I have been thinking a lot lately about how I engage with people throughout my life. In addition to close friends and family members, I interact with various acquaintances and creative collaborators. It has often been a tricky thing for me to discern the intentions of others in order to decide whether or not he or she is someone who may offer up more harm than good.
Granted, I give everyone a solid chance first, but a little bit of observation can go a long way toward preventing drama and unnecessary hardship.
Outside of how they articulate their feelings, I pay closer attention to the non-verbal cues of how people communicate.
For example, do they hold open a door for the person behind them? Do they at least attempt to clean up a mess that they have made, such as offering to take their plate to the sink after dinner? Do they adhere to the rules that have been previously stated within a specific context, such as remembering to take off one’s shoes on subsequent visits after this request was first stated?
You can argue that these considerations may be quite minor, if not a bit nit-picky, but in my mind, they speak to the broader qualities that a person may possess. Kindness and a sense of courtesy can be exhibited when opening a door for someone else. Awareness and gratitude can be implicit components of wanting to help clear out and/or clean the dining table after a meal. Respect is conveyed when you honor the traditions of a different household by taking off your shoes upon entering.
These tiny acts can be far more eloquent than anything a person may say. Conversely, negative behavior also speaks volumes. Someone who makes a mess of a place without bothering to clean up betrays a degree of carelessness. Taking an unreasonably long time to return a borrowed object or pay someone back can be a similar statement.
For sure, we are often more attuned to the words we hear and the conversations we have because of the plainly spoken truths they provide. Paying attention to someone’s actions, however more difficult it may be, might be just as enlightening, if not more so.
Give it a try. Pay attention to what people do and see how it varies against what they say. The answers you find might surprise you.