started trying to listen, and I was trying to get sooner and sooner, like was there a sensation or an emotion that would tell me that this wasn't a good choice. And as I refined that sense more and more and started paying attention, at the moment, I found that I would have this, physically, I'd feel a little bit tense, and I wouldn't feel as much aliveness or energy in my body. And I would feel confused, I wouldn't quite have something to grab on to like I didn't quite know what was going on. And I contrasted it to the times when I knew that I was a yes to something where I would be leaning forward. And I'd feel a lot of energy in my body and solidity across my chest, and I wouldn't feel confused. So I started just when I felt confused and uncertain, I just said, No. And I started realizing, Oh, I think that's a sign that I have a boundary but because my body has never really been allowed to have boundaries, being socialized, like as a woman in a fairly dysfunctional family, it just had no idea what a boundary was. So that's kind of where that attentiveness, I kind of had to put together the puzzle piece of what was happening between the situations where I was a yes. And when I was a no, when I couldn't just go, buddy, what's my boundary?
SPENCER: That's really interesting. One perspective on emotions, I think can be fruitful is thinking of them as situation detectors, like anxiety, when it's functioning properly, is like a dangerous situation detector, right? When it goes haywire. It's like the smoke alarm that goes off every time you cook, even though there's no fire, right? It's sort of like overly sensitive, and it's kind of firing all the time or the reverse. It's not firing even when you're in really dangerous situations, right? And you're putting yourself in trouble. So that, you know, anxiety is kind of like a dangerous situation detector. And then you can have other emotions like anger can be a someone-is-interfering-with-my-goals situation detector. So, I think is a really useful frame because when you look at it this way, instead of dismissing emotions, you think, okay, what is this emotion trying to say to me, What is it detected, and, you know, keeping in mind that the detectors are imperfect, and sometimes they go haywire, but it's giving you really, really valuable information. And it really helps to learn to pick up on signals, not ignore them, and try to like, use all this information that can give you while also recognizing that sometimes it's gonna go haywire and sometimes you're gonna have to just override it and say, you know, what, I know so angry at this person, but really, I'm in the wrong you know, and you know, therefore, I'm in a need to find a way to get over this feeling of anger.
SARA: Totally, and still the biggest fan of the technique of taking a breath or taking 10 breaths when you're upset, which by the way, I forget all the time, but it's like the top facilitation tool that I teach any leader is like when the room is in chaos when you don't know what to do just invite everyone to take a breath.
SPENCER: Yeah, just calm everyone's nervous system.
SARA: Yeah, it calms everyone's nervous system gives you space, I also teach them to reflect because great as reflecting is when somebody is upset, it also wins you the speaker, time to calm down, which is really kind of the greatest side effect of it.
SPENCER: Firstly, play your life vest before fighting the run around here.
SARA: All right, because if you don't, you're just stabbing someone else's life vest so as far as I can tell. I'm really struck by what you said, too, about the smoke detector. I've heard that analogy and I really like it. Because one thing that has happened for me is because I've like struggled chronically with, I don't want to say struggle that kind of metaphors mean a lot because I have worked with anxiety and depression in myself for a long time. I haven't been able to trust my body signals much like when it goes into that Guardian mode. It's telling me that everything is dangerous. And so I have found somatic and emotional awareness most useful for sewing out any ideas about how I tell whether something is safe and really just kind of noticing the contrast between when I'm safe what is happening in me? And in other times, what's happening in me? And how can I start to notice the nuances of like when I'm feeling more unsafe versus less unsafe in social situations? And that was really helpful to me.
SPENCER: Yeah. But it seems like part of getting better at reading emotions is noticing them faster when they shift. And often that gives you a lot more information. I find that if even 10 minutes go by before I noticed my emotional shift can be very hard to pinpoint what exactly was it that triggered it. Whereas if you get it within 30 seconds or 10 seconds, even, it's usually only one thing has happened in seconds. So it's often easy to pinpoint. So this is a technique I recommend people try to develop I call the inner "Why" technique was just trying to learn to notice as soon as your emotion shifts and then just ask yourself, "Why? What just happened? Why do I think that my emotion just shifted, and kind of getting better and better at that to pick up a kind of really nuanced information?" It's like, "Oh, it was when she used the word, whatever. That's when I like suddenly felt anxious." Okay, now I can understand what happened. Whereas like, five minutes later, you're just feeling this feeling of anxiety? You have no idea what caused it?
SARA: Yeah, absolutely. We have a bunch of games around that in Authentic Relating that I really love. One of which is just a somatic game called Noticing where you go back and forth saying, being with you, I notice like somatic emotionally in my body, or I feel the other person says, hearing that I noticed or I feel and you get this kind of real-time awareness of how somebody statements and how your own body is influencing the way that you feel and the way you're responding. Yeah, that one's really cool. And then my other favorite one, it's finding awareness by bouncing off of someone else. But the Clown in me loves it, which is a game called Translator, which one of our facilitators based off the Obama anger translator skit by KMPL, like way, way long ago, but you've got two or more people having a conversation, and each of them has a translator, and one person speaks, and then their translator says what they think they mean. And then the other person responds, and the translator translates. So like, the two people who are being translated are kind of having a normal conversation. But one person might say, I'm curious what you did this weekend, and the translator might say, "I'm gonna ask a socially acceptable question to get you to open up because I don't want to."
SPENCER: I love that it's so great. It's so funny.
SARA: It's so good. Because then you notice through the contrast of like, wait a second, that wasn't what I meant or wait a second. That was what I meant. It's, it's really insightful. That's something to bounce off of.
SPENCER: But you created a whole book of these games, right? Do you want to tell us about that?
SARA: Yeah, I came into the Authentic Relating movement when it was really young. And I started leading a community in Austin and in Houston around it. And one of the things I noticed is that there were a couple of communities that were doing Authentic Relating games around the world. And we would occasionally meet at like the mothership for Authentic Relating and circling at that time, which was the integral center in Boulder, Colorado. And I would meet there was, you know, meet the other leaders of the like four or five communities that existed, and they had been developing some games of their own to supplement that, like 10 that existed back then. And we had been doing the same in Austin, like, the noticing game was one of the earliest ones. And there were a couple other like curiosity games, but we would run into situations where we're like, oh, people want to learn a certain skill, or they want to interact in a certain way, can we create an interaction style for that, and I started collecting the games that I came up within the games that other leaders have come up with into this book. And over the course of the last eight years, it's grown from 10 Games of the original manual that Byron Bay and Decker Kuhn off, put out to more than 250 games and variations now, and it's used, and now they're, like, 80, plus Authentic Relating and circling communities around the world. And I'm finding out about new ones every day, I just found out that someone found a point in India two months ago that already has like 200 members, which is awesome. So it's fun to see them sprout up, but the game's manual has become the source text.
SPENCER: I love that manual. I think it's so cool. There are so many interesting kinds of, I think, social experiments. Maybe you don't think of them. Yeah, I love social experiments. So how do people find that manual if they want to see it?
SARA: Yeah, it's on my website, which is authrev.org. So A-U-T-H-R-E-V dot org. Like Authentic Revolution. If you scroll down that page, you'll find the manual. And if you go to that website, authrev.org/relating-languages. There's like an interest list. I'm writing a book on it right now. So I'm just getting the proposal in. And hopefully, that will be a good excuse to build out the model a lot more.
SPENCER: I think the story of how we met is actually kind of funny because maybe I miss your memory but my memory of it is I found your Authentic Relating manual. I was like, This is so cool. I love all these social experiments. It's amazing. And I think you found an article of mine. Do you remember this?
SARA: Yeah. I found an article where you talked about some of the best interaction styles that you've found. And I was reading down the article, and I was like, "Oh my god, this is amazing. I want to send it to everybody I know." And then I get down to like number 20. And it says circling and then like, number 30 is like Authentic Relating. I was like, "Oh, my God, I have to contact this guy."
SPENCER: Yeah, so funny. So we both like if it's finally ready for those things, that was really cool. And I think you might have reached out to me. It was a great connection. Yeah.
SARA: Yeah, you helped me kind of come up with the initial version of the assessment for this. And I feel like we've had a great kind of nerd connection over the last year that I really, really appreciate it.
SPENCER: Yeah, I think the article you're reading of mine as I tried to catalog all these different ways of bringing groups to feel that they don't know each other together. Yeah, it's called the Better Format for Group Interaction, you can find it on my website, spencergreenberg.com if you're interested, but basically, I tried to find every format for group interaction that people don't know each other, bring them all together. Although, to be fair, Sarah's manual has like another 200. So there's a lot of love [inaudible]. So you know, we were talking about Authentic Relating, and I think a question that people might have as to what is this authentic thing? Like, what is authenticity?
SARA: My answer on that, I think, has changed a lot in the last few years, as I hope it would, in the course of study. And the way I see it now is really influenced by the Internal Family Systems Model, which is like my favorite psychological model, I think it's one of the most to I've found to how people work, which is that we don't just have one self, we have multiple parts of our personality. And each of those parts of our personality has different desires, needs, and background almost. So I've stopped seeing authenticity as one thing. I see it as there are different kinds of authenticity and different levels and different parts of yourself. And there are two aspects that makeup authenticity. One is Awareness, and one is Action. And so awarenesses is how honest are you with yourself about your different motivations, especially when they conflict, like I can really want to get my work done one day, and they can also really want to sit and read a fantasy book. And if I'm looking for what is the most authentic self, I'm just going to get really confused, because they're both authentic, and I can be aware of what both want. And then the agency is like, am I congruent between the values I hold, the feelings I have, and the actions I do? So I can be authentic with my feelings. But that's going to be kind of confusing, right? Like, I'm going to be authentic about feeling like I want to eat cake one day, and the next day, I'm gonna be authentic about feeling like I should beat up on myself and feel guilty for eating cake. Like, our emotions aren't super great guides of behavior, as we were saying earlier, with the kind of smoke alarm thing, they're not always accurate, but my values remain a little bit more constant. So I think authenticity can mean a lot of things. But the goal I hold with it now is can I find alignment? Can I be aware of the things that are true in me? And can I be aligned between what I really care about and want to go into, and what my actions are?
SPENCER: So to summarize, would be fair to say, in your view, authenticity is understanding what you're really like accurately, without self-delusion or misunderstanding, and then acting in accordance with the values you hold, even when they come into conflict, trying to kind of resolve those conflicts.
SARA: Yeah. And then, of course, communicating that to other people as accurately as possible.
SPENCER: You're outside, it kind of matches your inside and so much as possible.
SARA: Exactly. And a lot of the time when we say that someone is inauthentic, I think what we're actually saying is that what we're feeling from them is different from what they're saying. And that can either happen because they're not aware of what's happening in them. And so they can't have congruent or they are aware, but there are different parts of them operating. And one part is like ashamed of what's true for them. And another part has a different need, and they're not able to find congruent between those different parts. And they're not able to speak to the fact that all of those things are happening, because authenticity is not always, we don't always get to say the pleasant thing. Like what am I going to say right now about authenticity that I don't think is acceptable, like there are views that I have around like canceled culture right now. And around the way that waste and gender dialogues are being handled, even if I think they are valid opinions, I wouldn't feel comfortable saying them because of the degree of censure that comes now. And you know, anybody speaks in those topics. And so I might be able to say them honestly and transparently, but it's not authentic or congruent with the value that I hold around saying things that are going to be useful and contributory to the people around me and to the movement that I'm part of, rather than kind of just expressing what's on my mind. Like I think it's a really important view to express in service of bringing a viewpoint that I think is really being missed in a way that's harmful, then I'm going to be open and honest and transparent about that. But otherwise, I'm being authentic to the deeper value that I'm holding around when to speak and what about.
SPENCER: I wonder if people differ in the extent to which they view themselves as like a unified self, or maybe even deeper, the extent to which they feel like a unified self. So internal family systems, for those who've never used, is a kind of therapeutic system, where you imagine these different parts of yourself and you have these kinds of internal interactions between these parts of yourself, like maybe you have an injured child part of yourself, and then maybe your adult self is going to have communication with that child self, and you kind of imagine it. And when I do this, it feels to me like I'm doing an improv game, I don't really fundamentally feel like these parts are real in some sense. I feel like they're things I imagine they're trying to express some part of what I think or what I feel, you don't mean. So it's not like completely made up. But it does feel like an improv game to me. And I feel like so my kind of steal man of what's going on is that it's just a, a method of self-communication to some people find useful. But there are other ways to like self communicate, you could just sort of like write down the pros and cons about why you like and don't like something or, but this is kind of a more visceral way of doing it, where you're like imagining a child part that has certain needs. And another part that is another need. But I suspect that other people actually feel like these parts are more real, they feel like they're less of an improv game and more like something fundamental. I'm curious to hear your reaction to that.
SARA: Yeah, that's really interesting. I think that there are different ways of using the model. And admittedly, I may just be bastardizing it based on what works best for me, I think you could see the parts is anywhere between actual distinct selves that you give a name and an image to and like formless motivations and backgrounds. And I think you can either have your ego dialogue with them, or have their dialogue with each other. Sometimes it can be really helpful for me to recognize where those are already in dialogue. But I think I don't often even say my inner child is in dialogue with my inner peacemaker, or whatever. It's more like the part of me that really wants acknowledgment and feels like I didn't get enough of it when I was young, like I can see where that came from, is in conflict with the part of me that really wants to be open source and give a lot to the movement that I'm part of which developed overseeing the pain in the academic realm from not enough sharing of information and really like having a desire to be excited and play with other people. So it's like, I have those two motivations at the moment. And I can look at where both of them came from and why both are valid. And when I feel that, then I just feel kind of like sadness and a tenderness and an ability to hold more paradox that both of them can be true. And I might have to do something to meet both of their needs.
SPENCER: Yeah, that's how I look at it as sort of, I'm giving a kind of visual image or identity to a motivation I have or feeling I have, but I'm really making up that image. It's just sort of like a helpful way of communicating about that. I think some people, though, make them much more seriously. And I kind of view them as more real in some sense.
SARA: Totally. I'm also thinking, as you say that, that there might be something around like the degree to which people find visualizations helpful, because like, I'm a very visual person. And so I think I find tools like that useful. Like, I can see them in my mind while I talk. I think people like to learn and experience in all sorts of different ways. So it just might not be a useful tool for everyone. And that's really like the paradox of this whole thing, right? Like, when you find a useful tool for one person, it's not the most useful tool for someone else. So it's just kind of like everybody's got their own drawing board.
SPENCER: Yeah, you know, when I encounter a new system, even if I'm kind of skeptical of some of the claims that make if lots and lots and lots of people said they got a lot of value on it, I like to come into the situation, saying there's probably something valuable here. Like, we know that there are things that just don't work at all that people still claim they get value out of. So we have to have some skepticism, like for example, some homeopathic medicines are literally sugar pills like you could analyze them from a chemical composition viewpoint and they literally only contain sugar. And so we can be pretty confident that that's not doing anything to people other than the placebo effect. And people still-
SARA: Myers Briggs?
SPENCER: Yeah. Myers Briggs that, you know, a lot of people are critical anyways. So we know that there are things that like do nothing, and yet people find really valuable. So we have to have that level of skepticism. On the other hand, if you have a psychological system, a lot of people say, Oh, this changed my life. I like to come in saying there's probably something worthwhile here. Even if it's not the whole thing, maybe it's not even half of it is useful. Maybe there are bits and pieces, what is the most useful stuff? I think that's just a valuable frame to have. There's probably some value let me try to find it. What is valuable here? That's kind of how I view IFS as like, I think it can be really useful for some people as a way of digging into their motivations digging into their feelings in a way that they find palatable. And you know, I definitely know a lot of people have reported benefits from it. My own personal experience with it. I don't feel like I've gotten anything out of it, but it doesn't really mean very much. I'm one person.
SARA: Yeah, the reason I think I have liked it is because when I've used it with other people, it's often been one of the most common powerful tools I've used often even more on other people than myself. Because there's something about the core principle of not having to make everything in yourself makes sense for just a couple minutes where it's like, okay for parts to be incongruent, that seems like one of the most useful parts in the model, I take everything else away, but just don't expect that you're going to make total sense and allow space for that. But with all of these, I feel like I just constantly tried to get my mind out of the belief that I'm going to find a tool that works for everyone. Like even as a teacher, my training often go through 20 or 30 iterations, to get to the point where I feel like they're good enough, where everyone's gonna get something out of them. But there's going to be a real difference between the people that get a super profound realization because it was the right learning style. And they came in, in the right mindset, and we communicated it, right. Right, even like, that's not a great word to use, we communicated it in a way that worked with them, versus the people that just like came in, in a different state, or it wasn't the right form of learning, or they had a bad experience with a leader in the training. So it really feels like this constant acceptance of ambiguity and straining towards doing, as well as possible, and also straining towards just like apologizing when I don't.
SPENCER: Well, I do appreciate the mindset of iteration that you have, where you're clearly trying to make your content better all the time, iterate and learn from the data. And it's not always felt like you're doing randomized trials, but you're reacting to what works and what's happening. And there are failure modes there. You know, sometimes people spiral off into, they keep convincing themselves what they're doing was working. But as any sort of founder knows, user feedback and iteration can really go wonderful places and can make a product better and better and better.
SARA: One of the most interesting things to me about human behavior, and my own that I've been thinking about lately is why we have that mode of going towards the status quo, or the simplest explanations like we know that things are going to change all the time, we know that like, as soon as a good iteration of something is reached, there's already a better one out there. It's like what Heraclitus said, like by the time you step into the river a second time, both you and the river have moved on as you can never step into the same river twice. But our minds want this sense of stability and security that's just out of alignment with the way the world works. And that's so fascinating to me.
SPENCER: Yeah, as well. It's like, well, we have some good, we just want to hold on to it. We want to accept the fact that it's every day, it's gonna be a little different. And one day it's gonna be gone.
SARA: Right. And somehow, we're optimized for stability instead of change, despite the fact that change is much more stable than stability.
SPENCER: You know, it's interesting, because there's this dichotomy I've noticed. It's really a spectrum between people where some people really focus on stability. Other people really focus on what I call acceleration, where like, stability is like, okay, you've got good things, try to hang on to them, try to reduce risk, reduce variance. And accelerations is like I want to maximize potential and maximize myself, I want to self improve, etc. And I definitely see a split to some degree based on people's history, where, for example, people who grew up in really difficult situations, whether poverty or in a country with war, things like that, I think they tend to have a very strong stability focus, which makes perfect sense because it's like, they didn't have stability, right? That stability is what they wanted. And if they can get it now it feels incredibly desirable. Whereas people who grew up with like tons of stability don't necessarily value it very much. They just view it as sort of the default baseline. And they want to say, Well, how do I self actualize? How do I find my love, my life, how do I become the best version of myself, and so on, they tend to be very acceleration-focused.
SARA: That definitely feels true, like the degrees of potential people have for that has a fascinating experience. Once in a training that I was leading where I kept feeling like something was off in it, people kept being frustrated, and I couldn't really tell what was going on. Like, I had tried slowing things down. I tried speeding things up, like more ambiguity, less ambiguity. And eventually, the class basically revolted, which was pretty funny. Honestly, it was leadership training offered at an activity where someone could stand up and advocate for something they wanted. And the first student who stood up convinced the entire class to walk out of the room and go play for 20 minutes. Okay, something's going on here. So I got everyone back in the room. And I was like, I have an intuition of what's going on. We're going to do a spectrum, which is where you offer two opposites and people stand on either side of the room on a spectrum between numbers online you can have a little thing that you put icons on sharing a Google slide or something more mural board, and I said on this side of the room on the left side, I want people who feel like life kind of is never quite fast enough for you. Like you always want things to move quicker. You want intensity from it, you want excitement and you feel like this training is just going to slow and on the right side of the room. I want people who tend to feel like life is moving too quickly. Like you want things to slow down, you don't feel like you have quite enough time to process, and even this training, maybe it's feeling a little bit too fast. And I had people pressed against the wall on either side. And all of a sudden, it became really clear what was happening in the training because we had, it was like authenticity. Like, everybody had this idea that the leadership was doing something wrong because they didn't feel like their needs were being met. But what was actually happening was that the needs were so diverse that there was no way of meeting both of them at the same time. And what we actually had to do after that was offer different options for the different groups. So like, if you want to go faster, here's the experiential setup version. If you want to go slower, stay in the room, we're gonna discuss the theory a little bit more, and then you can do something experiential.
SPENCER: Hmm. Nice.
SARA: I have a wandering curiosity, which is just like in Relating Languages, where you would put yourself?
SPENCER: Great question. Yeah, so I was thinking about that when you were going through the languages? Definitely, under the questioning Relating Language, I can be a Scientist, I'm often curious about people like I want to understand them. So for example, let's say I meet someone who's really into fashion. Personally, I don't really care about fashion. It's not an interest in mine. But I could question them for half an hour about the details of like, okay, how do you decide what color to make your dresses this season? And anything that kind of connects to human psychology and why humans decide the way they do? You know, I will always kind of be endlessly curious. And so I think I often question people kind of out of that motivation of trying to understand the person themselves, or some aspect of what they do. Another one that I definitely relate to, is the Maker one, whereas, you know, there's a lot of things I'm trying to make in the world. And if someone is like, "Oh, I've been thinking about self-control; lately, I wonder how that works. Like, you know, I'll immediately you know build a digging really deep with them." So if they had kind of hit on one of these topics I've been thinking a lot about lately, as a want to kind of like, explore with them, maybe even try to discover new things in our conversation together that we didn't know before.
SARA: That totally makes sense. I kind of had imagined those might be the two that you would speak to.
SPENCER: Oh, really, I should have made you guess for it.
SARA: It was actually funny. Like, when I was talking about that. I was like, I think Spencer might be a Scientist. And then when you were talking about the scientist, I was like, I bet he has some maker too. I feel weird, categorizing people. But it also explains like, I think I also have a lot of like, the Doer, like some of the Maker and some of the Helper and I think it's one reason why we get along because I find it like endlessly fascinating to talk about this stuff. And then also talk about well, like, what can we make with that? And what creations does it lead to? Like, there's a bit of practicality there that I find really fun.
SPENCER: I remember one time many years ago, when I went on a blind date, and I wasn't really feeling it. I wasn't really interested in a person. So I just kind of went to Scientist mode. I just asked this person questions for like, the entirety of the whole date. I remember afterward, the person was like, "Oh, that was really great." But I don't know anything about you. You know, literally nothing. Literally nothing. Yeah.
SARA: It's so funny. My mom is very much a Scientist. And she does this thing when she meets people; she'll pepper them with questions the entire time. And so like, they just start answering because like, there's no space in the conversation. And then once the conversation is over, they'll go away, and she'll turn to me and she'll just be like, "That person was so rude. They weren't curious at all." Like, nobody left a space to talk.
SPENCER: That's funny. Yeah, it is. That's an interesting element of like, if you're going to be you know, a Scientist, you better expect people to answer your questions and not be asking them all the time because you're not gonna give them the space for that and so on.
SARA: Yeah, which is a great kind of pointing to the learning that's possible in each of them. Because if you recognize that that's something you do like I had to learn to artificially leave a lot of spaces in my conversation, and it feels like stretching a weird new muscle but then sometimes, like, I mean, being a Scientist can be really fascinating. Like there's not always a reason to change it because of people like being asked questions.
SPENCER: Yeah, I think most people do really like it when you have a genuine curiosity about them, and they enjoy talking about themselves. So it kind of works out. Another mode I can easily fall into as a teacher. And this one, I have to be careful that because let's say someone's like an offhanded way is like, I wonder how such works, I could easily jump into like a 20-minute, impromptu presentation about how that thing works. And I had to catch myself and be like, "Okay, do they actually care that much? Or did they just want the 32nd version?" And so that's sort of something I need to watch out for, you know?
SARA: Uh, huh. Yeah, that's really hard. I mean, I think that's almost a corollary to the Scientist is when you're fascinated about things, and you gain a lot of information, and you expect that everyone else is as fascinated by the world as you are, it can be really easy to just like, get into it and lose people. I love hanging around Teachers and Makers because I feel like I learned so much more about the world and about topics than I otherwise would. Because if you really specialize in it, it's just like a really fascinating learning space.
SPENCER: You know, one reason among many that I think Myers Briggs is so popular is because it sort of tells everyone that they're good, right? Like, there's no like bad Myers Briggs Type. And I think that that's actually a nice aspect of your framework, too. It's like, none of these are bad to be in. I mean, none of them are sort of things that you would be embarrassed about. And I think that's helpful because it makes you more open to kind of accepting the language and kind of also being willing to really think about what am I really?
SARA: Yeah, I think it actually is one of the biggest kind of issues that I see with the framework right now is that there are a couple types, like the Chronicler and the Teacher, which are, like socially not seen as good things, but like what we're saying about authenticity, it's like, I think that everything that we do and say like comes from a motivation that is fundamentally meant, usually both in service of ourselves and in service of other people. So I think that just means that like, I don't understand yet what a lot of the benefits of the Chronicler and the Teacher are like, it's actually easier to see what the teacher that like, I know Teachers that are just some of like, the best people in the world to receive information from and so fascinating and have delved so deep into their topics. And I also know Chroniclers were really, really good for actually understanding what happened in a situation.
SPENCER: Right. Well, that is also the Chronicler type, which just reminds people. I believe that was the one where people will just kind of start telling you a story, whether you kind of are engaged or not. I feel like that works well with people who are super close, like, you know, you talk to your best friend, or you talk to your partner, and you tell them about your day. And it's a very familiar style that makes sense in certain contexts.
SARA: Well, that's the thing also, like speaking about, there's a real difference I found between short-term and long-term relationships. So, for instance, being a Teacher might work really well for people that you've just met. But if you've been in a relationship for a while, it's possible that somebody will be like, "Hey, you're teaching me about that thing?" Again, I want to know more about who you are; the same thing you said for being a Scientist like people love being asked questions. But if you're just doing questions over a longer-term relationship they want to understand more about will tell me about you. And I think it's the same as Chroniclers in long-term relationship, that can be really great. And with other types, like with an Observer, a Chronicler can often be a wonderful thing, because they'll start the conversation and they'll keep it going. And they offer enough fodder for things to actually go somewhere or with a Bard, like, they allow kind of a way in and they're not worried about starting the conversation and keeping it going, whereas an Observing type can sometimes be awkward to be around.
SPENCER: Hmm, that's just a way to think about it. You know, you mentioned Myers Briggs. I feel like we should just talk about that briefly. It sounds like you're not a big fan of it.
SARA: Yeah, only because I mean, I honestly think that Myers Briggs is fine. I think that it's a really useful framework. And for a lot of the reasons you talk about like if we have an understanding of who we are, or a certain model of who we are, it gives us something to bounce-off of, which I think is immensely helpful. I was just digging on it, because the actual studies of the validity of the different types, and the tests for it have been largely disproven. But I still think it's really useful.
SPENCER: Yeah. So I mean, I think it's really interesting to think about, because there are lots of people who love Myers Briggs, it's probably the most popular for scientists in the world. He's all kinds of people for all kinds of things. And one question we get asked is, How valid is it? Another question we could ask is, why is it so popular? Then you have sort of the question of, like, what is it useful for right, and so, you know, all this, you know, bring back this kind of spectrum of evidence I talked about briefly before, like, all the way at one end of the spectrum, you could just say, well, it's just a language, just a way of describing things. And there can't really be wrong, it could be more useful or less useful. But you know, it seems like a lot of people find the language useful to talk about themselves to talk about other people, what sort of people they tend to live with certain people to him to hang out with. And that's just sort of a way of describing things. Although at the other end of the spectrum, you can make very specific claims about oh, these types of people will these two types who are more likely to have a relationship with each other, whereas this type shouldn't date that type. And these types, we could team together and so on. And I think a lot of those claims are basically BS, or you know, if they're true, that they're only slightly true. And so, you know, so I think it's sort of depends on what kind of claims want to make that unfortunately, I think a lot of people try to use Myers Briggs for things it's not really valid for. And they don't just think of it as sort of a useful framework for, you know, discussing what you're like and trying to understand other people.
SARA: Yeah, so like, when we have a new tool in our toolbox, we want to use it on everything. And it takes a while to know like where it is and isn't a good hammer for the nail and what isn't a nail. I think a lot of that is a kind of learning process. And even if in the process you discover something about yourself or about a relationship with someone else that you didn't know before. And just because you had no framework to attach it to then like, awesome, but I like what you said earlier about going into anything that everybody is like, this is amazing with like, okay, I can probably learn something here. What is the thing that I can learn? And then like, what other models do I need? And what kind of scientific questioning do I need to do to make sure that I'm not taking this on as the one and only truth? Because that can really be blinded to any other possibilities?
SPENCER: Where there's sort of this validity frame, which is useful to have, or you come in skeptical? And say, does this thing really do what it claims? And I think Myers Briggs has a very spotty record with that. And then there's another frame, which is just what can I learn here, boys from you'll find this valuable, and there's something to learn from that. And you can make, they'll pull out some pieces that are useful on the specific claims about Myers Briggs, you know, the sort of validity stuff has struggled on, one wants to cut people in these dichotomies like you're in here and I, and there's just a fundamental problem with cutting given dichotomies, which is, a lot of people live near the middle because these things tend to have sort of bell curve type shapes. So if most people live near the middle, and you want to cut it, and say either somewhere in isle you're gonna get a lot of people right near that boundary. And it tends to create a lot of flipping. So if you look at Myers Briggs types, they tend to change a lot throughout time, like, if you take the test a month later, you might actually get a different type, because maybe you were just near the middle, and then you had some random noise, and you're flipping between these different dichotomies. So I think that's one of the big struggles. Another struggle is they kind of came up with a theory very early on, and then much, much later, tried to like make the test really valid, but they're kind of still stuck in the parts of the theory that just came out of, you know, just thinking but didn't have much data behind them at the time. So I think they're sort of subtle with a sort of theory that isn't quite right, it doesn't quite work.
SARA: I appreciate that. It feels like a much more nuanced view of it. And just thinking about, like, something I'm struggling with, in developing my own model is the fact that like, if I really stick with the degree of nuance that I think is true for it, like people buy on the spectrum between two dialects, and people can change at different times. And people, you know, the things that feel most accurate to it, it makes it hard to explain, like people like simple models, and I know that it would have a lot more adoption if I just simplified it a bunch. And there is this kind of constant question of like, How much am I going to go with scientific accuracy? versus how much am I going to really like, try to get people interested enough that they'll dwell deeper. And I think one of my Paragons for what that looks like, in a good way, actually, is the Enneagram. Because whether or not it's very scientifically accurate, they have I think, done a really good job of presenting a basic framework at the outset that has a lot of nuances, once you dive deeper into it.
SPENCER: Right? You can start with something simple and then kind of unpack it and unpack and unpack it for those who are interesting. I personally think Enneagram is very unscientific. Again, I think it could be useful language, you know, and I think that's why I draw this distinction between Are we just coining types that we can then use as a way of talking about people like that person is kind of like a seven, you know, and then Ah, okay, I can communicate a lot. Once we have that language, I can communicate a lot of information, or are we making a pure claim that sevens are almost always like this, and they almost always, you know, are better off doing that. And that, I think, is a lot of bullshit, personally. But yeah, you know, on the Myers Briggs in particular, I just want to say the last couple things about it. They have these kinds of four dichotomies. But if you view them as spectrums, instead of dichotomy is like you instead of thinking you and I think introvert to extrovert, right, it's sort of as interesting relationship to the Big Five test, the Big Five personality test, which is the EEI spectrum is almost perfectly mapped onto the big fives introversion extroversion spectrum. Then there's the judgers perceivers spectrum in Myers Briggs, which maps on to conscientiousness, I think of it as sort of a more specific form of conscientiousness. So Big Five has kind of this broader construct. And whereas the judges or procedure spectrum is kind of more narrow, but basically, I think one way to look at Myers Briggs is it's sort of, it's actually a lot like a four-factor instead of five-factor, Big Five personality test that sort of is measuring sort of more narrow traits rather than these broader traits. So I kind of view it as a not as accurate Big Five test. And the truth that's missing is neuroticism. Like there's nothing so in the Big Five test is neuroticism, which is about being tending to be anxious and depressed and emotionally reactive and getting angry easily stuff like that. And that's just totally missing from the Myers-Briggs.
SARA: I love this. I feel like I'm learning so much more about both Myers-Briggs and like the accurate methodology of testing right now. And it's also making me realize that like, there's such a difference between what I think I've learned is external and internal validity. Like does something make sense on the surface, and is it useful to use as a framework? Versus like? Does it actually correlate with what you're talking about? And you know, is it Missy? And from what you're saying? It's like, oh, yeah, there were a lot of useful things about Myers Briggs, even though it might not be testing exactly what it says it is. And of course, like, I have a connection to Enneagram, just because I've used it more. But that doesn't mean that it's any more scientific than Myers Briggs is. And so there's also a way that like, I guess, I'm learning right now being reminded, again, to not look down on things until I've really considered where they're accurate, and why and what they're useful for, instead of like, dismissing them on like, well, this is unscientific, what does unscientific mean?
SPENCER: Right? Well, you know, if we think, being as charitable as possible, just coining a word can be really useful, like the word on we, the existence of the word is not making kind of a scientific claim. But it's a useful word because you might notice in the world, a timeline fits really well, and you're like I'm experiencing on us, and then suddenly, you can communicate a lot to someone really. And I think of it as you know, if you know, the Enneagram, really well, someone can communicate a lot of information be like, Oh, that person is really a four, you know, I mean, like, that's a ton of information. Now, it's not gonna be perfectly accurate because nobody's perfect for, you know, but insofar as that person is, it does a pretty good model for that person. Now, there might be other people that fit the model terribly, where, you know, if you actually try to put them in the Enneagram types are just not going to work really well, or they're really going to be four of the types mixed together. And you're going to really struggle to use that framework to communicate much of anything for that person. And so my problem with the Enneagram is not that I think it has a language, it can be nice. My problem with it is I don't think it's very scientific in the sense that, I think if you were to actually try to make a really good assessment system and slot people into the types, what you find is that, while the Enneagram system claims that people tend to fall very strongly into one type, that's not really true, in fact, a lot of people will bleed across like two or three types. And it just wouldn't be nearly as clean as they want to say, and some people wouldn't be well-represented at all.
SARA: But yeah, absolutely. And that's kind of a constant question for me is like, how accurately does it need to be useful? And what sorts of disclaimers? Do you have to give about where it is and isn't useful? And like at a wider level, like, what is the system even trying to do? And is it useful for that, like, if it is to describe the behavior of everybody and how they interact? And it's not useful? But like you said, if it's to be able to have a shorthand for talking about somebody, like, oh, that person is kind of like a four, that might be really valid, because we process so much information all the time that we need those kinds of heuristics to even make sense of things. I love, by the way, thinking of language, have you ever read the dictionary of Obscure Sorrows?
SPENCER: No, it sounds great, though.
**SARA:**It's one of my favorite things on the internet. It's a guy who looks at all sorts of emotions and situations that are commonly experienced for which there is no word and just started making up words for them. One of the best ones is sonder, which is a word he made up to describe the sudden realization that everyone is living a life as varied and complex as your own.
SPENCER: That's a wonderful word. I love it.
SARA: All of these. And it's so cool because, you know, the English language doesn't include a lot of them. And so there's a lot of things that we just can't talk about. And that's why I think systems that are even partial can be useful because even if they're not correct, they give us a way to start a conversation.
SPENCER: Right? Exactly in, in the best-case scenario. With a system like Enneagram, they would have proven that sevens behave in a certain way. And seven, you can predict what sevens will do in different situations. And you could predict that sevens will get along with threes. I don't think they've done that work, but they provide language and then people find it useful. And you know, and hoping with your test, you know, I really liked the framework you're developing, I think it has a lot of potential. And, you know, I hope that you'll as you do more and more than empirical stuff, you will find some really cool relationships where you can actually make valid claims about you know, if you're a doer, maybe you're more likely to do this, you may be more likely to have this motivation really to get along with that kind of person, etc. That would be a really awesome way to develop your work.
SARA: Yeah, I would be so excited if that were possible. And if somebody who is in a relationship, I had somebody who the first version of the manual that I wrote that I gave to the beta testers included a lot of suggestions for like how to relate to different types if you want to either join them in their conversation or ask them to relate in a different way. One of the kinds of hardening stories that I got was one of the things I said about Maker, and I think it was about Makers is that they have a hard time slowing down, or Doers in general, they have a hard time slowing down. And sometimes one of the best things you can do is actually give them a drink or a cigarette or something. I was kind of basing this off my partner's community which has those norms so that they actually have something in their hands and it means to relax. And one of the beta testers wrote back and was like, That sentence was one of the most useful ones that I ever read. It finally allowed me to understand some of my dad's alcoholism. So I don't think that's like true across the board, but I'm finding that some of kinds of the descriptions of actions that people do and why they do them have been really used feel like that's kind of my hope is like Where can this help people destigmatize the beliefs that they've had about those around them? Where and especially like, kind of that core question of where can we stop judging our parents for doing a small talk or not being interested in us or uncle that cracks me jokes all the time, but instead go, Okay, what is it that they're actually trying to say and that they need? And how can I meet them more in that in such a way where I can actually change my family system by being more flexible to people's different needs?
SPENCER: That's really cool. Sara, thanks so much for coming on. This is really fun.
SARA: Yeah, thank you so much for inviting me.
Click here to return to the list of all episodes.
Sign up to receive one helpful idea and one brand-new podcast episode each week!
Subscribe via RSS or through one of these platforms:
Host / Director