Are you frustrated with someone at work? Even angry? Or, maybe you are perplexed by a person who is not at all like you. Worse, maybe you have agreement from others that your current judgment is correct.

Rather than allow your emotions to rule you or ignore a clearer reality, you can take a page from the great phenomenologists like Husserl and Brentano who recognized the complexity of social systems and history that influence human beings.

What do we mean by becoming an “anthropologist” in the organization setting? An anthropologist studies different aspects of human beings and their surroundings. They are scientists who collect observations and data over a broad span of time to understand the human being in his or her environment. To become an anthropologist in your world, you will want to:

  • Observe the interactions, language, etc. taking note of the patterns you see.
  • Consider and explore the culture or cultures that have shaped the person.
  • Put your data on a timeline, a useful tool to not only think but to identify patterns and missing data.
  • Reserve your judgment, recognizing what you know and don’t know. Hardest of all, since we are assessment “machines” making judgments in every moment.

Being an anthropologist, you can give yourself the time to think. Collecting the observations, noting them, recording what you know and don’t know is not a project. It’s a discipline that will serve you well when you need to respond in the immediate moment.

The strongest indicator to stop and put your scientist hat on is when your emotions rise. Someone does or says something (or doesn’t) and you find yourself very angry, annoyed, disgusted, etc. Instead of “uh, huh—that’s the way it is,” railing inside about how dysfunctional, disruptive, etc. the person or dynamics are. Instead (or when you have pulled your emotions together), take a closer look at the facts. Ask a question about what the person means, a past experience that has formed their thinking, etc.

Don’t feel bad, this is also a natural human reaction. In the craziness of organizational life, we are bound to have many recurring, upsetting situations and variations of difficult people. You can’t get away from people who are different and problematic for you. Better to start working to understand, work with, and influence them. You may decide to move on, but at least you have a richer understanding to take with you to the next nutty organization or team.

Today, put your anthropologist hat on and see what you can learn when you observe or “dig” around for related information about the person, history, cultures.