Chunking Up to Identify and Utilize Hierarchies of Values and Criteria

It is also possible to chunk up values and criteria in order to identify deeper levels of values and criteria—i.e., their hierarchy of criteria. A person's or group's hierarchy of criteria is essentially the order of priorities that they apply in order to decide how to act in a particular situation. Hierarchies of values and criteria relate to the degree of importance or meaning which people attach to various actions and experiences.

An example of a 'hierarchy of criteria' would be a person who values "health' more than 'financial success'. Such a person would tend to put his or her health "first." This person would probably structure his or her life more around physical activities than professional opportunities. A person whose hierarchy of criteria placed "financial success" over health would have a different life-style. He or she might sacrifice health and physical well-being in order to "get ahead" monetarily.

Clarifying people's hierarchies of values is important for successful mediation, negotiation and communication. Values hierarchies also play an important role in persuasion and motivation.

One of the main ways to elicit a person's hierarchy of criteria is through the process of finding what are known as "counter examples." Counter examples are, in essence, 'exceptions to the rule'. The following questions use the process of finding counter examples to reveal a person's hierarchy of criteria:

1. What is something that you could do, but do not do?


e.g., "I would not go into a toilet that has been marked for the opposite sex, because it is against the rules." Criterion = 'Follow the Rules'.

2. What could make you do it anyway? (Counter example) e.g., "I would go into a toilet marked for the opposite sex if there were no other choices, and I really had to go badly." Higher Criterion = 'Expediency in a Crisis'.

As the example illustrates, the identification of counter examples can help to uncover 'higher level' criteria which override others. To get a sense of your own hierarchy criteria by exploring counter examples, answer the following questions:

1. What would motivate you to try something new?

2. What would cause you to atop doing something, even if it satisfied your answer to question 1? (Counter example A)

3. What would make you start doing something again, even if you stopped for the reasons you identified in question 2? (Counter example B)

4. What would cause you to stop doing it again? (Counter example C)

As you reflect on your answers notice which criteria have emerged, and in what order of priority. Perhaps you would do something that you felt would be "creative," exciting" or "fun." These would be your first level of "criteria." You might stop doing something that was creative, exciting and fun, if you felt you felt that you were being "irresponsible" to your family (Counter example A). In this case, the criterion of "responsibility" would override "creativity" or "fun." You might, however, do something that you thought was "irresponsible" anyway if you felt it was "necessary for your growth as a person" (Counter example B). "Growth" would thus be higher on your 'hierarchy of criteria' than "responsibility" or "fun." Going more deeply, you might find that you would quit doing something that was "necessary for your growth as a person" if you believed it would "jeopardize the safety of yourself or your family" (Counter example C). Thus, "safety" would be higher on your "ladder" of criteria than the others.

Incidentally, another way to identify counter examples (and thus hierarchies of criteria) is to ask:

1. What would motivate you to try something new? e.g., "If it were safe and easy."

2. What would motivate you to try something new, even if it did not did not satisfy your answer to question 1? (i.e., If it was not safe and easy.)

e.g., "If I could learn a lot from doing it."

Hierarchies of criteria are one of the main sources of difference between people, groups and cultures. Similar hierarchies of criteria, on the other hand, are the basis for compatibility between groups and individuals. Hierarchies of criteria are a key aspect of motivation and marketing. Consider, for instance, the following hypothetical example of using the process of finding counter-examples to identify a customer's hierarchy of criteria for purchasing beer:

Q: What type of beer do you usually buy?

A: Well, I usually get XYZ beer.

A: It's the kind of beer I always get. I'm just used to it 1 guess. (Criterion 1 = Familiarity)

Q: Yes, its important to be familiar with what you're buying isn't it. Have you ever bought any other kind of beer? (Identify counter-example)

Q: What made you decide to buy it even though you weren't used to it? (Elicit higher level criterion related to counter-example)

A: It was on sale. A big discount from its usual price. (Criterion 2 - Save Money)

Q: Saving money can sure help out sometimes. I'm wondering, have you ever bought a beer that you weren't used to buying that wasn't on sale? (Identify next counterexample)

A: Yes. I was paying back some friends for helping me move into my new house. (Criterion 3 = Show Appreciation to Others)

Q: Good friends can be hard to come by. Its good to show them how much you appreciate them. Is there anything that would motivate you to buy a beer that was unfamiliar and wasn't inexpensive even though you didn't need to pay someone back for a favor? (Identify next counter example)

A: Well sure, I've bought more expensive beers when I've been out with the guys at work. I'm no cheapskate. (Criterion 4 - Impress Others)

Q: Yes, I guess there are certain situations where the kind of beer you buy can make a statement about your priorities. I'm really curious to know if there's anything that might get you to buy a more expensive unfamiliar beer if there was no one you owed a favor to or that you wanted to make a statement to? (Identify next counterexample)

A: I suppose I might do it if I really wanted to reward myself for doing something difficult. (Criterion 5 = Appreciate Self)

Assuming that this person is representative of a larger population of potential beer buyers, the interviewer has now uncovered a particular hierarchy of criteria that may be appealed to in order to sell an unfamiliar and more expensive beer to people that might not normally purchase it.

This process of eliciting hierarchies of criteria by identifying counter examples can also help in the process of effective persuasion. By getting people to answer these types of questions you can help them to break out of their habitual ways of thinking and can learn about the ordering of their values.

This information can then be used to get around boundaries that are often taken for granted. As an example, this method of questioning was once taught to a group of men who were shy about meeting women because they didn't think they had anything to offer a woman. They were instructed to go out and interview women and learn to identify values in women that could help them realize that they had more choices socially. The following is an example of one such interview:

Man: What kind of man would you most like to go out with?

Woman: Someone who is rich and handsome, naturally.

M: Have you ever gone out with someone who wasn't particularly rich or handsome?

W: Yes. There was this guy I knew who was really witty. He could make me laugh about practically anything.

M: Are the only people you go out with rich and handsome or witty, or do you ever consider going out with other kinds of people?

W: Well sure. I went out with this person who was so intelligent. He seemed to know something about everything.

M: What would make you consider going out with someone who wasn't rich, handsome or witty, and who didn't particularly impress you with their intelligence?

W: There was this one guy I really liked who didn't have any of those things but he just seemed to know where he was going in life and had the determination to get there.

M: Have you ever gone out with anyone who didn't have money, good looks, wit, intelligence or determination?

W: No. Not that I can remember.

M: Can you think of anything that would motivate you?

W: Well, if they did something or were involved in something that was unique or exciting I'd be interested.

M: Anything else?

W: If they really cared about me and helped me to get in touch with myself as a person, or brought out something special about me.

M: How would you know if someone really cared about you?...

This dialogue demonstrates how some simple questions may be used to get from surface level beliefs to deeper beliefs and values that can broaden a person's choices and flexibility.

Recognizing that people have different criteria (and different hierarchies of criteria) is essential for resolving conflicts and managing diversity. Some individuals and cultures value the 'achievement of tasks' more than they do the 'preservation of relationships'. Others have exactly the reverse set of priorities.

Hierarchy of Criteria is a key Sleight of Mouth pattern that involves re-evaluating (or reinforcing) a generalization according to a criterion that is more important than the criteria that are currently being addressed by the generalization.

The following technique is a procedure that applies this pattern in order to identify and override conflicts related to different levels of criteria.

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