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What drives our behaviour?

In the latest Podcast episode we discussed why people do what they do.


You might have heard the name Jacob Morgan. The latter is a 4x Best-Selling Author, TED & Keynote Speaker who wrote a book: The Future Leader: 9 Skills and Mindsets to Succeed in the Next Decade.


In the book, he asked a question to 140 top CEOs:

What should we be teaching leaders now to prepare for the future?


The CEOs listed a number of future skills, and what I find interesting is that eight out the ten top skills are directly correlated to how much we understand ourselves and others!


If you have been following for a while, you know how passionate I am about behaviour and culture. I have studied almost every resource on Behavioural Science and every time I meet someone I ask myself a simple question: why do they do what they do?

One of the things I learned over time is that people do what they consider right based on what they consider true to get the best outcome they think they can get.

My friend Anil told me a few days ago “Matteo I have just realized that whenever two people are in a conversation they both deeply think they are right”. This is a brilliant thing to notice because most of the time when we are in a conversation we often try to prove our point rather than listening to our counterpart.

People do what they consider right based on what they consider true to get the best outcome they think they can get. What does this mean? In this Article, I will give you some examples that will shed light on this sentence.


What drives our behaviour?

1. What we consider right and true (our values and beliefs)

Think about a person who grows up in a family who believes the Earth is flat. What happens when they meet someone who states the Earth is round-shaped? They will perceive this information as wrong and false!

People perceive the world through their own lens. Perception drives reality. This is why we define reality as what the majority thinks reality is.

In some instances, it is easier to reach a common agreement on reality. For instance, we commonly refer to the colour of a leaf as “green”. However, would everyone agree on the fact that a leaf is green? Not everyone; someone who is colour blind would perceive it as orange. They are sure the leaf is orange until the majority of us tells them it is actually green.

2. What we want and what we actually need

I could give you a thousand examples on this. Have you ever seen someone say “I need to eat healthy” and then you find them at McDonalds? What they want clashes with what they need. The opposite also holds true, as it happens when someone says “I want to find a partner and have a stable relationship”, but then ultimately go clubbing and sleep around because that is what their body needs. Another example in the Corporate context, we know we need honest feedback to improve but what we want is your Manager telling us that we are doing everything right.

When you add values to the equation, this gets even more interesting because you adhere to a certain value but then you also want and need something different, you follow your needs and then you regret it because you went against your values. 
3. What our environment considers normal

The same person, same identical person, raised in Sweden, Japan and Brazil would behave in completely different ways. Why? Because the adapt to the environment in which they live! I am sure you have experienced this is you lived abroad, you go back home and your family tells you are weird because your behaviour is not familiar to them.

An example to clarify: I took the underground both in Milan and Tokyo; in Tokyo, it is not normal to speak on the phone because it is considered rude to the other passengers. In Milan, it would be considered a limitation to personal freedom. 

  • Points 1 & 2 are PERSONAL PREFERENCES (linked to our personality) and our so-called natural behaviour in behavioural science.

  • Point 3 is CULTURE (what is considered normal in the environment we live in) and our so-called adapted behaviour in behavioural science.

When people say “I do not like living in this country” what they often mean is that the culture of that place clashes with their personal preferences. As an Italian woman who is asked to cover her body in Saudi Arabia; it is not her personal preference to cover her body but the environment says it is good practice to do that. 

  • Our personality determines how we want to behave.

  • Our environment (family, country, company) determines how we should technically behave!

This is why, when you choose a workplace, the most important thing to consider is the values. Every single group has a behavioural style which is considered normal and people should conform to. Even the dress code is something we are expected to conform to.

This is why we cannot separate the personality and the culture. The two are linked. When employees state they hate their company, it is probably due to the fact that their values and the company values are not aligned. 

Moreover, to make things more complicated, 95% of our actions are driven by our values and beliefs we are not even aware of. This is why when people work with me I ask them do to behavioural tests; there is no point in teaching you communication if you don’t know who you are in the first place.


What is more important to understand? The CULTURE or the PERSONALITY? Take a second to answer this question.

Here below, I will show you that the two go hand in hand.


When we talk about CULTURE, what do you think about? Most people think about countries! I am Italian, you are French, we come from different cultures. If we move to Russia, we have to adapt to what people are used to.

Here is the mind blowing part: research shows that more than 80% of culture differences exist within countries, not between them. How is that possible?

To answer this question, we need to look at the composition of our society.

Our society is truly diverse, even if we do not realize it. Consider parameters such as Education, Job classification, Ethnicity, Age, Sexual orientation, Gender, Race, Political ideology, Thinking style, Communication style, Creed.

Do you see the diversity within our society?



We all belong to 15-20 groups at the same time. When you speak to someone, what are the chances that they belong to your same 15-20 groups? Pretty much 0!

And this means something AMAZING: every single conversation, even the one with your best friend, could be considered a cross-cultural dialogue. Most people don’t know about it.

We could therefore say that Culture is a high-degree of commonalities. When you speak to someone from same region, social status, creed, etc. you feel part of the same culture. 

This is why we feel the need to specify that we want a DIVERSE culture, an INCLUSIVE culture, because diverse culture is almost an oxymoron! It basically means a diverse high-degree of commonalities 😊


In my opinion, Culture goes further than the typical definition: "the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society". Culture is the celebration of our commonalities AND differences. Our differences are not something that should divide us, but something that makes us stronger when we work together.


We have talked about the CULTURE. But what happens if we take into account the PERSONALITIES?

Even within the smaller groups, we can notice that people have different personality types! Some people are more dominant, others are steady, others are analytical, others are intuitive, others are inspirational, etc. etc. They have completely opposing preferences and communication styles. It gets extremely confusing (and beautiful).

We can see that there are UNLIMITED values and beliefs, wants and needs, behind the surface. 

The behaviours, driven by culture and personal preferences, are unlimited.

We must talk about individual and group mindset at the same time.

This is what Intercultural Intelligence (ICQ) analyses.


And cognitive diversity has proven benefits in terms of performance, this is why companies must make an effort to diversify their workforce and 70% of Fortune 500 companies employ behavioural assessments with their employees.


My aim today was showing that our world is so diverse that when people make general statements such as “She is different”, you now have the instruments to ask “Different based on what?! Is she different in terms of culture or in terms of personal preferences? If it’s culture, what parameters are you considering? If it’s personal differences, what values, wants and needs are different?”.

You will see that most of the time the person is making a very general statement based on some basic differences, such as skin colour, without knowing anything about the person.


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Make your life a masterpiece, I appreciate you and I hope you have an amazing weekend.

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