Relationships form a major part of our lives. At work, you have to manage your relationships with colleagues and clients. As part of your social life, you have to manage your relationship with friends. At home, you have to manage your relationships with family. You are constantly dealing with people. But how well do you know these people? If they had no bearing on your life, it would not really matter. However, if they had the means to disrupt your life and harmony, it pays to know them well. Read on to learn seven simple ways to know a person better.
Zhuge Liang; Prime Minister of Shu
Zhuge Liang was the Prime Minister of Shu during the Three Kingdoms Era in Ancient China. It was his job to know and manage people well. The slightest mistake he made could upset his plans and cost the lives of many soldiers. To this end, he recorded his experiences in his book “The Way of the General.” I have taken the following extract on “Knowing People” from the book.
The Way of the General: Knowing People
Nothing is harder to see into than people’s natures. Though good and bad are different, their conditions and appearances are not always uniform. There are some people who are nice enough but steal. Some people are outwardly respectful while inwardly making fools of everyone. Some people are brave on the outside yet cowardly on the inside. Some people do their best but are not loyal. Hard though it be to know people, there are ways.
1. Question them concerning right and wrong, to observe their ideas
Morality affects actions. Your view of right and wrong shapes the way you behave. What may seem wrong to you may be perfectly right for someone else and vice versa. This may lead to clashes or problems at inopportune moments. To avoid this, it is good to know about a person’s morality. This is especially so for those who are close to you personally or professionally. By listening carefully to their ideas about right and wrong, you will know more about their nature.
2. Exhaust all their arguments, to see how they change
Watching the way someone argues reveals a lot about his or her nature. To what lengths would he or she go to win? How do they present their arguments? What kind of tactics do they use? Do they bother to find common ground? Or must they prove they are right while the other is wrong? Are they calm and composed or angry and agitated? The character a person displays in an argument easily translates to other aspects of their lives.
3. Consult with them about strategy, to see how perceptive they are
When you consult someone on strategy, note his or her approach and the factors considered. Do they focus on the problem or the solution? Is the given solution a short-term or a long-term one? What is the cost involved for the solution? A perceptive person is wise and can provide deep insights into any situation. If you can find someone with such wisdom, you should keep him or her close by. If a person is not perceptive, you should be careful about seeking their advice.
4. Announce that there is trouble, to see how brave they are
It is easy to be seemingly brave when all is well. But only trouble reveals the truly brave from the cowards. Does this person have the moral courage to act rightly in the face of opposition, shame, scandal or discouragement? How do they manage fear, pain, uncertainty or intimidation? Do they crack under the pressure and give up? Or do they press on until the end against all odds? Whenever there is trouble, always take note of a person’s bravery in the midst of it.
5. Get them drunk, to observe their nature
Most of us hide our true selves from others for various reasons. It could be due to a need for approval or a need to conform or just plain rigid self-control. As such, it is hard to know how a person truly thinks and feels. If a chance arises to observe a person’s nature without inhibitions, seize it. Having deeper insights into their nature will spare you from unexpected shocks.
6. Present them with the prospect of gain, to see how modest they are
The prospect of gain reveals a lot about a person, especially in a work related context. Does he share the credit or gain with others, or does he seek to claim it all for himself? Is he proud or modest about the gain? Some people may let a gain go to their heads and cloud their judgment. In doing so, they might ignore all advice and bring about disasters later on. At the very least, they can become insufferable and alienate others. If you notice a lack of modesty early on, be careful in your dealings with this person.
7. Give them a task to do within a specific time, to see how trustworthy they are
Actions speak louder than words. It is easy to proclaim one’s trustworthiness, but quite another matter to prove it. To test a person’s trustworthiness, assign him a task with a deadline and observe the way he carries it out. If he succeeds, that is well and good. But if he fails, note the reasons given and the circumstances involved. This objective assessment will give you deep insights into a person’s trustworthiness.
A proper understanding of people helps to protect you from harm. It also serves to preserve the harmony in your life and relationships. With this insight, little will catch you off guard in the behaviour of others. You will know what to expect with people and so, you can take measures to pre-empt problems before they arise.
What are your thoughts on knowing people better? Do you know of any other ways to discern a person’s nature?
Zhuge Liang, Liu Ji. Mastering the Art of War (Shambhala Dragon Editions). Translated by Thomas Cleary. Boston: Shambhala Publications Inc, 1989.