Elevator Going Up—Are You Ready?

Mar 6, 2015

Stages of human development are a pathway to understanding ourself in relation to others. In Tuesday’s blog, I wrote about the first two stages: The Impulsive and The Opportunist.

For today, let’s return to our imaginary building and take the elevator up to the next floor. This next stage, The Rule-Oriented stage, is also part of the Concrete Tier.

Yes, I know it’s not typical to have continuous blog posts. But, can I be honest?

On any given day, I have either a friend, colleague, or client tell me about a challenge with some other person in their life. My purpose is to help you grow in understanding, empathy, and compassion such that you make better relational choices.

Let’s get on with it.

The Rule-Oriented Stage

At the Rule-Oriented stage of development, we begin to understand how people outside ourselves think and feel. In other words, children move from a 1st person perspective of the earlier stages and an “all about me” worldview to an understanding of us or a 2nd person perspective.

At this stage, children are filled with curiosity, creativity, and imagination. This 2nd person perspective allows them to understand that others in the community may see, feel, and think as they do. They are also able to fully communicate ideas, ask questions, and experience reciprocity.

Because their sense of visualization, feeling, and interior listening becomes stronger, children at the Rule-Oriented stage also begin to develop a memory of past experiences. Even so, their experience of time is still very much in the moment.

They can recall the authoritative voice of a parent or caregiver, but they may not necessarily remember or prioritize the rules consistently. What they do know is that the rules are intended to keep them safe.

You may recall in my earlier post that most adults develop beyond these concrete tiers. Remember, however, it’s possible for an adult to get stuck at the Rule-Oriented stage if they have gone through early childhood trauma. Individuals who fall within this stage may exist in the present moment, but they also understand the importance of being socially acceptable to others if they are to have friends.

Being socially acceptable can, however, be problematic for someone who does not have the appropriate structure and support. The Rule-Oriented adult may need help in understanding and remembering the ethical rules of a “good” society. Without this level of support, people at this stage may find themselves seeking the rules of an unhealthy community that is detrimental to their health and wellbeing.

A fleeting memory does not often support healthy decisions (O’Fallon, 2013).

Adults at this stage are often able to make agreements with others, they just can’t remember them consistently. To the rest of the world, it seems as though they intentionally break the rules when in fact they are actually seeking rules that align with their early 2nd person perspective. Inner city gangs and the institutional settings of prison or jail often meet a Rule-Oriented person’s need to be supported in a community of people who think and feel just as they do.

I know I promised you an additional stage for this post, but I think this is a lot to take in. Here’s my recommendation.

Spend a few moments thinking about a person that may be causing you difficulty. Maybe they fail to honor their commitments. Maybe they are reckless and impulsive when it comes to money.

The point is not to judge them. See if you can understand their perspective better. This will help you manage your relationship better.

For instance, I had an executive-level client some years ago who demonstrated behaviors associated with this early stage. Many of his characteristics were problematic for him and his co-workers.

Here are a few ways that he showed up to others:

  • Difficulty respecting the opinions of co-workers unless they aligned with his “rules”
  • Difficulty communicating with people outside his own peer group
  • Expansive creativity but impulsive in how he implemented ideas
  • Impulsive spending and excessive partying
  • Need to be the star of the show in a group setting
  • Emotional, child-like outbursts that often got him in trouble with others
  • An expressed feeling of being separate and isolated from the larger group

If you’re thinking this is a lot of negative activity for someone at an executive level, you’re absolutely right. Awareness of the stages help us, as parents, leaders, and business owners, realize that people are not necessarily “bad” when they demonstrate such behaviors. They simply haven’t “grown-up” yet.

Our job is to set clearly defined boundaries that will help them grow up and wake up so that they can live a healthy life. When we understand where they are, we can coach, train, mentor, and develop them far better.

As I continue to explore the stages of human development, I invite you to try and locate yourself in the descriptors I’m offering and to also think about someone in your life that you can support to later stages.

Here’s the hard part. Sometimes support looks like letting go and moving on.

Stay tuned. In my next blog, I’ll dive into the Conformist stage.

[callout]This post is part of a series written by Sharon Spano, PhD. The series is titled, The Stages of Human Development. To learn about the stages of human development, read my posts: