“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time,” says the poet and philosopher Maya Angelou.
Most people are pretty transparent, and will show you who they are if you listen carefully. The problem is, most of us tend to listen more for what we want to hear, rather than listen for the pure truth that someone else is delivering.
I once hired an employee we’ll call Mark, who said he had quite enjoyed his time being unemployed—it gave him the freedom to create and set his own schedule. Ignoring his words, I hired him and expected he would love the life of working hard, and earning a living.
What was I thinking?
Despite being an excellent employee, he eventually quit and returned to life among the unemployed. I expected he would like having a job, and being emotionally and financially rewarded for hard work.
He showed me who he was, but I didn’t listen to him.
I was placing my own belief structure atop of his, and expecting that no one really enjoyed being out of work. I was forgetting that “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Steve and Suzie
And recently, a friend told me about a text she had received from her boyfriend. We’ll call them Steve and Suzie. Suzie had just told Steve she was ready for a committed, monogamous relationship. Steve gained comfort in hearing of her devotion, and decided it was time to suggest a three-way with one of her girlfriends. Suzie was hurt, and told Steve no. They went on with their relationship as if nothing had been said about the three-way. Three months later, Steve admitted to having a three-way with two other girls. Suzie broke up with Steve that night.
Steve showed Suzie who he was, and still she ignored him.
My buddy Jeffers had a problem with self-confidence and motivation. He doubts his looks, and his abilities. He has a tendency to commit to things, then back out because he felt he would deliver a poor performance—in work, and in personal relationships. All of us around him try to praise him, and tell him he is wrong, and that he is smart, and likeable and good looking. Still, he’ll let us down every time when it comes to showing up, and committing to anything.
Jeffers told us he lacked confidence, but we ignored him and kept expecting him to perform. We ended up not liking his demonstrated flakiness, but didn’t acknowledge that it was his self-confidence that was to blame. We wanted him to change, but Jeffers believed he couldn’t—because of who he was. As my friend Trenton says, “It is unnerving to be around those who only want the best for you, but want nothing but the worst for yourself.”
Jeffers need to change his truth about who he saw himself as, before we could expect him to change, and we need to listen and see the man he showed us he was.
I come from a family that's emotionally uptight, tight-lipped and high strung. No one ever said what was really on their minds. I learned quickly how to read between the incredibly blurred lines. When my parents spoke of their impending divorce they’d refer to it as “when we sell the house.” My father would always offer to pay the bill at dinner, but secretly expect you to foot the bill. My sister and I were taught to praise everything as “wonderful,” “thoughtful” and “well deserved.” We excused ourselves to “go to the other room” when referring to heading to the toilet.
So, listening to what people say, and translating that to mean exactly what they mean was a hard and learned behavior.
Through experience I learned that people show you who they are the first time you meet them. It is up to you to believe them. As Oprah says, “when a man doesn't call you back the first time, when you are mistreated the first time, when someone shows you lack of integrity or dishonesty the first time, know that this will be followed many many other times, that will some point in life come back to haunt or hurt you. Live your life in truth. Don't pretend to be someone your not. You will survive anything if you live your life from the point of view of truth.”
Author Jack Reid is a relationship expert and author of the “Jack Knows” column on FIVE THôT.