How to Understand and Relate to Other People

“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better” Abraham Lincoln once said. And he is right. How many times have we hastily –and often unfairly - drawn conclusions about a person, without considering their minds and feelings, their particular social needs and situations that make them unique human beings.

If you have trouble fitting your big feet into someone else’s shoes, read on to find out how you can better understand and relate to other people, be it friends, family members, colleagues, clients and partners.

Judge yourself before others

First of all, before trying to understand other people, take a genuine look at yourself, recognise your own emotions, your key strengths and weaknesses and realise that just as you have an ego, feelings and needs, so do others too. Put others’ feelings in equal measure to yours and avoid being wrapped up in your own thoughts and preconceptions.  Put simply; take the perspective of another person, to see how they are feeling and thinking, but to do that effectively you first need to explore your inner self, connect to your emotions, thoughts, needs, motivations and actions.   Remember that the feelings you have about yourself, affect how you feel about others.

Explore different people and different perspectives

Setting out to explore the world of other people and cultures is a good step in understanding otherness and appreciating the relativity of human’s beliefs and activities. Try to eagerly immerse yourself in the world and the different perspectives of people; observe how they think, what they do and why they do it and get meaningful takeaways from their experiences. One way to achieve that is through reading books or watching films that contain realistic portrayals of human emotions. Overall, free yourself of rigid ways of thinking and acting. This will help you develop a tolerant, accepting attitude towards others.  

Keep a balance

As a person who tries to understand and relate to others, you should try to maintain a balanced level of control in your social interactions or relationships. Try not be too passive or too domineering when socially interacting with people. Give the other person talk the time he needs to talk, and reinforce them, making them feel valued.  Understand that social interactions involve a highly beneficial give and take, because if you try to objectively understand the intentions behind the actions of others, they will more likely reciprocate this thoughtful attitude.

Understand their emotions

Every human being has different basic emotional needs, such as to be loved, to be included, to be appreciated etc. Bear in mind that down deep, some people may hide certain feelings that are causing them to act and fee in certain ways that we can hardly understand. Try to delve into their inner world and understand the dynamics that make them act in a particular way.  Equally important is to accept people as they are and never try to change them, otherwise you won’t be able to relate to them.

Mind your body language

The way we use body language often plays a vital role in building connection and trust with other people. Making eye contact for example shows interest and helps gauge the other person’s response. Also, using the right facial expression (such as nodding) when the other person speaks, shows that you are actively listening to and sympathize with them. Use your body language effectively to establish trust, mutual understanding and communicate compassion.

Overall, being able to successfully understanding other people, does not merely require you to put yourself in the shoes of other people, but to also predict how other people might feel, what drives their actions, showing them real empathy and actively listening to their stories as well as using appropriate body language. Understanding how others act, feel and react helps us build better relationships. 


Image source: muk