Lessons on Dealing With People

I mentioned here that the main reason I loved books was because I couldn’t understand people. When I recognized this was going to be problem in my life, I had to find a way to overcome it and so I started where I start everything…

By picking up a book.

Now you would be hard put to find something that screams ‘loser’ more than reading How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie in an airport lounge filled with people.

But yeah…that’s what I did.

So I’m not going to summarize the book here as I would encourage you to read it. But below are a few life lessons that I picked up along the way…

→When everybody has a problem with you, recognize that maybe — just maybe — you are the problem. I spent so many years as a teen complaining about society*, about how they never really understood me, and always judged me…but my behavior didn’t really help.

I was rude, selfish, a taker by nature.

My selfishness exhibited itself in this story when we were really young; I got a new sharpener and my younger brother wanted it. I said, No. Later, my parents got him a new one and suddenly I wanted to exchange.

I know…

Not cool, girl…not cool.

But then it hit me that people tend to react to the way you treat them, and I wasn’t exactly Ms. Wonderful. If you show nonchalance, they react with nonchalance. Nobody owes you anything, not even family. Nobody owes you their time or attention or care. You must earn all of that.

How you do that is by understanding this →How much people like you is a function of how much value you add to their lives.

Figuring that out changed my life. It also meant I had to make an actual effort to go against my nature, and focus on adding more value and giving instead of taking.

→Pay attention to non-mentors. Everybody understands the concept of modeling behavior and mentorship. Sometimes I wish I had spent less time hating on and being jealous of the popular kids in my family and focused more on observing their behavior and learning how they dealt with people. And this is not to say that I encourage people to be people-pleasers (that’s another post for another day), but if I had paid more attention to them I would have learnt a lot about treating others with respect, empathy and understanding.

But the biggest lessons in my life came from unusual sources…the non-mentors. Those are the people who behaved so badly, your first instinct is to think, “Make sure you’re not like that.”

My first non-mentor was — funny enough — the taker in me. The taker in me who wanted my brother’s sharpener still talks to me sometimes. Her voice usually answers the question, “How do I take advantage of this situation?”

It’s just that I’ve conditioned myself to do the opposite of whatever she says.

→Learn from the best. Later in life, I did learn to scout for people who had great people skills and just observe what they did.

What I’ve learnt from them is; small things matter. People always want to make these grand gestures when it comes to showing others how much they care…but it’s really the small things that make a person memorable. It’s not the fancy birthday dinner or the huge wedding with the fireworks…but receiving a vase of flowers on a random Monday with a note that says, “I noticed from Facebook that last week wasn’t exactly great for you, so I hope this one is better…”

Or making someone else’s problem your problem until it’s solved…

Or sending someone a link to a video that says, “This reminded me of the discussion we had last month.”

Or the random phone call out of the blue to ask, “What are you doing now? Want to meet up in 30 minutes?”

Or just being honest with people. Why is that so hard? In our efforts to please others, we lie about who we are and what we want, when people would just appreciate it more if we were a bit more honest.

There was this one story I heard of a student who would go to the Mini-mart to buy a bag of sweets before an exam he’s stressed about, and distribute it randomly to people…They would ask, “What’s the occasion?”

“I have an exam tomorrow…”

He was obviously procrastinating…something students understood too well. But that was a memorable story.

The best thing about doing good is it actually makes you feel good immediately, so you can always turn to doing good as a hack if you’re having one of those crappy days.

→ Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

You might think communication is easy, but it’s actually hard.

Think of it this way…

You have a worldview. Another person has a worldview. You have to transfer your ideas — concocted in your worldview — to fit the other person’s worldview using just words (and maybe body-language and emojis).

Factor in the nature of diverse societies where not everybody uses the same Arabic/English/Swahili, and no wonder there are far too many misunderstandings in the world.

Everything seems to be lost in translation…

Even if the same language is used.

Instead of asking one another, “what did you mean by that? Why did you say it?” we just make an assumption (usually assuming the worse in people), and then react to that assumption.

But you know how we can reverse that? By understanding the following…

There is no such as telepathy….(At least not yet).

So, talk.

Use your words.


And don’t make assumptions.

Just ask.

Then, listen…

And don’t just listen to wait for your chance to jump in and prove your point.

Put your ego aside, and actually listen because you’re trying to understand what’s going on. Sometimes people pick fights with you and it has nothing to do with you. They just need to feel validated. Or they just want the attention. Or they’re really hurting inside. Or they’re transferring emotions from one situation to another and you just happened to be there.

And the thing is, you really can’t blame others. We are never taught how to get in touch with our feelings, to understand them, label them and process them, that’s why more people need to pick up Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman…but that’s a discussion for another day.

In conclusion, the trick to everything though is to not just read about it but to actually go out in the world, interact with people, reflect on how you’re doing and do better the next time.

*[I still complain about society, by the way…just check my twitter (https://twitter.com/ahechoes), I’m all about that nowadays]
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