“The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.” That is a quote from Maya Angelou. And if you listen to it carefully, you will hear a universal truth. We all reveal who we are, but sometimes it’s hard to see it.
Most people openly reveal their true thoughts and intentions. The problem is, sometimes others only hear what they want to hear, and see you for who they want you to be.
We are often blinded by our own desire to see people the way we desire them to be, rather than who they really are. We ignore bad behavior. We pay no attention when someone becomes uninterested. We scoff at the idea that they don’t care if they work for you, date you, or love you…or not.
And the truth is, it is our fault for ignoring their words and actions.
Yes, people always reveal themselves to us. The question is, whether (and how) we listen to what they have to say.
Let me give you an example. I was good friends with Sam for more than a decade. He and I traveled together, worked together and were best friends. I knew Sam had a big personality. He enjoyed being the center of attention. A lot. He’d tell stories about trips we had taken together, and rarely mention to anyone that I was even there. Famously, he threw a birthday party for me and only invited his friends. He was what could be called a bit of a narcissist.
We had a playful name for this behavior. Whenever he got a little too focused on him we’d call it “being all about Sam.” We’d make light of it, but what we were really doing was shining a light on something he knew about himself, but I refused to admit—Sam’s life revolved around Sam, and I was simply the friend who supported his narcissism.
Sam was clear about who he was—he liked being the center of attention, and he knew it, and made light of it.
Our friendship came to an end when I needed to be the center of attention, and needed a friend who cared less about himself for a moment, and allowed me to cry on his shoulder a bit.
He was not there for me, and told me “I talked too much about myself.” What he was really saying was that “It’s all about Sam” and there was no room for me.
He always told me this, but I really never listened—or wanted to believe it to be true. I didn’t want to believe he was a narcissist—it was simply that he just liked being the center of attention. Surely he couldn’t NEED to have everything to be all about him, all of the time.
Sadly, he was revealing his true self, and I ignored what he said because I didn’t want to believe it to be true.
In my frame of reference, all of those things were impossible for him to believe. I wasn’t paying attention to HIS context. I only listened to my own.
I never got inside his frame of reference. I looked through it, by it, and past it, and only saw the world the way I see the world. I didn’t spend the time and attention to understand his paradigm, and to understand how he felt.
Even though he told me so.
The lesson learned? Others always know themselves much better than I ever will—especially if I don’t listen to them.
So it is time to listen more to what they say, and how they act. When I ignore the telltale signs placed right in front of me, and believe only what I want to believe, I am trying to control and manipulate, rather than be empathetic and truly listen.
How many times after a bad break-up have you said, “if I had only paid attention to the signs, I would have seen who she truly was.” Or, “I knew they were going to fire me, but I just didn’t want to see it.”
It actually takes a lot of work to stay inside another’s frame of reference, but it is definitely worth the investment.
Getting inside someone’s head is a significant and deep personal investment in building a bond with another human. But it is an investment worthy of most interchanges in life and in the workplace. A little mental sweat can reap huge rewards.
So when a person says to you, “I’m selfish,” or “I’m inconsistent” or ‘I don’t like commitment,” believe them, because remember, they know themselves much better than you do—and they told you so.
Taking off a Mask image courtesy of Shutterstock