How understanding Social Values and psychographics made me a more empathetic researcher (and a better person)



As I approach my nine-year work anniversary at Environics Research this September, I find myself reflecting on my journey and the invaluable lessons I’ve gained. When I first joined Environics, I had little to no knowledge of the market research industry. However, after being invited for an interview, I took the initiative to research not only the industry but also what distinguishes Environics from other market research firms. What particularly captivated me was the company’s Social Values program and segmentation methodologies; the more I considered their potential, the more excited I became about the opportunity to work with them.

I’ve always been a curious person and love to learn about the people and world around me, but never would have considered myself to be a ‘researcher’ until I realized through my time at Environics that research is more than just an academic or professional pursuit; it’s an exploration of the human condition. While traditional quantitative surveys can provide rigorous, objective insights, more innovative and exploratory methodologies such as the Environics Social Values method can add a lot of richness to any research project. Indeed, using these less traditional tools has made me not just a better researcher but also a more empathetic and well-rounded individual.


It’s Not Just About the Numbers

For many years, the prevailing belief has been that research should focus primarily on data collection and analysis. Whether the field was social surveys, public health studies, or market research, the emphasis was on amassing substantial data sets and making statistical inferences from them.

However, I contend that we’re at a societal turning point, where it’s becoming increasingly clear that numbers alone cannot fully capture the complexities of human behavior and experience. While media and societal narratives often paint the world in black and white, the reality is far more nuanced, existing in varying shades of grey. Relying solely on numerical data leaves a wide swath of human experience unexamined.

Using a blinkered or too-rigid research approach not only limits our understanding but also erodes our empathy for those who differ from us. If we don’t explore the intricacies of individual and group experiences, we are left with a shallow understanding of each other, hindering our ability to empathize and connect on a deeper level.


The Human Behind the Number

Integrating social values and psychographics into my daily work has illuminated the fact that behind every data point lies a human being, complete with their own unique story, aspirations, fears, and cultural background.

When collaborating with clients to interpret data and its implications in their specific context, I always emphasize that individuals—be they patients, doctors, or government workers—are people first, and not merely defined by the roles we associate them with.

This shift in perspective has had implications not just professionally, but personally as well. It’s a reminder that my own values have been shaped by my upbringing and personal experiences and that my family, friends, and colleagues are also multifaceted individuals with life experiences that have shaped their own values. To truly understand them, I must consider multiple lenses, not just the one through which I relate to them.

Now, whether I’m conducting research interviews or conversing with friends and family, I find myself listening with greater attention. I’ve become more attuned to the nuanced Social Values that shape people’s opinions and decisions, leading to a form of engagement that is both deeper and more empathetic.


Becoming a Better Communicator

Using Environics Social Values segmentations doesn’t just improve the quality of the research we do; it also makes us more effective communicators. By grasping what drives people, we can help clients to tailor their interactions to be more respectful, understanding, and effective. Since Social Values are so deeply ingrained in our identities, it’s vital to consider them more consciously, recognizing how they influence our own lives and interactions.

In client workshops, I frequently employ our Social Values Segmentation Quiz as an introductory tool for discussing Social Values and examining how they can shape our worldviews – and even introduce bias into our thinking. For example, when working with one healthcare organization, our kick-off quiz revealed that most of the leaders in the room fell into one of the five groups in our PatientConnect segmentation. By contrast, only 18% of Canadian patients fall into that segment. In other words, the public these leaders were tasked with serving contained a much wider range of perspectives than was represented at the table. Recognizing and addressing these realities is essential to pursuing equitable health outcomes and fostering meaningful engagement with patients. When we understand that people’s behaviors and choices are influenced by a complex interplay of social and psychological factors, we can approach policy-making, health programs, and even daily interactions in a more compassionate and effective way.


A Continuous Journey

Being an empathetic researcher and a better person is not a destination but a continuous journey. It’s about constantly seeking to understand the values, psychological factors, and cultural contexts that shape human behavior and interactions. While this approach has unquestionably enriched the work I do, the most profound impact has been personal. It’s made me a more empathetic friend and family member, a more understanding partner, and a more engaged member of my community.

The convergence of professional growth and personal development has been perhaps the most fulfilling outcome of my journey at Environics so far, reminding me that to understand data is good, but to understand people is invaluable.

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