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Just dropping by ... Keys to getting along with people

Contributed by Yevet Tenney Published on 25 January 2016

My son Paul recently came home from a trip to Bulgaria. He has had a hard transition into American culture ever since he was a boy.

He started his life on the streets of Varna, Bulgaria, where his gypsy ancestors spent their days.

When he was 6, he was put in an orphanage and, over the next few years, was bounced in and out of three different orphanages. His social skills and developmental abilities were sadly neglected.

He is now in his 20s and wants to get along with his roommates and co-workers. I have had this conversation many times, but I think now he really wants to know. I think he is teachable now. Skills I take for granted in communication, he doesn’t quite grasp.

On the way home from one of his job interviews, I talked to him about people skills and gave him some pointers. There are probably other people who feel like Paul, so I’ll share the same advice in hopes it may help them too.

Be a greeter, not a wallflower

I have often heard people complain that they feel lonely and friendless when they attend church. “No one speaks to me,” they say, “I don’t feel like anyone cares.” My first instinct is to feel sorry for them and point my finger at the parishioners and say, “You should be friendlier and reach out to your fellow men and women.

Make these poor souls feel welcome into the body of Christ.” Of course, we should do that, but it is easier to change the one than the ninety and nine. In other words, it is easier to change yourself than to try and change everyone else.

When I was younger, I was very shy. I didn’t talk to anyone unless they talked to me. I felt alone. I thought I was the only one who came to church who was unworthy of notice.

Everyone seemed to have someone to talk to but me. I wanted people to notice and rescue me from my lonely situation, but I found a secluded corner and folded my world around me and put up my walls. I made myself as invisible as I could. Of course, no one came to talk to me. I didn’t look or act like I cared if someone would have. I was miserable, wanting someone else to solve my problem.

It wasn’t until I had matured that I started to realize everyone feels a certain degree of loneliness and shyness. The popular people had learned that action is better than inaction. They decided to be the first one to greet other people. When they spoke to others, others spoke back.

One question led to another, and they were chatting merrily as if they were best of friends. I decided to try their technique. Voila! Suddenly, I had friends overnight. Everyone I greeted, greeted me back. What a revelation in human interaction. The first rule in making friends is to be the greeter, not the wallflower.

Lead with love

The next rule to getting along with people is to lead with love. When I was a missionary in Italy, I read a book called The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino, and it altered my life forever.

The book suggested a poem to read every day. It still comes to my mind, though it was more than 30 years ago that I read from its pages. I will share a few excerpts from Og Mandino’s book:

I will greet this day with love
in my heart.

And how will I do this? Henceforth, will I look on all things with love
and I will be born again.

I will love the sun, for it warms
my bones; yet I will love the rain,
for it cleanses my spirit.

I will love the light, for it shows me
the way; yet I will love the darkness,
for it shows me the stars.

I will welcome happiness,
for it enlarges my heart; yet I will endure sadness, for it opens my soul.

I will acknowledge rewards,
for they are my due; yet I will welcome obstacles, for they are my challenge.

I will greet this day with love
in my heart.

And how will I act?

I will love all manners of men,
for each has qualities to be admired even though they be hidden.

With love I will tear down the wall of suspicion and hate which they have built round their hearts, and in its place will I build bridges so that
my love may enter their souls.

I will love the ambitious, for they
can inspire me; I will love the failures, for they can teach me.

I will love the kings, for they are
but human; I will love the meek,
for they are divine.

I will love the rich, for they are
yet lonely; I will love the poor,
for they are so many.

I will love the young for the faith
they hold; I will love the old
for the wisdom they share.

I will love the beautiful for their eyes
of sadness; I will love the ugly
for their souls of peace

I will greet this day with love
in my heart.

And how will I confront each
whom I meet?

In only one way. In silence
and to myself, I will address him
and say “I Love You.”

Though spoken in silence,
these words will shine in my eyes, unwrinkle my brow, bring a smile
to my lips and echo in my voice,
and his heart will be opened.

I will greet this day with love
in my heart.

Be honest with others

The third key to getting along with people is: Be honest. Flattery is a death trap. It is easy to tell people what they want to hear, but sooner or later they will feel the inconsistency in your words and your behavior.

Honest caring opens the door for spirit to communicate with spirit. You both feel the zing of truth pass between you. It uplifts and edifies both of you.

Dishonesty obstructs that communication, and you get used to not feeling anything when you talk to others. Little by little, your heart is hardened and trust diminishes in those you communicate with. No one wants to feel that they are being used. Flattery is a tool of manipulation. Make sure your compliments come from your heart, not just your mouth.

Listen to understand

The fourth key is: Listen with the intent to understand. It is easy to check out of a long, drawn-out monologue. You can think of all sorts of wonderful things. You can carry on your own conversation while you smile and nod your head in passive agreement, but that is a form of dishonesty. People can feel your level of interest or disinterest.

They can tell if you are paying passive attention or if you are totally engaged by the look in your eyes, by watching your body language and by the first words out of your mouth.

The purest form of a compliment is to listen with the intent to understand and paraphrase the words of the speaker with empathy and heartfelt emotion. I learned the techniques of listening when I was a teenager, and I put them into practice.

One day I was listening to my mother, and she said, “I like to talk to you because I feel that you really listen.” That incident told me I was on the right track. I am not always perfect, and I get distracted, but the habit of trying to paraphrase with empathy has helped my focus and my ability to remember, and it has given me more friends than I deserve to have. People love to know that you listen.

See others as Christ does

There are many keys to getting along with people, but I will mention only one more. See others as Christ sees them. If we look at other people and try to imagine how Christ would see them, it is hard to misjudge and be unkind to them. Christ has a perfect knowledge of each one of our weaknesses and strengths.

No two people in the world are exactly alike, so the standard He uses to judge is an individual analysis, not a comparison to the masses. We don’t have His insight, so we shouldn’t judge the apparent sins of others, but we can imagine ourselves in their situation. We can try to understand their motives and their reasons.

Once our heart turns to empathy, we cease to point fingers. The Cherokee tribe had a legend that said: “Don’t judge a man until you have walked two moons in his moccasins.” We need to empathize with others rather than judge them.

Because we cannot see into the heart, as God does, we must fill our hearts with charity and use our imagination to give the same excuse to the offender as we would give to ourselves.

Paul will gradually learn to get along with people, and he will learn in his own time. I need to allow him to grow at his own pace. We can all give advice, but we must not get bent out of shape when our audience doesn’t listen. We must change ourselves first – that is enough of a project.  end mark