|Posted on November 13, 2012 at 1:40 PM|
Learning to understand people better is one of the most important leadership skills you can have. Even the very basics will give you the ability to make sound decisions and develop incredible insight into people’s lives. With practice, your ability to understand the core motivations, desires, and thoughts of others can become incredibly accurate and that understanding can be used in order to help lead others into community.
The first step is gaining a general understanding of the makeup of others and surprisingly…ourselves. Without understanding the walls people build up around themselves, as well as the barriers that we put in our own way, we will never be able to successfully read other people.
People are Like Onions:
When it comes to revealing ourselves to others, people are very much like a four-layered onion. The outermost layer is that part of our personality that we reveal to strangers – the most superficial aspects of who we really are. An example of this can be seen when we talk with a neighbor we don’t know but meet on the street walking our dog. Trivial topics like the weather, current events, sights and sounds around us are typical things we feel willing to talk about.
Around our friends and some acquaintances we feel comfortable enough to peel back that outermost layer to reveal the next one. For example, if you were chatting with a friend this time, you would probably feel more comfortable revealing more about yourself. Your attitudes towards the community, certain emotions and your general thoughts about life are some of the things that might come up in conversation.
The third layer is reserved for those with whom we have an intimate relationship with, such as a close friend or spouse. In many cases, intimate relationships take time to develop, and with that time, trust is earned. Imagine now walking your dog with your spouse or significant other. The depth of what you reveal this time is much greater than any previous layer. Your goals, personal problems, and fears and so on, all fall within this layer.
The fourth and innermost layer contains that part of ourselves that we don’t share with anyone. It contains our deepest and sometimes darkest thoughts and secrets that we would rather not acknowledge. The fact that we are trying to come to terms with many of these things ourselves makes us not comfortable sharing them with others.
The extent to which you can ‘read’ or understand someone is determined by how many of their layers you’re able to get them to reveal. And here’s a little secret: a person will reveal their layers in direct proportion to you revealing yours. This is the onion theory in a nutshell.
Removing our own Barrier: The second part of preparing ourselves to understand people better involves removing the barrier that keeps us from accurate ‘people-reading’. That barrier is our prejudices.
When people think of prejudice, mostly the racial kind comes to mind. Although a part of it, this is not entirely what I’m talking about here. Anytime you make an opinion, whether it is positive or negative, without knowledge or examination of the facts, you are being prejudiced. Whenever you come up with some preconceived notion based on things such as race, color, political alignment, or even the way people dress, it taints your ability to accurately read others. Our prejudices can be based on our fears, feeling threatened, upbringing or a myriad of other things.
There are many other specific techniques used in learning how to understand people better, but for the purposes of creating community, knowing that we will be much more effective leaders when we share more of ourselves and let go of our own prejudices in order to truly see the other person, is enough. We can’t expect others to get excited about creating community and learn about their motivations if we don’t share with them what makes us excited about it, and we won’t get much support or participation if we make invalid assumptions about others based upon our own personal prejudices. It’s as simple as that.
Exercise: During your day, take notice of your interactions with others and how many layers of ourselves we reveal to those we come in contact with. Then, notice the corresponding layer of others that are revealed to you. When you increase the depth of your interaction and share more, is there a corresponding increase in the depth of their sharing?
Remember, the purpose of learning the fundamentals of understanding someone better are to become more effective at understanding the motivations of others so that you can provide them with acceptable opportunities to become involved. Trying to invite the owner who complained about cleaning up after dogs to join the social committee may not be acceptable, unless during a conversation you shared enough of yourself to get the person to confide that they would like to meet more people in the community and maybe help plan social events. When you risk true engagement with others, anything is possible. As a leader, engagement is a powerful tool and can be used more effectively when you understand the dynamics involved in getting others to open up…like an onion!
Help Create Community in your HOA/condo, download a free version of "Creating Community: The Art of Empowerment in Community Association Living" at http://myhoa.webs.com/creatingcommunity.htm then order multiple copies for use in your HOA/condo education program in hardcover, softcover or ebook at all online booksellers or at http://myhoa.webs.com/creatingcommunitybook.htm
Categories: Creating Community