Every month or so I pick out a work-related book from my office library and reread it, knowing that, although the only books I keep in that library are ones I feel could benefit my clients, there are a number which contain especially valuable information or advice, or present it in a particularly compelling or provocative way. This past week I’ve been rereading Life Strategies by Phillip C. McGraw. He’s better known as Dr. Phil. Although written almost 25 years ago, it remains absolutely relevant and accurate.

Now you may be thinking “Oh, another self-help book from Oprah’s world of New Age thinking. Not interested”. Well, you’d be at least partially off base in judging the book that way, as Dr. Phil has a refreshingly bold way of delivering very basic, but often overlooked, information that can make a big difference in your effectiveness at dealing with life.

I was particularly drawn to a chapter in which he outlines ten “common characteristics of human functioning”. Recognizing that one or more of these characteristics are always at play in your interactions with others (whether those others be co-workers, teammates. bosses, spouses, friends, parents, direct reports, children, or the pharmacist) can help you more accurately determine how to effectively interact with them.

Here are the ten:

1 – The number one fear among…people is rejection.

2 – The number one need among…people is acceptance.

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

4 – Everybody — and I mean everybody — approaches every situation with at least some concern about”what’s in it for me?”

5 – Everybody — and I mean everybody — prefers to talk about things that are important to them personally.

6 – People hear and incorporate only what they understand.

7 – People like, trust, and believe those who like them.

8 – People often do things for other than the apparent reasons.

9 – Even people of quality can be, and often are, petty and small.

10 – Everybody — and I mean everybody — wears a social mask. You must look beyond the mask to see the (true) person.

If I had more time this week (which I unfortunately don’t due to a heavy client load and rehearsals for a concert tomorrow afternoon) I would comment at some length about each of these characteristics. Instead, I’ll hold off on that until next week. Instead let me address a thought that may have formed in your head related to the first five of these: that utilizing these principles would be somehow manipulative. To quote Dr. Phil further:

“Manipulation is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. (It) is only a bad thing if it is insidious, selfish, and works to the detriment of your target”.

In my former profession, advertising, we used many of these principles, but certainly not altruistically (unless we were doing pro bono work for a socially beneficial non-profit). In contrast, in my current profession these principles help me gain insight into emotions, thoughts, and behaviors that may on the surface seem irrational or even incomprehensible. That insight helps me work with my clients to solve problems that they have been unsuccessful in solving themselves. And by explaining and teaching these principles I help clients move towards the most valuable kind of manipulation: self manipulation. To quote Dr. McGraw once more:

“Even more important than having the knowledge to predict human behavior or control other people is having the knowledge to predict and control yourself. Knowing how to be an effective manager of others can be helpful; it is exponentially more important to be an effective manager of yourself.”