For many years I used to think of myself as being a lousy judge of character. I was raised to believe that everyone was fundamentally good – and as a result I misjudged an awful lot of people, failed to unmask their real intentions and ended up suffering so many fools that I eventually felt like one myself!
It occurred to me that while most of the people who’d beguiled or disappointed me weren’t necessarily bad – they were nevertheless zealously self-serving.
I realised that I needed to get wise to the ways of others if I was to manage my own hurt and confusion.
So I embarked on a personal quest to raise my level of awareness and equip myself with tools of discernment and detection. Experience alone wasn’t going to be enough, I thought.
I studied people and their behaviour. I read up on psychology, sociology and even body language. I learnt to listen to my inner voice and hone my instincts. But most importantly, I approached my interactions with people with the cool neutrality and impartiality of an analyst or a pollster. I taught myself to take nothing personally – which as you know, is very difficult to do. The ego always wants to protect itself, doesn’t it? I tricked mine into stepping aside in the interests of ‘science’, discovery and self-improvement. And I found it to be an extremely liberating and empowering process.
I also discovered that there’s so much to learn about people if you’re willing to listen and observe. Every day people unintentionally reveal their inner-most thoughts, emotions and intentions in myriad obvious and not-so-obvious ways…
The force or angle of a handshake. An averted gaze or the folding of the arms at a particular moment in conversation. A slightly insincere note in a seemingly flattering remark. The imperceptible tightening of the muscles in someone’s face when they’re trying to mask emotion. There are so many tell-tale signs, behavioural tics, subtleties and nuances to tap.
And because I recognize similar traits and tendencies in myself I’m able to identify where they come from and what triggers and informs them in others. I acknowledge that I’ve sometimes been guilty of a lot of the things I don’t appreciate in others – and that in itself is a humbling reminder that we all have failings and, I’d like to think, the ability to redress them.
I’ve gotten rather good at reading people nowadays. My estimations are seldom wrong or too far off the mark. And actually, there’s something quite powerful and rather fun about getting inside people’s heads. Luckily, I only use my powers for good!
But that knowledge also comes with a curious burden: Frustration.
Because what is glaringly obvious to some of us is unfathomable to others. You want to help them to see somehow. But how? I’ve learnt that you never get too far with people by suggesting that they’re wrong.
So some days I hold up a metaphorical mirror to some folks and say, “I don’t mean to embarrass you but please take a look…”
“I see what you’re doing here.”