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The world around you is pulling your strings, shaping your innermost instincts and your most private thoughts. And you don't even realize it. Every day and in all walks of life, we overlook the enormous power of situations, of context in our lives. That's a mistake, says Sam Sommers in his provocative new book. Just as a museum visitor neglects to notice the frames around paintings, so do people miss the influence of ordinary situations on the way they think and act. But frames - situations - do matter. Your experience viewing the paintings wouldn't be the same without them. The same is true for human nature.
In Situations Matter, Sommers argues that by understanding the powerful influence that context has in our lives and using this knowledge to rethink how we see the world, we can be more effective at work, at home, and in daily interactions with others. He describes the pitfalls to avoid and offers insights into making better decisions and smarter observations about the world around us.
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By Joshua Kim on 05-01-12
Operationalizing 'Situations Matter'
Good on Sam Sommers, Tufts University psychology professor and blogger for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.
Sam has written a terrific book in Situations Matter, one that will make you re-think how you think about your colleagues, your students, and even perhaps airline employees. His main theme, that people's behavior is always context dependent and that we overemphasize innate personality, seems blindingly obvious. But as with many things, when our actual behaviors are closely examined (as opposed to how we report how we behave), it become clear that our true actions are wildly divergent from our self-perceptions.
Turns out, we predictably and consistently make the mistake of overvaluing personality based explanations and underestimating situational reasons for behaviors. This flaw in our thinking is known as the fundamental attribution error, and none of us are immune.
Situations Matter takes us on a tour of the social psychology literature around this fundamental attribution error, with Dr. Sommers guiding us through the academic literature via some amusing storytelling (which often hinge on Dr. Sommers' own mistakes). This is definitely in the genre of pop-academic writing, accessible to a wide and general audience. But Situations Matter is also a book that undergrad psych students would learn a great deal from. One gets the sense that Sam Sommers is a wonderful teacher, in addition to being an engaging writer and an accomplished researcher - the sort of professor that we'd all like to have at our institutions.
Where Situations Matter was immediately helpful to me has been in thinking about job recruiting and project management. I am working hard to remember the lessons of Situations Matter and to think about the actions and behaviors of the people I work with (and might work with in the future) as explained by the context in which they work. In practice, this involves working to withhold initial judgements and being willing to ask many questions (and really listen) to understand the environment and constraints in which my colleagues (and job applicants) navigate.
Reading Situations Matter helped me understand not only the degree to which we make the error of discounting context, but the reasons behind our errors in judgment. This knowledge is very helpful in my own efforts to evolve my behaviors. This book has real practical value.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
By Lauren on 03-09-12
Unbearably pedantic and smug
What would have made Situations Matter better?
I'm sure the content in this book is valuable. I just wish an entirely different person had written it. The author's writing style makes Situations Matter unlistenable.
Sommers's plodding logic leads the reader to infer and understand his point long, Long before he gets around to delivering it.
There are books that take their time in getting to the point that are listenable with a bit of patience, but not this one. Situations Matter's delivery of content is chock full admonitions to the reader like
Has Situations Matter turned you off from other books in this genre?
No. There are fine books in this genre from people who address their subject matter without turning it into 'comedy hour for the intellectually slow.'
If you have read social science pop literature, this is covering familiar ground while treating it like difficult to explain, shocking revelation. Patronizing. Pedantic.
Would you listen to another book narrated by Joshua Swanson?
I find his delivery grating, but I honestly think he's doing a decent job given what he has to work with. You sound like smug and irritating if that's what is on the page. I would not avoid books narrated by him in the future.
What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?
Frustration. I really, really wanted to like this book. I thoroughly enjoy books in this genre, but this was a disappointment.
9 of 10 people found this review helpful