Often Neglected Principles To Understand People


In my last post “Independence of Approval” I talked about the importance of being socially independent, which includes not being afraid to let go of toxic relationships, to be self-confident that you can always build a strong bond with people who are like-minded, supporting, respecting, and encouraging you to be the best version of yourself instead of holding you back; and to give more to society than you take (similar to financial independence where you earn more than you spend)!

95ba190703dd9b327a3c2f329a36ee81The benefits of social independent are clear (being surrounded by amazing people, making decisions based on your own goals and principles instead of making decisions based on the opinion of others etc.). The question is: how do we become more independent?

I believe the first step is to understand these simple yet often neglected principles to understanding people.

#1: They are too busy to care about your insecurities

785cebc1c5c1f02f70474b9e45cf75f3People just don’t care about you, your problems, your insecurities or your shortcomings-they’re way too busy to think about anything but their own. This isn’t because people are rude or offensive, but simply because they are mostly absorbed with themselves.

About 60% of your neighbor’s thoughts are self-directed. His dreams. His problems. His feelings. His Insecurities. Another 30% are directed toward his relationships, but with a focus on how they affect him. What does she think of me? How will my employer or client evaluate my work? Do my colleagues like me or find me annoying?

Only about 10% of one’s time is spent on empathy. Empathy is the rare state of mind where one person is really trying to feel the emotions, problems and perspective of another person.

That 10% is then divided between many other people we know, our families, friends and colleagues. In the end, you occupy only a small fraction of a percentage in other people’s minds, and only a couple percentage points in a close relationship. Even if you are in someone else’s thoughts, it is how your relationship affects them, not you. Knowing that, what conclusions can we draw from it?

  • Embarrassment is simply an unnecessary headache. Since other people around you are only targeting a small portion of their thoughts toard judging you, your (oftentimes negative) self-judgement is overwhelmingly larger.
  • Building and maintaining relationships are your job.
  • Those who appear to be mean or rude usually don’t do it on purpose. Beware of exceptions of course, but in general the pain you feel is just a side-effect of your misinterpretation, not the principle cause. The sentence “No one can hurt me unless I allow someone to do so” is very true in this sense.

#2: Hidden Intentions

Most of the intentions behind our actions are hidden and only few are explicit. From a very young age on, we are told to behave, to hide our socially unaccepted feelings like anger, envy and frustration. Many people become seriously ill and even die of cancer because they get feelings of deep depression but never talk about them to anyone else, hence don’t get any help. Our society is pretty dishonest when it comes to those kind of “negative” feelings. If I feel you are ignoring me, although you might be just really busy or absent-minded, I may not say it but I will be reserved toward you later on. Confusion arises.

What Every BODY is SayingConsequently,  we need to focus on empathy, not just words. A very interesting book for understanding the clues of body language is Joe Navarro’s “What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People“. This book gives insights into the subtle gestures and facial expressions people use and why they use them. Of course this is only one piece of the cake. Developing trust and building rapport and strong relationships help minimize those common pitfalls of hidden intentions and misinterpretation.

#3: Their behavior is mostly influenced by Selfish Charity

Although there are a lot of examples of altruism, generosity and kindness in the world-most people act out of selfish motives, at least indirectly. Even if you smile at the bus driver, you may expect the universe to bless you with a good karma for that kind act. This is why the rule of selfish charity applies to most behaviors.

Selfish charity is basically a win/win situation for all parties. When I help you, it helps me (directly or indirectly). Some common categories where that applies are:

  1. Transactions without emotional bonds – If I purchase something good, both myself and the vendor benefit. I get the goods I wanted, the vendor gets the money. This is the predominant form of selfish charity between people who don’t have emotional bonds.
  2. Need for recognition – Helping, or even just being able to help someone is a clear sign of power. Many species of primates will offer a helping hand as a sign of superiority. People act similarly, offering aid to boost their self-esteem and reputation.
  3. Tight Relationships – When  it comes to family, blood seems to be thicker than water. We are designed by nature to protect those who share our genes. This law of nature can also shift towards very close friends and loved ones.
  4. Assumed Reciprocity – Many interactions and relationships are (solely) based on the assumption that if I help you, one day you will help me as well.

Sometimes our behavior doesn’t fall into these categories- people who volunteer their energy and time towards humanitarian projects or people who fight for others who are not related to them. But these cases are the minority. Most of our actions can be explained by some form of selfish charity.

Understanding the motives of (most) people, makes it easier to find ways to help them within these four categories and set clear expectations for yourself. Don’t expect others to offer aid outside of selfish charity, it is possible, but very unlikely.

#4: “I can’t remember…”

It’s always the same with names at a social get together! A very good friend of mine is the exception and remembers the names right away because he knows how important that is. According to Dale Carnegie “How to win friends and influence people”,your own name is the best sounding word to you there is. In How to Win Friends and Influence People Deluxe « Library User GroupAddition, people have a hard time remembering information, especially if this information doesn’t apply to themselves. In general, people will remember your similarities rather than your differences, as similarities have a link to their own persona.

This is why most people are very forgetful, so don’t assume rudeness or disinterest if people forget about your name, your hobby or your job. On the other hand, you can show reliability and build sympathy by having a good memory (just like my friend who remembers names right away).

#5: People are Lonely

Obviously, that’s another generalization but it’s astonishing how many people suffer from bouts of loneliness, even though they seem to have it all. People have a strong need for social interactions, some more, some less, but we all need it and we are especially sensitive to any threats of being banned from it. For our early ancestors, exile meant death, so the desire to be members of a group is a very basic one.

The lesson here is that since loneliness is not uncommon among people, you really aren’t alone. Therefore there is no need to fear loneliness-just get out and search for the social interactions you need- it’s an easy task to do and be successful at.

#6: Cultural Emotionless

Of course it’s an overstatement but most people don’t show their emotions very openly, especially their “negative” emotions. Those who have outbursts of anger, frustration, envy or exaggerated enthusiasm, are generally frowned upon in most cultures. This implies that people tend to have stronger feelings than they really show. This is also one of the main reasons why men are suffering much more from depressions than women-men are told by society to be strong and emotionally stable. Hence, men tend to consult professional help less often than women.

The practical application of this rule is to watch closely before judging someone. The people you interact with may seem calm, at ease, happy and content while they fight with personal issues. Keeping this rule in mind allows you to be more aware of the hidden emotions of others, give them a helping hand and form strong relationships.


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