Five Steps For Greater Understanding Of Others

Often times, your understanding is the soil in which other people grow.

Last week I wrote about the fact that people can change, and people do change. However, their change is often preceded by your attitude towards them.

In other words, if you see a person as a loser, you will probably treat that person as a loser. And more often than not, the other person will respond like a loser. But if you approach that same person with a positive attitude, if you see the potential in the other person, he will often exhibit his potential.

That’s exactly what one of the participants told me in my Peak Performance Boot Camp. “Bill” said even though he is a very successful businessman today, he was a major problem as an adolescent. He was selling drugs back in junior high, in and out of reform school, and constantly in trouble. “Bill” told me had it not been for one teacher in 12th grade he believed he would be in prison today.

Bill continued. He said when he walked into his 12th grade English class, the teacher pulled him aside. Mrs. Wolfkowitz said, “Bill, you’ve got quite a reputation around here. I’ve been told you’re no good. But I want you to know I don’t see it that way. I’ve seen you help out a few younger students, and I’ve seen you be quite polite on occasion. I believe there’s goodness inside of you, and that’s what I expect to see this year in my class.” Bill said Mrs. Wolfkowitz was the first person who ever spoke to him that way, and from that day forward, he changed for the better.

In a similar sense, you and I’ve got to develop a positive attitude towards people if we want to bring out their best. The difficulty is some people aren’t very nice or easy to like. So let me give you a checklist on how you can show greater understanding of others.

1. PICTURE YOURSELF AS AN UNDERSTANDING INDIVIDUAL. See yourself as understanding, patient, and kind. And hold that picture in your mind for a few seconds every day. The more you practice your picture, the more you’ll become that way.

2. AFFIRM YOUR DESIRE TO UNDERSTAND PEOPLE. There are times you won’t like what you see in other people. Their behavior turns you off. And you will have little or no desire to understand why they behave the way they do.

To short circuit such reactions, you need to affirm your desire to understand people. Tell yourself, “I want to understand people. I want to understand what makes them tick. And I want to understand every person with whom I interact.” Tell yourself these kinds of affirmations, and you will create the desire you need to build the attitude you want.

3. RECOGNIZE THE DRIVE IN OTHERS. It may seem obvious, but lots of people ignore a basic truth — that no one wants to be a failure. Everyone wants to succeed. Everyone wants to achieve something or be somebody.

Of course, not everyone looks that way. On the surface, some people look so depressed, down, and negative, that they don’t seem to have any ambition whatsoever.

Despite their appearance, I would contend that deep down, somewhere inside those people, there is still a little spark of desire to have or be more. If you will remember that, it will be much easier to have a positive attitude toward such people.

And it will be much easier to bring out their best. As Bill Hewlett, one of the founders of Hewlett Packard said, “Our policy flows from the belief that men and women want to do a good job, a creative job, and if they are provided with the proper environment they will do so.”

4. BE SLOW TO JUDGE The Native American Indians knew this. They prayed, “Great Spirit, help me never to judge another until I have walked two weeks in his moccasins.” They knew it was easy to write someone off if they only looked at the outside of the person. But they also knew they were less likely to judge someone if they just put themselves in the other person’s shoes.

The Christian tradition takes it bit further. They say, “Hate the sin but not the sinner.” In other words, you can’t condone and you shouldn’t condone wrongful behavior. However, it’s a lot easier to accept someone if you restrict your dislike to his wrongful behavior rather than his entire personhood.

5. LOOK FOR THE GOOD IN OTHERS. It’s amazing how some people are determined to look for the bad in others. They almost seem to get a kick out of finding fault in someone else.

Of course, truly effective people think quite differently. They know there’s always something good in others. As American folk hero Will Rogers said, “I never met a person I didn’t like…but sometimes you got to look real hard.”

And truly effective leaders act quite differently. As speaker Dave Yoho says, “In every human being God has placed a special gift, a special talent, that may not be seen. Our job as leaders is to find that gift and help that person develop it.”

History is full of stories of gifted people whose talents were overlooked by a host of people. And their talents lay dormant until someone looked for the good in them. Such was the case with Einstein, who couldn’t speak until he was four years old. And such was the case with Walt Disney, who was fired by a newspaper editor who said he had no good ideas. Until someone saw the good in them, they didn’t amount to much.

Elbert Hubbard summarized it quite well. He said, “There is something that is much more scarce, something finer far, something rarer than ability. It is the ability to recognize ability.”

Do you want to see change in others? Do you want to bring out their best? Do you want to lead them to higher levels of achievement? It’s all possible, and it all starts with your attitude towards them.

Action:  Pick a person that you do not like or a person towards whom you have a negative attitude. Then look for 5 to 10 good things in that person.  As you find more and more good things in that person, your attitude will change towards that person. And as your attitude changes, your behavior will change and so will the other person’s response.