“You should try to get on with other people: they outnumber you billions to one.”
The world is full of people, whether you like it or not. And whilst sometimes we may wish it were otherwise, it is only our interactions with others that gives our life any real meaning. Imagine a world in which you were the only person. Sure you might be able to find some physical pleasures for a while but it is unlikely you find any real feeling of meaning in your life.
If you don’t get on very well with others it is unlikely you will be particularly happy in your life. If you do get on well with others it is likely you are happy. Whether or not you get on well with others is entirely down to you.
How well we get on with others often comes down to the extent to which we can appreciate that others have every right to behave in ways that suit them, rather than in ways that suit us. People react to the world as they see it and in accordance with goals that are important to them, and based upon the specific circumstances they find themselves in, which includes their internal state of mind. Yet how often do you get upset by someone else’s behavior. This is because you believe that others should be behaving differently to the way they are, and it annoys you when they aren’t.
Young children see the world only from their own viewpoint, and believe everyone else can see the world as they do. As adults we also often slip into this way of thinking. Tap out a popular song with your fingers. Ask someone to guess what it is. It will be far less obvious to them than you will think it should be. Ask someone else to tap out a popular song without telling you what it is. You’ll see just how hard it is to guess what is in someone else’s mind.
What is termed the Attribution Bias is the very common circumstance where we blame our own errors on external factors, but other people’s errors on internal factors. Thus when we make a mistake or do something wrong we know there is a good reason and therefore we shouldn’t be blamed, but when someone else makes a mistake they have been careless or have deliberately behaved badly and they should be reprimanded in some way. If I trip over something it’s because some fool left something where they shouldn’t have done; if someone else trips it’s because they are naturally careless and weren’t looking where they were going.
People believe they themselves are flexible in terms of their behavior and moods and that their responses are dependent upon the particular circumstances, whilst they believe other people are much more fixed, with their responses being largely determined by their personalities.
People behave entirely rationally from their own point of view. For the most part people are just trying to get by as best they can, and underlying most behavior is positive intent, albeit biased towards their own interests. People rarely go out to deliberately harm or upset others, except where it is a choice between others and themselves. Thus don’t leap to conclusions about other people’s behavior and in particular don’t attribute it to some nefarious motive on their part. If people are out to harm you it will generally be blatantly obvious, not something you can only surmise.
People are inclined to suffer from a range of shortcomings and biases; and so are you. This will account for much of what you will view as their illogical behavior, and for what others will view as your illogical behaviour.
Examples of common shortcomings and biases include (1 of 5):
◦ People believe to be true what they would like to be true, or what would be most convenient to them if it were true. ◦ What people see is what they expect to see based on their prejudices and preconceptions, which are largely conditioned by their background and experiences. This means they are more likely to support and agree with people who appear to be like them. Any type of likeness can have an effect: dress, speech, age, background, religion, politics, food preference, first names, body language, …. ◦ People are generally overconfident about what they believe they know to be true. Much of what they know is at best only a matter of opinion, and some of what they know to be true is in fact false. Moreover their overconfidence holds them back from seeking new and better information.
Examples of common shortcomings and biases include (2 of 5):
◦ People think highly of themselves, it is part of the way our brains work, a self-protection mechanism. We are aware of our positive traits and downplay the negative. We believe we are special, albeit having been held back by circumstances, whilst everyone else is just part of the crowd. ◦ Everyone believes that their own load is the heaviest. ◦ People overestimate how well they understand others, and often believe they know others better than those others know themselves. However they would never accept that others may know them better than they do themselves.
Examples of common shortcomings and biases include (3 of 5):
◦ Some people assume that because they know what they themselves are thinking and feeling, that others do too; that it is obvious. Unfortunately the external manifestation of how they are feeling is usually ambiguous from the viewpoint of an external observer. ◦ People who find certain tasks relatively easy tend to assume others do as well. They often underestimate how much they know and have learnt. This is often a problem with those producing learning material or instructions, who assume certain information or steps because it is obvious; however it is only obvious to those who already know it. ◦ People have a tendency to be lazy in their thinking. Thinking requires effort and it is much easier simply to accept common notions or opinions, or accept those of the people around you. Thus many people don’t do what is most important; they do what is easiest.
Examples of common shortcomings and biases include (4 of 5):
◦ People will go to great lengths to protect or increase their status, and a sense of decreasing status can make people feel like their life is in danger. The desire to increase status or avoid reduction in status can drive people to incredible feats of endurance. Many of the arguments and conflicts at work and in life have status issues at their core. ◦ Much of people’s behavior can be traced to them looking to protect their ego. People, for the most part, want to feel good about themselves, and for various reasons are often unable to do so in the circumstances in which they find themselves. They thus subconsciously adopt tactics which either dulls the pain of not feeling good about themselves or provides a way that makes excuses for them not feeling good.
Examples of common shortcomings and biases include (5 of 5):
◦ Once someone has made up their mind about something it is very difficult to get them to change it, because they will see any suggestion of potential change as an attack on their ego, and as an accusation that they have made a bad choice. ◦ We have a tendency to see people who are the victims of misfortune or adversity as having done something to deserve it. This is a result of us wanting to believe that such things won’t happen to us; which we can if we can think in terms of our not doing things that would put us into such circumstances. This can lead to us blaming the victim of a crime – ‘they were asking for it’ – rather than focusing all our blame on the perpetrator.
Treat people well. Treat them the way you yourself would like to be treated. Do this even if they don’t treat you well.
There is worth in everyone you meet. You may or may not immediately jell with everyone you meet, but remember they are human beings with the same rights as you, and probably many of the same concerns and fears and hopes. Seek to instinctively like and respect everyone you meet and see any characteristics you find annoying as simply who they are, and not something to be judged.
People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. (Mother Teresa)
Forgiveness is strongly linked with happiness. Those that can forgive others are generally much happier than those who hold on to their resentment. If you bear a grudge against someone the only person you are harming is yourself. Let grudges go.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Don’t worry about what other people think of you. Some will think positively some will think negatively. It doesn’t matter. If you think positively about yourself, without being arrogant, more people will think positively of you more of the time. You can’t please everyone. So don’t try. Just be yourself, and think positively about yourself.
Don’t worry about what other people might be thinking about you. Other people are rarely thinking about you, they are mostly thinking about themselves, and probably worrying about what other people are thinking about them.
There are some general skills you should look to develop in order to better get on with other people, whether those close to you or just occasional acquaintances or colleagues.
Small Talk and Conversing – see separate page on this topic. Knowing how to be comfortable with other people through being able to engage in small talk is part of making the most of our lives. It opens up opportunities to making new friends and brings us closer to people we already know. It also helps us pass certain times of our day more pleasantly and memorably than might otherwise have been the case.
If you are not used to small talk it can be a bit difficult at first and seem forced. But there are a range of relatively innocuous questions you can use when you find yourself with someone, and if you keep practicing it you will get better at it and it will become more natural. Use small talk to seek out areas of common interest or experiences with others, and look to find topics the other person knows more about than you do. People like talking about themselves and the things they know about, and you might well learn something.
Body Language – see subsection under Effective Communication. The way we hold and move our bodies reflects what we are feeling and thinking. It happens automatically and for the most part without our realizing it. Moreover there is a consistency in how we do this from person to person. Some of it is universal and some of it is dependent upon our culture. And like any communication the signals we give off can be true and can sometimes be false, and other people can interpret them correctly or can interpret them incorrectly. When body language contradicts what is being said verbally, it is usually body language that is being more truthful.
You can significantly improve your reading of body language by both learning the principles and by observing people as they go about their normal lives; though be subtle when observing people’s body language, people don’t like being watched and can get upset or aggressive.
Benefits of being a good reader of body language are that you will be a much better communicator. You will be better able to tell when what people are saying is not actually what they are feeling or believe, and as a result you will often be able to ask questions or otherwise explore more deeply what they really feel or think. You will also be much better tuned in to people’s emotions and be able to interact in a way less likely to lead to conflict.
Negotiating – see subsection under Interacting with Others. There are many circumstances where we want something off someone else and they want something off us. We could seek to do so in a way that maximizes our own gain whilst minimizing what we give away, or by trying to compromise whereby we split the difference albeit with neither side feeling entirely satisfied. However we generally get more long term sustainable agreements if we actively seek out what is termed a win-win solution which is one that optimizes our joint gains and suits both parties. Becoming skilled at win-win negotiating will significantly improve your chances of getting what you want in life. In learning negotiating skills you will also learn to avoid being taken advantage of, albeit you may sometimes need to take some risk in order to show good faith.
Teamwork. We achieve great things when working together in teams so long as we are all going in the same direction. An effective team needs both appropriate individuals and effective working between the individuals. Good people who aren’t working effectively together will underperform as a team. Similarly people working well together but lacking appropriate skills amongst the team members will struggle to effectively perform the tasks demanded of them. We can significantly improve our working within a team, or in facilitating effective teams though better understanding how teams work and the different roles involved.
Influencing. There are a range of psychological tendencies which leave us open to being influenced by others in ways we often don’t realize: reciprocation, our tendency to respond in kind; consistency, our tendency to want to appear consistent; social proof, our tendency to do the same as others; liking, our tendency to be more willing to believe people we like; authority, our tendency to do like what authority suggests or tells us to do; and scarcity, our tendency to think scarce things are more desirable. The better we understand these tendencies the better armed we are against being persuaded of things which are contrary to our best interests.
Some relationships are far more important to us than others. These include family relationships and certain close friend relationships. It is to a very large extent these relationships that give our lives most meaning, and it is these relationships which largely dictate whether we are happy or not.
Close relationships can become strained. Many families have falling outs, and many initially loving partner relationships turn sour. This is mostly because each party has expectations of the other and then gets upset when the other party doesn’t live up to those expectations. Relatively minor incidents become the catalyst for growing anger and things being said that shouldn’t be said and both parties then becoming aggrieved. Some partial make-up puts a sticky plaster on until a further incident, a further round, and eventually a complete break. Both parties comfort themselves that it’s the other person’s fault. In the long term both parties are usually the worse for it, and often get into the same cycle with someone else or abandon relationships altogether.
If a relationship that is important to you isn’t working, don’t go looking to blame the other person. Look to yourself. You are far more likely to improve a relationship that is having difficulties through adjusting your own behavior than you are by trying to adjust the other person’s behavior, despite the fact that you probably feel it is the other person that ought to.