SD in Action



It is surprising just how invisible people are to one another. We observe this with clients, in training, and in discussions with people about those around them. While the bodies are visible, their inner workings, needs, processing, worldviews, and intentions are often hidden – even when they open themselves up to others in full display. Invisibility seems more common than being seen for who one is: the young feel invisible to adults; the old feel they are invisible to the young; the introverted high performer who remains unseen by the boss or the extroverts; the child who feels parents don’t know him/her; spouses who drift apart or who have taken their connection for granted; team members who make every effort to participate but whose contributions go unnoticed; cutting ahead of others in line or on the road, etc. From those closest to complete strangers, how often do you feel invisible and what makes you feel that way?

The Couple

A couple joined our Spiral Dynamics Training so that they could learn and enjoy the experience together. About halfway through each approached us for a quick consult on their Spiral Dynamics profiles. We tag-teamed and quickly found ourselves in the middle of situation that involved underlying pain and tension despite civility on the surface. Each was expecting the course to “fix” the other and “show him/her the error of their ways”. Although they were at separate tables, their interpersonal tension reached through the room impacting members of their respective groups.

The SD Assessments made certain aspects of their processing, motivations, styles and Worldviews evident to us, which we discussed with them. As they struggled to reconcile our interpretations of the scores with the contradictory views they had of one another, results that neither expected from the other, a surprising dynamic emerged. Both agreed that our interpretation of their results was accurate to their experience of self, to their reality. How could we, as relative strangers, “know” them better than the person they married twelve years prior?

While neither of us felt that we “knew” either person well at all, this comment brought to the fore a surprising reality: we are sometimes invisible to those closest to us. For each person, no matter how they tried to be heard or reveal self/needs to their partner, there were core aspects that remained unseen to the other until the assessments and our interpretation of them legitimized each person’s approach. A difficult couple of days and angst-ridden breaks preceded a breakthrough where self was revealed to the other and made visible – learning that informed the whole group.

The Youth

A group of 6 included a young man who didn’t consider the “belief” his colleagues had in their “intellectual cult” as significant or as explanatory as they thought it was. A poorly worded comment caused them to team up against him during class activities, so much so that the conflict caused dysfunction for the entire group. They took on the task of getting him in line, uplifting him, forcing him to see the light, and temper his youthful naivety and exuberance. Observation and comments included:

“He just wants to control the group. I was like that at his age, so I’m exerting a firm hand to get him in line,” a member confided.
“Some people are Second Tier and others just don’t get it. It’s so hard to work a Red, but we’re trying,” sighed another.
“He just wants attention, like a needy child when the adults are speaking, so we need to ignore him to extinguish the behaviour. It’s cute in small doses; but, the group agrees it’s disruptive. It’s a little trying, getting him up to speed.”
“He’s resistant and that gets in the way of his own learning; he needs to know his place.”
The irony of the situation was that, although young and a “disbeliever”, this young man thought and processed in the more complex ways advocated, but not embodied, by the rest of his group. His thinking was open and fluid while theirs was fixated on their end goal. His hard edged questioning was interpreted as combative, and he became “other” by not conforming to their standards. During the course, he was on target with most of his observations and closer to the essence of the message more frequently than his group. They didn’t see that and had difficulty learning and implementing what they were exposed to. His intentions, his approach, who he was, his needs, and his contributions were invisible to his colleagues. Rather than seeing him for who he was, they projected themselves missing the core of his being entirely, thereby making him invisible while at the same time keeping him the focus of their attention.

The consequences to the group were: their homogeneity prevented deeper learning, implementation and agility; the ongoing conflict and resistance in trying to get him to conform caused them to lock onto and narrow their pre-existing thinking rather than expand upon it; their activities often missed the key points we had covered; and their creativity and innovativeness was lacking in comparison to the quality of work produced in the other groups. With greater and increasing emphasis on innovation and high performance efforts within teams in the workplace, the hidden costs of allowing people to be invisible within organizations can be significantly, and negatively, impactful to productivity, collaboration, and decision making.

The Knowledge Worker

The quality of the knowledge worker’s contributions are much more difficult to measure than those of factory workers.  The long term consequences of decisions based on the knowledge worker’s efforts might not surface until long after that person is gone, and sometimes they might never be obvious. Consider the worker that feels stifled, unrecognized, unheard, unappreciated, and invisible who gives about 10% of the possible effort to the workplace (this statement brings unanimous nods in our groups so it is more common than we might believe). Even so, the organization is satisfied and has rewarded them for holding back. Imagine if the organization got 100% effort and commitment?  Consider the following example of how trust and collaboration are destroyed based on another’s contributions being invisible.

Naomi was a generous and supportive collaborator. If a colleague called with a question, problem of simply wanting to talk, Naomi was there for them. Richard found her extremely informative and he made a habit of connecting with her every week to get her views and analyses on things going on around them. Because they were communicating via telephone, Naomi didn’t know that Richard was making copious notes of her thoughts and the words she used to put information together. She was happy to be helpful. When Richard told her that he was working on a book, she was excited for him and had no idea that her ideas were being memorialized. A few male colleagues helped him with supporting material and reviews. When the book came out Naomi’s colleagues were stunned; Richard quoted the male colleagues extensively and credited them for their contributions. Phrases, ideas, and specific analyses they repeatedly heard from her had been written into the book but as Richard’s ideas. When they confronted him he seemed genuinely surprised; he sincerely believed that his original work, his ideas, his thoughts, his writing was included. Nothing anyone said seemed to register for Richard that he had helped himself to her ideas. Colleagues distanced themselves from him and marginalized him because they believed him to be duplicitous.

Naomi wondered if he had somehow absorbed her thinking as his own. She said: “In Richard’s mind, could it really be, my job was to feed him and support him – like his metaphorical work mother, maybe? However, as a contributing equal and a thinking woman, to him, I was not worthy of the same respect my male counter parts were given?  I guess I didn’t see him in that way, but his jokes about how I should be an obedient woman now seem ignorant and misogynistic. I’m sorry people treat him with suspicion but I don’t blame them given how he treated me.”

There are many examples of contributions, thinking, intention, motivation, ideas, needs, and personality being completely invisible to others. One of the ways we work on overcoming this in our Spiral Dynamics Training programs is to expose people to worldviews, approaches, and ways of being in a deeper and richer way than they might have otherwise considered. These insights open up eyes, hearts, minds, and worlds to the variability in human nature. How about you? When and under what circumstances have you been invisible?


  • Our first couple reported that due to the training they were able to renew their relationship and see one another in new ways. “We’re in love again because we’re fascinated with each other; there was a person there that I’d never noticed – more interesting and multidimensional than the person I recognized until now.” They are beginning to see each other anew.
  • George, the executive coach, no longer sticks religiously to the formulas and approaches he was taught. Now he uses the SD assessments to “see” his clients more clearly. “I’m now able to see who my client is, where they are, and what he/she needs. Then I tailor my approach to the person and their needs. Things have been working much better.” His clients are more visible.
  • “When I got home from the training last night I sat down with my teenager and we had a long talk. It’s the first time we connected in a very long time. I felt like the curtain lifted and I could really see her as a person,” a participant exclaimed upon arriving to the fourth day of the Spiral Dynamics Training he was taking part in.
  • Our young man stuck outside of the group was able to see that his colleagues didn’t want to see him for who he was because it would be threatening to their own identities. He was able to see their processing and their needs for it. Then he began working on different ways of approaching them that would allow them be as they chose without having to comply with their demands.
  • In a team building intervention, the members of the group were exposed to our approach enabling them to see one another more clearly; their collaboration and functioning improved significantly as a result. Deadlines were met. Innovation increased.
  • A salesperson saw her client more clearly thereby engaging in a different interaction as a result. Sales volume increased significantly as their earlier tensions disappeared.
  • A CEO learns to see the value employees are contributing, lets go of the need to control everything, and improves the tone and culture by accepting others as equally interested in the success of the organization. His stress drops and the organization becomes even more productive.

Tuning in and really comprehending the inner nature of the people around us is something that doesn’t come naturally. Most people are not exposed to tools, techniques, models, and approaches for doing this, never mind doing it with a deep and penetrating understanding. Such insights are not very common but so helpful to strengthen the fabric of our interactions. This is one of the reasons so many people report that Spiral Dynamics Training has changed the way they see the world. What would become visible to you if you could see others more clearly and deeply?

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