Deepening Your Ability to Interact Effectively with People

This week I will be briefly commenting and outlining each of the ten fundamental human characteristics that relate to effectively interacting with others from the mega best seller Life Strategies.

1) “The number one fear among people is rejection.”

Perhaps not number one, but high on the list. Rejection should be viewed broadly – many forms of criticism, for example, can be experienced as rejection if not phrased properly. Always try to preface criticism with a positive statement (“I can see you’ve worked very hard on this, but I’m not sure you’re heading in the right direction” vs. “This is totally off-base; you missed the whole point”). Rejection can lead to shame or depression, but it can also lead to rage, as we’ve seen with too many spurned boyfriends murdering their girlfriends or terminated employees shooting their former bosses or co-workers. Tread delicately if you feel that some form of rejection is necessary. For example, if in a work setting you’ve decided to exclude a team member who might ordinarily be included in a meeting or project, make an effort to explain to the person why they’ve been excluded.

2) “The number one need among people is acceptance.”

The opposite of rejection. Acceptance has many levels, and many forms. The key point here is that you should make whomever you interact with feel connected to you. “I see your point” needn’t indicate complete agreement (in fact you could accurately make this statement and totally disagree) but will signal some acceptance. A kind word to a busboy or the lady cleaning the rest rooms can make a big difference in their day, and cost you virtually nothing. Furthermore, making an extra effort to spend a minute chatting with a reclusive or socially awkward individual in a work or social setting could yield affection and loyalty dividends down the road.

3) “To manage people effectively you must do it in a way that protects or enhances their self-esteem.”

Self-esteem is essential to optimal performance. If someone doesn’t feel that they have much to offer, they’re highly unlikely to deliver a superior result. You may have to search hard, but just about every employee has certain strengths that can be acknowledged even in the context of a negative evaluation. And above all, avoid public dressings-down.

4) “Everybody… approaches every situation with at least some concern about ‘What’s in it for me?’ ”

So make sure you try to identify what might be in it for them and express that clearly. Often merely beginning a request with “It would be awesome if… or “It would mean a lot to me if….” articulates an appreciation that the other person will value.

5) ” Everybody… prefers to talk about things that are important to them personally.”

Pay close attention to the things that obviously interest or excite your employees, co-workers, relatives, friends, and spouses or romantic partners, and engage them around those subjects. A failing I notice among many people is their insensitivity to “losing their audience,” which is the flip side of this characteristic. Going on at great length about a movie or restaurant or vacation destination that the person with whom you’re engaged in conversation knows nothing about, and expresses little interest, is a real turnoff.

6) “People hear and incorporate only what they understand.”

Speak to others at a level appropriate to their intelligence / knowledge. It can be tempting to demonstrate one’s expertise by using a specialized vocabulary that may be unclear to the other, but that is more likely to come across as self-centered and egotistical than wise. If in doubt about whether the party you’re addressing fully understands your point, ask for affirmation: “Is that clear enough?”; “Was there anything confusing about what I just said?”

7) “People like, trust, and believe those who like them.”

Pay attention to the signals you’re sending others. Smiles, laughs, head nods, body language that demonstrates an opening to, or leaning towards, others suggest that you like the person with whom you’re engaged. Also, make an extra effort to discover and / or focus on the positive qualities of others. It will pay off in greater affection, trust, and responsiveness from the people with whom you engage.

See my blog post “They’ll Only Hire You If They Like You

8) “People Often Do Things for Other than Apparent Reasons.”

Behavior is motivated by such a multiplicity of reasons that it can often be impossible to correctly identify the contributing factors. In attempting to understand others, ALWAYS try to examine alternative hypotheses to the first one you identify that could explain a particular behavior.

9) “Even people of quality can be, and often are, petty and small.”

Alas, this is a sad but true statement. Be quick to overlook slights. You’ve undoubtedly exhibited the very same behavior in a different context yourself.

10) “Everybody… wears a social mask. You must look beyond the mask to see the (true) person.”

This statement is a bit misleading: it should read “Everybody wears a number of different social masks.” Whom you are to your mother is most likely very different than whom you are to your boss, your old high school friend or sweetheart, or the babysitter. Exhibiting too wide a diversity in the masks takes an awful lot of energy, and to the degree different masks are observed by significant others in your life, can suggest duplicity or insincerity. As you grow increasingly comfortable with whom you fundamentally are as a person, the number of masks should shrink, as will the distance between them. If the other person is important to understand, try to observe their “masks” in multiple settings – it will give you a fuller picture. And remember, people reveal whom they truly are to people they like and trust.