How to understand other people
Let’s suppose you need to get to know someone. Perhaps a work colleague, a new neighbour, a friend of a friend, an important acquaintance. Then the question becomes: how do I do that? How do I discover what’s beneath the surface?
But, what’s wrong with the surface? Why do we want to know what’s below the surface, deep inside the person? Because the surface may be the problem.
As the word “surface” suggests, we may only be seeing what that person is prepared to communicate to others. People have countless reasons to prevent others really knowing them deep down. “This is the ME I’m prepared to show other people.” But why would we want to hide? Obviously we’ve something to hide.
We are all a mixture: of good and not so good. We prefer to show others the good side, and keep the rest hidden. “None of their business,” we might think, “let’s work on a need to know basis.”
Actions speak louder than words
In Andrew Carnegie’s quote, he focusses on just two ways of discovering a bit more about a person: what they SAY, and what they DO. He’s not talking about having an interview with them, but rather how can we know them better, simply by observing some of their behaviour.
His suggestion: we’ll get a much more accurate picture of a person, by seeing what they DO. He believes that’s better than what they SAY.
Perhaps he believes that people can hide the truth about themselves much more easily in their speech. Telling lies, making exaggerations, revealing half truths; the list of possible ways to deceive others out of the mouth is endless.
When words hide the real truth
Very often, if not always, people will tell you a version of themselves that’s not true, and they are not even aware of it. Full self-knowledge is a rare commodity. Self-deception is as common as dirt. So many people live in a fantasy world, imagining they have all kinds of positive qualities.
Their friends, who know them better, just smile. Often they don’t have the heart to tell them about their faults and failings. “Why upset them? It’s harmless enough, and it makes them feel good.”
When automatic pilot is a revelation
Now let’s turn to the action part of the quote. Carnegie says we get a much better understanding of someone by their actions. Is this true? It certainly could be, if people are doing things on automatic pilot, unaware that others, observing them, are able to judge something about their character.
Or maybe it’s not even because they’re being watched. Perhaps people get to know what they’ve done because other people have told them. Yet again, people may act in certain ways, completely unaware what that behaviour is saying to other people.
Carnegie also adds a very interesting personal element: his own age. He finds that the older he gets, the more he’s focusses on other people’s behaviour, rather than their words. As they say, wisdom comes with age.
Maybe he’d been fooled, so many times over the years, by what people said. Bit by bit he probably discovered that their actions really do speak louder than words.
We all need to talk with other people
All of this can be extremely important. We all need good communication skills. We live in a world of relationships. If we can’t communicate with others, then bad things can happen. History demonstrates this over and over again.
We can make an excellent start in building a relationship, using the knowledge we already have from that person’s actions and words. We can learn so much, simply by observing others with an open mind.
Good communication, good relationships, good rapport: these are essential elements of a happy and fulfilled life.