A Guide To Reading Others In Work, Love And Life

By Jennifer O’Callaghan

It happens to the best of us. We put our trust in someone, and they pull the rug out from under our feet. Whether it’s a back-stabbing co-worker or a cheating partner, we’ve all been burned by deception at some point. Funnily, we often scold ourselves in the aftermath. We ruminate the situation from every angle and seriously question our sense of judgment. Our internal dialogue consists of “I should’ve known better” or “My picker must be broken.” But perhaps we need to go easier on ourselves. 

If you’ve been deceived by a talented manipulator, it certainly doesn’t make you foolish. In fact, it means you’re an honest person and expect the same in return. Notre Dame Professor Anita Kelly, Ph.D. explained in a Psychology Today blog post, “Individuals high on this trait are sincere, fair-minded, and non-greedy. They don’t exploit others, even when there would be no retaliation for doing so.”

It’s also interesting to know that although people who are strong judges of character are usually aware of it, many people in the average and clueless groups think they’re good at it too–meaning that most people overestimate their ability to read others. According to a study by Sage journals, the majority of people evaluate their social skills more highly than others. 

A good radar is imperative to a healthy dating life. And in our career, it can determine corporate culture or success of a business. So, how do we find the self-awareness to safeguard ourselves from the talented liars who blend seamlessly into the world? Luckily, there are ways we can check in with ourselves and prevent lapses in judgement.

Measurement of others’ character is a muscle that takes experience to build. But if we focus on these key traits, we’ll be able to see the people in our lives—the loyal and the untrustworthy–with new clarity.

Do an Attribute Deep Dive 

The next time you’re sizing up a love interest or potential assistant, observe how they handle the unexpected. The way people respond to unplanned events comes from a specific set of attributes they were born with. 

Our attributes make up who we are at the core and aren’t necessarily learnt traits. Author and Retired Navy Seal Commander Rich Diviney explains, “Skills direct behavior for a known situation, but when you get into an uncertain, unknown situation, skills don’t apply. We lean on our attributes.”

In the corporate world, dream teams sometimes fall apart for seemingly no reason. But when we get to the bottom of it, it’s usually because the hiring manager overlooked attributes like adaptability, patience, or self-awareness – the things we lean on in stressful or tense times. 

“High performing teams aren’t just good when things are going great,” says Diviney. “The truest high performing teams are great when things go south and sideways.” 

Trust Isn’t Just a Feeling

Building trust takes time. Yet, we’re sometimes quick to make assumptions that new people in our lives will have our backs. In reality, trust isn’t an immediate sense you get upon meeting someone. It’s a set of corresponding behaviors, which provide evidence of a person’s character over time. 

When you “just have a good feeling” about someone you barely know, you could very well be right, but you still need to get to know them, as you would with anyone. It’s also important to make sure we’re not jumping the gun for our own conveniences or because of random shared interests. 

If you’re on the hunt for a business partner, and meet someone who might be a good fit, don’t feel pressured to pull the trigger right away. Get to know them gradually. Work on a few small projects together first and learn more about their history. This will give you the opportunity to size them up from a distance.

Beware of Selective Behavior

Have you ever dined at a restaurant with someone who warmly engages with you at the table? Then, once the waiter approaches, it’s another story? They’re cold and dismissive to the server, or act as if they don’t exist. 

Author and speaker Simon Sinek summed this up perfectly when he stated, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.” Meaning, we should gravitate towards others who aren’t selectively “nice” to the right people. Our time is best spent engaging with those who exhibit kindness or fairness as a consistent personality trait. 

Even if you’re currently on the selective person’s “nice” list, this could change once they’ve fulfilled their goal. It’s important to be aware of the way a new colleague or friend treats everyone, not just those they want to impress. 

 Another element to be aware of is the time pressure we often place on ourselves when making choices. Whether you’re or on a date or interviewing for a job, if you feel the need to make a quick decision, take a deep breath and step back. When you remove the time limit and just allow yourself to observe, the right answer is more likely to surface. 

We’ve all made judgement calls we wish we could take back. But instead of focusing on the past, we should look to the lesson. It will help us move forward, as we make room for the caring, loyal individuals we deserve.

Jennifer O’Callaghan is a Toronto-based journalist and entrepreneur. She has a background in broadcasting and theatre. She also loves to write about creativity and self empowerment. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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