5 Tips for Reading People More Accurately

Mistakes to avoid when reading other people.

See which of these common errors you make so you can begin to read people more accurately.

1.  What causes others’ behavior?  Situations or personality?

When we see a snapshot of someone’s behavior we often jump to the conclusion that they’re acting based on their personality.  In contrast, when we think about our own behavior, we often think about situational causes.

For example, you know you acted aloof because you were flustered or anxious. However, you may assume that if someone you’ve just met acts that way it’s because they’re a jerk.

How to avoid this mistake:  Remind yourself to think about both situational causes and personality when you’re assessing others.

2. Confirmation bias.

Once we’ve developed an idea about someone, we typically see everything through the filter of those already formed thoughts.  For example, once you decide your sister’s new boyfriend is selfish, you notice behaviors that are consistent with that view and are less likely to notice things he does that aren’t consistent with being selfish.

Our initial impressions of someone are often quite accurate, but they’re not foolproof, and therefore it’s important to consider revising your initial judgments based on your further interactions with that person.

How to avoid this mistake:  Actively look out for evidence and examples that run counter to your assumptions.  In psychology, this is termed “disconfirming evidence.”

3. Are you falling into an attractiveness or similarity bias?

People tend to judge others more positively when they’re physically attractive.  We also tend to judge people who are similar to us more favorably than people who seem different.

Ask yourself if you’re judging someone more/less positively based on their physical attractiveness or the extent to which you have things in common with that person (such as shared background or subcultural appearance cues, like having a beard or tattoos vs. appeared straight-laced and non-hipsterish.)

How to avoid this mistake:  Look out for this bias in important situations like if you’re hiring someone for a job, or when you’re entering a new situation and might gravitate towards people who are outwardly similar to you.

4. Are your judgments being influenced by the recent or distant past?

For example, if you’ve recently had a poor experience with a “useless” customer service person, then you might be more likely to assume that the next customer service person is going to be equally unhelpful.

Likewise, sometimes people who cross our paths remind us of someone from our past, and this can influence our judgments of the new person.  For example, you go on a date with someone who shares some type of physical feature or mannerism with one of your parents. Or, you hated a boy called Trevor at elementary school and now you find it difficult to like anyone called Trevor.

How to avoid this mistake: Pay attention to when your reactions seem out of proportion to the trigger, or when you find yourself heading into a situation with a defensive or negative attitude. Ask yourself whether you’re carrying any emotional baggage from the recent or distant past that’s influencing your emotions.

5. Assumed Similarity. 

As a generalization, we tend to assume other people think like us and have the same preferences. For example, if you love beach vacations, you probably assume that everyone else does too. If you think that team-building exercises are a waste of time, you probably think that most other people share that view.  If you need a clean office to be productive, you probably think everyone else does as well.

How to avoid this mistake: Make a habit of noticing the diversity in people’s expectations and preferences.  Give people an opportunity to let you know if their comfort zone doesn’t match up with your’s e.g., when suggesting a dinner location, offer a choice between Thai food and something else, rather than just saying “Do you like Thai food?”

-Alice Boyes, PhD. PsychologyToday.com

Self-esteem v. Self-compassion

High self-esteem does not predict better performance or greater success. And though people with high self-esteem do think they’re more successful, objectively, they are not. High self-esteem does not make you a more effective leader, a more appealing lover, more likely to lead a healthy lifestyle, or more attractive and compelling in an interview.

A growing body of research, suggest that self-compassion, rather than self-esteem, may be the key to unlocking your true potential for greatness.

Self-compassion is a willingness to look at your own mistakes and shortcomings with kindness and understanding – it’s embracing the fact that to err is indeed human. When you are self-compassionate in the face of difficulty, you neither judge yourself harshly, nor feel the need to defensively focus on all your awesome qualities to protect your ego. It’s not surprising that self-compassion leads to higher levels of personal well-being, optimism and happiness, and to less anxiety and depression.



3 Tips to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great

Good marriages are healthy marriages. They’re built on a foundation of love, trust, safety, commitment and respect. Great marriages have these elements, too. But they go further.

Below, John Harrison, LPCC, a counselor and coach who specializes in working with couples, shares three ways to transform a good marriage into a great one. His tips are simple and straightforward. But these are not quick, empty fixes. Instead, they are steps we must take on a regular basis to enhance our relationship and connect on a deeper, truer level with our one and only. 

Challenge each other

According to Harrison, good marriages have good communication. “They are polite, amiable, respectful and assertive.” These, of course, are important ingredients for healthy relationships. Couples in great marriages, however, keep moving: They challenge each other. They call each other out on their “stuff,” he said. That is, when one spouse is acting in an offensive, passive-aggressive, or all-around unloving way, the other partner points it out (in a compassionate way).

Harrison suggested couples have a conversation about how each partner behaves when the other is relating dysfunctionally. This should come from a place of compassion and love. It is about growing and nurturing the relationship. It’s not about criticizing, blaming, or shaming your partner. So these talks are without resentment and eye rolls. “Emphasize that you are both in the marriage to help one another grow as individual people,” he said. 

Hold each other accountable

In good marriages when things don’t go as planned, couples understand and accept the circumstances. However, in great marriages partners hold each other accountable and “make things happen,” Harrison said.

To do that, prioritize your time together. Put it on the calendar. This is just as important as any meeting (likely even more so). Harrison suggested making plans for face-to-face activities, not side-by-side. For instance, go to dinner (versus seeing a movie). Instead of spending time with friends, take a walk. Even schedule time for sex, he said.

“Each partner has a responsibility in making sure that the other is keeping to their promise to make ‘face-to-face’ time a top priority.”

Keep dreaming — and doing

Couples in good marriages accept the current state of their relationship, Harrison said. Couples in great marriages are grateful for their relationship, too. But they also encourage their partners to dream — both for themselves and for the relationship. “A great marriage allows each partner to find ways to make their life as fulfilling as possible with both people wanting the same for the other.”

For instance, don’t make all your discussions with your spouse about money, the kids, routines and other family matters, he said. Instead, make time to talk about your dreams. Talk about “what your dream life scenarios would be like.” Then actually plan out how you’ll manifest these dreams. Would you like a new job or a new home? Would you like a longer vacation? Do you want to explore a new passion? How will you make this happen?

“Whatever it is, allow each other to be creative and imaginative and challenge one another to make those fulfilling dreams a reality.”

Great marriages are supportive and intimate. They provide a space for both spouses to be themselves and to flourish. They provide a space for wishing and for these wishes to come true. Great marriages are constantly growing with spouses who genuinely enjoy each other and have fun together — and prioritize their relationship.

Minimizing Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is like brain washing in that it systematically wears away at the victim’s self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in their own perceptions, and self-concept. Whether it is done by constant berating and belittling, by intimidation, or under the guise of “guidance,” “teaching”, or “advice,” the results are similar. Eventually, the recipient of the abuse loses all sense of self and remnants of personal value. Emotional abuse cuts to the very core of a person, creating scars that may be far deeper and more lasting that physical ones. What are your thoughts about how serious you consider the signs of emotional abuse within your relationship?

-Regina Tate, LPC

Stress Check-In

“Stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response TO what happens. And RESPONSE is something we can choose.” – Maureen Killoran

Everyone experiences stress sometimes. It can sometimes feel like there’s nothing that can be done about stress, but you have more control than you might think. As much as we’d probably like to eliminate stress altogether, we know that all stress cannot be avoided. Although we can’t help running into stress from time to time, we can choose how we respond and take charge. Identifying where your stress is coming from, utilizing healthy ways to cope, and getting positive support can be helpful. What kind of stress have you been experiencing lately?

-Melissa Wildt, LMHC

Looking at Relationships After Abuse

It is not necessary that we go looking for the person that we would want to have in our life forever. I don’t think that we need to look at another person and question in our minds whether this is “the one.” It may be better to look at life and meeting new people as something that is fun to do. And if we do that with an open heart, we will “know” whether another person would be someone that we would love to have as a friend. What evolves from there is either a fun thing that we would like to continue or it is a revealing experience of that which we have lived before and don’t ever want to experience again. It is easier after abuse to tell which is which. You have a lot of living and experiences that will serve you very well in knowing who may or may not be right for you. Cautious, yet open to fun.

-Regina Tate, LPC

Sexual Fetish with a Partner

What arouses people sexually can be along a very wide spectrum. The fact that there is something to turn you on is not a bad thing. Best of all situations can be when couples learn to turn each other on and use these activators as a way to stimulate, enhance, and evolve the relationship. This may not be something you feel you can share with your partner, if there is ever an opportunity or a possibility that you could—that would be the best. Then it moves the fetish from something that feels like it has to be kept a secret into something that can be used for reciprocal pleasure.

On the other side of the coin is knowing how to use this activation with your partner in a more subtle way. The point is don’t turn this into something bad if there is a way it can be used to enhance the relationship sexually.


Stress Reduction using Mind/Body Exercise

Please feel free to adapt the following exercise in any way that feels comfortable for you.

Find a quiet place where you wont be disturbed and make yourself comfortable. Sitting is better than lying down so you dont get too comfortable and fall asleep. Place your hands gently on your lap, uncross your legs.

Starting at the top of your head and proceeding down to your toes,notice how each part of your body is feeling..noticing if there is any stress or tension or physical discomfort. Do this slowly as you are increasing your attention and awareness through this process. If you notice a part of your body that is experiencing tension, gently say to that part of your body the word “relax” or “”release” or a similar word that works for you. In addition to using the word, you can also take a deep breath and breathe into the tension you experience. Again, do this slowly so that you can really experience the release. As you do this exercise, it’s important to notice how you are breathing. Consciously breathing from your diaphragm instead of your chest area will deepen the experience of relaxation.

Another variation of this exercise is to go through a process that involves purposely tensing and relaxing each muscle group from your head to your feet. So starting with your facial muscles for example…gently squeeze your eye and mouth like you’re making an ugly face..and then relax . Do it 3 times and move on to your shoulders..lift your shoulders to your ears and then drop…3 times (PLEASE DON’T DO THIS IF YOU HAVE PAIN ANYWHERE..you don’t want to make anything worse.)

And as you move down your body, tense and release each muscle group..go slowly and dont forget to breathe.

-Scott Christnelly, LCSW-R

Confusing Non-Verbal Signals

Use nonverbal signals that match up with your words. Nonverbal communication should reinforce what is being said, not contradict it. If you say one thing, but your body language says something else, your listener will likely feel you’re being dishonest or the emotion is not very intense for you. For example, you saying “yes” while shaking your head no. OR, smiling when you are trying to talk about something that hurts you deeply…to protect others from feeling pain. What does it feel like when you see others words contradict their body language?

-Regina Tate, LPC

Matching Communication Styles

Sometimes we can say things to our partner and it can be taken in a way very different than what we intended. Some people are more visual while others more auditory. Some people need to see love while others need to hear it. Some people give gifts as a sign of appreciation, while others give hugs. If you give a gift giver a hug, or a hugger a gift, they may not interpret it as appreciation because you are not matching their style. You can improve relationships by coming to understand the other person’s dominant style, and then using that style with them.

-Ken Fields, MA, LPC