How Behavior Shows What we Value

On taking your turn

“You don't step straight up to the front of the ATM line. You don't cut in front of people at the ticket desk. You take your turn. You can learn great life lessons from board games.”

[Gary Oldman]

The character of a person is in plain sight for everyone to see when they are faced with a choice for example, waiting in line or stepping right up to the front of the queue in Oldman's quote. How people act (or react) shows you what they value.

Based on John Le Carre's 1974 novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is one of my favorite Gary Oldman movies, possibly one of his best roles even as the script was at times difficult to follow.

It takes you a second viewing to realize Oldman as Smiley is the protagonist and yet he has not said a word for several frames when we first meet him. Yet that silence speaks volumes about the story unfolding before your eyes. Regardless of what you think of the plot and screenplay, Oldman played his role magnificently, using his body language to put us in the story with him… he waits his turn in every frame he is George Smiley.

If only we were that real in real life as his acting was! Despite the multitude of channels and tools, clear communication in conversation is taking a beating; second place in a culture that favors the sensational, the indirect, the automated, and the expedient.

Clear communication in conversation involves taking our turn, it seeks to illuminate rather than obscure, to connect rather than avoid. It is sincere rather than coy. We don't need to manipulate anyone to get what we want.

Every day we engage in many types of conversation. Based on the goals we seek to achieve, there are four main opportunities to make an impact:


  • negotiation
  • meeting (group or 1:1)
  • relationship building (this is beyond networking)
  • interviews


Conversations that work get us more of what we want (and less of what we don't want). They are spaces in which we test our ideas, plans, values, goals, dreams, and aspirations. We use verbal and non verbal communication to negotiate deadlines, resources, raises, job offers, as well as who will pick up the kids.

When we use conversation as a tool to explore options, focus on issues, and observe behavior we learn so much more about others and what they want than if we just got a fast agreement. For agreement is often the greatest form of misunderstanding.

Oldman also says, “There's only one authentic version of Gary, and I've got to really know who that is.”