Unless you’re a hermit, you interact with people all day long. You communicate with them at work, during your hobbies and when shopping. Even at home you can’t escape, unless you live alone. Bearing in mind how much time we all spend interacting with people, it’s surprising how many of us are still getting it wrong.
We know that we get it wrong because otherwise we wouldn’t experience conflicts with them, leading to anger, resentment and sometimes depression. How do we learn to communicate with others more effectively, so that we can work with them and get what we want from them, without conflict?
Understanding Other People
I read a book recently called ‘Understanding Other People’ [Amazon UK Link] [Amazon US Link] by Beverley D. Flaxington, which claims to reveal the five secrets to human behaviour. The author claims that these five secrets will help you to ‘stop being frustrated by the actions of others and start taking charge of your own life – and reactions.’
Secret 1 – It’s All About Me
The first secret is one that we all know deep down, but need to be reminded of sometimes. All the choices and decisions we make in life are coloured by our assessment of how it will affect us as an individual. We see the world through a ‘me‘ filter, which means that we can’t see clearly. Every single event and interaction we have with other people sparks the internal thought ‘how does this affect me?’ As a result we’re incapable of being objective, no matter how hard we try.
As everyone has this same clogged filter operating, it’s no wonder that two people often have trouble sharing the same viewpoint. Flaxington points out that ‘we approach other people with our viewpoint of how they should react. When we don’t get what we expect, we get angry, frustrated, and disgusted with the other person.‘
Dale Carnegie recognized this age-old problem in ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ [Amazon UK Link] [Amazon US Link] when he said ‘Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.’
The solution is to watch others, watch your own reactions, recognise what triggers certain reactions in you and make a conscious decision to stop habitual behaviour.
Secret 2 – Our Behavioural Styles Come Between Us
We all have different ways of solving problems, communicating, or making plan and the way we set about these things is a function of our natural behavioural style.
For example, some people’s interactions will be coloured by an aggressive attitude. They’re focused on a task, make quick decisions, like to act decisively and get impatient with people who they feel are slowing them down. Others think and act in a slower, more thoughtful way, where they like to gather data, and plan thoroughly before they act. You can understand why these two types of people might find it difficult to work together!
It’s important to realise that these different ways of behaving are caused by different behavioural styles. People work best with those who have a similar style to themselves, as we tend to want other people to behave as we do.
Sometimes however, we’re forced to work with someone whose style clashes with our own. In these situations we’ll communicate better with the other person if we recognise the style differences and try to modify our behaviour to match theirs.
Secret 3 – Your Values Speak Louder Than You Do
Our values are the reason we act in the way we do, but we need to understand that not everyone shares ours. The six core values are utilitarian (driven by ROI), individualistic (driven by ego), theoretical (a lifelong love of learning), social (doing good for others), traditional (the right way to do things) and aesthetic (looking for beauty in the world).
We work best and get along best with people who share our core values. In order to be able to communicate well those who don’t, we must drop our need to be right. This means not trying to persuade others to think in the same way that we do.
We tend to label other people who’s values differ from ours. But if we want to be able to communicate with them, then we must accept that some of their decisions were right for them, even if we don’t agree with them ourselves. It helps if we try to stop criticising what others are saying or doing, and listen to them when they’re explaining why they made a decision.
Learning and respecting the values of other people will help you to make better decisions and will enable you to have more influence over decisions that others make.
Secret 4 – Don’t Assume You Know What I Mean
We often complain that someone doesn’t understand us. We probably don’t realise that as that person is not us, hasn’t had our experiences, and hasn’t lived our life, they may need some more information to go upon. We need to be willing to share more information if we want to be understood more, and context is very important when it comes to this.
It can take a lot of energy and effort to enable others to understand us, as we have to share and let the other person share enough to make it meaningful for both. When we wish to interact effectively we must put a lot of focus and effort into it. Flaxington believes you must ‘turn into a communication detective, and really try to understand what the other person is communicating to you‘.
When you want them to understand what you mean, then you must give them ample background information in the context of what matters to them. Never assume that a person will know what you mean unless you take the time to do this.
Secret 5 – I’m Okay, You Are Definitely Not Okay
We need to understand that while we think that we are okay, other people will never be okay, because they’re not us. We like best the people who are like us, but no one will ever be exactly like us. If we can be aware of the differences between us and others, and can learn to value and learn from those differences, then we can get along with them.
We often take our cues from the way others react to us. However you’ll have realised by now that these reactions are coloured by filters, behavioural styles and values, which don’t make them very credible.
Flaxington states that ‘we’re always on the stage in our lives, acting out our role in relation to someone else acting in their role.‘ If we can step outside the theatre we can observe ourselves, observe the other person and observe what we’re actually doing.
We need to realise that we’re okay and that other people are also okay. We can’t change other people and shouldn’t try to, yet despite, this an awful lot of people spend an awful lot of time trying to change others. We should save our energy and spend it in finding our own inner confidence and peace, rather than trying to fix other people. If we recognise that we aren’t perfect and so it’s not really fair to expect other people to be, then we become much more tolerant of how others behave.
Successful With People
Changing our behaviour and our reactions to people isn’t easy. However learning to get along well with most people can be crucial in your job, your business, and in any other activity that you wish to undertake. For everywhere you go there’ll be people, and the better you communicate with them, the more successful you’ll be.