Situations Matter is a new book by Sam Sommers whose goal is to demonstrate how situations influence our thoughts and behaviors. The book more than accomplishes this goal by also providing techniques to interpret situations that are influencing behaviors and providing techniques to better respond to these situations.
The author starts by recounting an experience in which he and his wife missed a connecting flight and how he interpreted the situation to negotiate a hotel voucher from the airlines customer service agent. In this case the author explains how he considered the situation in which the agent was operating to successfully frame his request. The lesson is that the agent is not a heartless ogre who did not want to assist the stranded travelers but instead an amicable person who was put in a tough situation by the airline. This discussion is very well aligned with the powerful negotiation techniques presented by Stuart Diamond in Getting More: How to Negotiate to Achieve Your Goals in the Real World
Sommers then discusses why, when presented with three game show hosts to tutor our child, we would immediately pick a certain one since he is viewed as more knowledgeable based on the game show that he hosts.
The remainder of the book covers several specific situational topics as I outline below.
WYSISYG - What you see is what you get. In this chapter, Sommers explains how we respond to what we see and discusses why we do not typically analyze and interpret the specific situation. In particular there is a discussion on how westerners will focus on a main object in a picture while those from eastern cultures look at the entire picture- frame and all! The most interesting analogy I found in this section was comparing the 2006 Olympics Opening Ceremony in Atlanta with the 2008 Olympics Opening Ceremony in China. As you may recall the 2008 games in China opened with 2008 people playing the drums while the 2006 games in Atlanta opened with a single performer - Celine Dion. Interesting insight indeed!
Help Wanted - In this chapter Sommers explores the perplexing reasons of why people in crowds will not assist those in need. Many real life examples along with results of studies (including the famous Good Samaritan study conducted at Princeton University) demonstrate that we will shirk responsibility when we are in the mix of a crowd as opposed to being alone.
Sommers also provides his insights onto the infamous lack of crowd response to the extended assault on Kitty Genovese in Queens during 1964. This is the classic case study of crowds which analyzed in many other books include Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
. Overall this chapter is an impressive synopsis as to why crowds affect our responses and behaviors.
Go with the Flow - This section introduces the Crows Whisperer aka `Super Fan'. This is the guy at sporting events who gets you to break out of the norms and scream passionately for your team. The most important take a ways from this chapter are techniques that can help you break yourself and others from the crowd affect that paralyze us during emergencies.
You are Not Who You Think You Are - In this section, Sommers presents evidence that we not only view others differently given the situation, but we also view ourselves differently. The results of several research experiments show that depending on our location and context we will identify ourselves differently. The author also gives great advice on how we should view ourselves as opposed to how many `self help' experts try to convince us to view ourselves. Overall this is a well written and very insightful chapter for understanding how we view ourselves.
Love and Hate - The final two chapter address how and when we love and hate are both influenced by situations. In the love section Sommers outlines the situational influences that affect who we end up choosing to date and marry as opposed to the traits we seek in a mate.
In my opinion, the chapter on Hate is the most important in the book. Finally, someone has addressed why we have a hard time initially distinguishing people within different ethnic backgrounds. This is a critical concept for anyone to understand when they interact and work with people who we do not classify within one of our `in groups'. This section also provides useful lessons for Project Managers who need to manage a team that consists of different groups, organizations or backgrounds.
My conclusion is this is a great book for helping to remind us that when viewing and judging the actions of others we need to consider their situation. It's main strength is that it also provides insights and strategies for dealing with the potential harm of crowd affects along with overcoming biases, both our own and others.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who interacts with other people. For further reading on these topics I also recommend reviewing the author's blog.