Life’s biggest lessons and opportunities are found in our connections — building and sustaining many solid, strong relationships is central to our survival and success.
How we process, store, and apply information about other people and social situations is important for building better and meaningful relationships. But not everyone can relate well with others. Average social cognition skills are leaving people alienated, frustrated, and overwhelmed by loneliness.
If you struggle to understand people, you can change that. You can improve your social cognition — the ability to understand other people, predict their behaviour, and share meaningful experiences.
A greater percentage of communication is unspoken. What we don’t say is as important as what we choose to say.
When you understand others on a deeper level, you can adapt your own style of communication (both spoken and unspoken) to improve your personal, social, and work relationships. These rules can get you off to a good start.
Rule 1: Drop Your Assumptions And Maintain an open mind
In life, we spend a lot of time trying to understand others based on what we think we already know about them.
One of the best ways to learn more about someone is to talk to them. Many times we judge people based on what we think we know about them or what other people think about them. We interpret their actions and react differently to them without getting to know them.
To understand someone on a deeper level, you need to ask them directly about how they think, the philosophy behind their actions, fears and their views about different things you care about.
You could share your opinions and thoughts in the process. To understand why people behave the way they do or make certain choices, seek first to gather direct information from them. Imagine each person is a blank slate until you strike a conversation with them and hear their thoughts. You shouldn’t judge people too quickly and negatively.
“Gather all the information you can before jumping to conclusions about someone, or a situation. Often, misunderstandings occur between people when they do not seek to clarify and understand the others experience,” says Dr. Nikki Martinez, Psy.D., LCPC
Rule 2: Be Human to Everyone You Meet
To forge lasting connections and build trust, be more human.
“…Pitch yourself in a human way, and you’ll find that people will often respond to that authenticity,” says Liz Fosslien, co-author and illustrator of “No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work.”
There is no right or wrong way to interact with people. There’s only the authentic way — being you; which means connecting with others in a way that makes it easy for them to be more open to you. Once you cross that trust barrier by being authentic, they will not be afraid to fully engage with you — in weakness and in strength.
To understand others and create authentic relationships with new people you meet, use every interaction as an opportunity to appreciate their work and interests.
Rule 3: Make Good Listening Second Nature
For most people, their own thoughts and experiences are their favourite topics of conversation. They place an unusually high value on the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings instead of paying attention to what others are saying.
Understanding people on a deeper level requires work — practice the art of listening, and giving. Listening goes beyond comprehension. The quality of your connections and relationships hinge on how well you can listen and follow up with open-ended questions.
“If a person trusts you enough to talk about their distress, trying to cheer them up is like shutting them up — you are dismissing and trivializing their feelings,” says Pam who provides professional listening sessions for people at The Listening Place.
“Giving advice is not listening, and often it’s not helpful,” Pam adds. “It shuts people down. If you feel a responsibility to fix your friend’s problems, relinquish it.”
In Dale Carnegie’s words, “be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves.” When people feel good as they talk to you, they’ll associate those good feelings with you. That’s a winning formula for making friends and influencing people.
To listen better, you can also practice reflecting back — “rephrasing and repeating what someone has said to you so that you are both on the same page,” writes Harley Therapy. It’s a listening skill that can make others feel heard and thus more comfortable around you.
Rule 4: Learn The Basics of Body Language
Peter Drucker, one of the most widely-known and influential thinkers on management once said:
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
The ability to interpret what others are not saying but communicating through their movements or expressions is paramount to human conversation. To understand people better, look at their body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye movements.
In conversations, you want to look non-threatening, so the best nonverbal technique you can use to look more accommodating is to smile.
You could even match the other person’s posture, speech, etc. because our subconscious naturally picks up on and likes familiarity.
You can also project confidence in a conversation by making eye contact for about 60 to 70 percent of your interaction with someone. Studies show upon meeting someone, we’re looking for evidence of confidence.
“Logic alone won’t tell you the whole story about anybody. You must surrender to other vital forms of information so that you can learn to read the important non-verbal intuitive cues that people give off,” argues Judith Orloff M.D of Psychology Today.
The act of watching out for people’s body language or changing your body language can help you understand people’s genuine needs and wants. Be more efficient in knowing what isn’t being said.
Rule 5: Don’t Expect Everyone To Think And Act Like You
Do you appreciate differences in personalities?
We all have unique personalities, different experiences, and backgrounds that shape their opinions and attitudes.
Each one of us represents a unique mix of different personality traits. Everyone has certain likes, dislikes, quirks, and perceptions about life and living it — all the qualities that make up your personality.
You can understand people better if you appreciate their differences and learn to reason beyond what you like or want. Be more tolerant of other people’s beliefs, morals, and values. We often hold others to their standards without knowing the reasons behind their actions and beliefs.
“If we learn, and respect, that we all come from different backgrounds and belief systems, we can understand where the other person is coming from, and we can try and avoid holding them to our personal standards, says Dr. Nikki.
Relationships are important to our psychological wellbeing. If you struggle to understand people, you still have time to do something about it. You can learn to understand people on a deeper level by keeping an open mind, being genuinely interested in others, improving your listening skills, learning basic body languages, and appreciating different personalities.
This article first appeared on Medium.