How to Relate Better to People

by Dr. Clyde M. Narramore
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You can learn to get along with almost anyone," said the speaker with a burst of enthusiasm.

At that moment Mrs. Jones turned to her husband and whispered, "He doesn't know some of the people we do, does he?"

Perhaps it was the overly positive attitude of the speaker or the fact that the Jones' had some "difficult" neighbors, or it might be that Mr. and Mrs. Jones had a hard time getting along with people because of their own hang-ups. At any rate, they wanted to hear more!

One of the most rewarding things in all the world is to relate well to other people. You can build great bridges, create a masterpiece in oils, compose an oratorio, write a bestseller, go to the moon, invent ingenious machinery; or do many other things—but nothing you accomplish is of much value unless it has relevance to other people.

People are God's masterpieces. He could not be satisfied even when He had created the heavens and the earth and every living thing. So He said, "Let us make man." And God wasn't making a mistake. He created man in His own image (Genesis 1:26). This is how much God thought of man. Undoubtedly, one of the reasons He created man was to have someone with whom He could fellowship, because we read in the Bible that God had fellowship with Adam. God was relating to what? He was relating to human beings.

So, you and I need to do the same. "How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity" (Psalm 133:1). One of the greatest things we can learn in life is to relate to other people. And just as we need the right key to unlock any door, so are there keys to understanding and getting along with people.

How Are We Doing?

It's amazing how much we can do these days beyond the sphere of Planet Earth—far out in space—yet how little we are doing right here on our own hometown planet, especially when it concerns relating well to people. We're really not doing too well.

Someone has said that a study of most nations is a study of their wars and turmoil. Some time ago I was in Russia, and I was impressed with many things beside their poor economy. One was that here was a nation which has often been the center of turmoil: wars and killings, and people conquering and destroying one another. In Red Square, for example, I saw a "killing block" where thousands had been slain on the spot. As one Russian leader has said, "In Russian our hearts seem broken and we're always crying!" And while the United States has won the war in Afghanistan, several ethnic groups within that country are still in conflict.

Internationally, people have rarely gotten along with others. And even with our knowledge explosion and fabulous technological advances, things are not improving along this line.

Business, church, and other organizational leaders know that interpersonal skills are important. In fact, they often have a difficult time finding employees who get along well with each other.

Something Can Be Done

Is it a hopeless situation? No! We don't have to endure people; we can enjoy them and they can like and enjoy us.

Although there are millions of people who don't understand others and can't get along, there are millions who can and do. Their lives are happy and radiant. They have learned how to relate to people. And because they do, their lives are richer. Not only do they make others happy; they make themselves happy too.

Of course, most of us do not automatically understand other people. As in every other area of life, we need to grow in our understanding. There are certain helpful insights to be learned. A person does not suddenly become a violinist, for instance, or a physician. So it is if we are going to become specialists in getting along with people. There are some insights and principles to understand and practice.

Even Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, asked God to give him above everything else, "an understanding heart," and perhaps that was one of the greatest proofs of his wisdom!

Some People Try Even a Saint

We cannot always click perfectly with everyone. Even the Apostle Paul said, "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men" (Romans 12:18). Paul knew that some people were sufficiently difficult to get along with that there were limits on a harmonious relationship.

Where to Begin

If you are going to ignore your interpersonal skills, there's no better place to start than with yourself. A happy, well-adjusted person can get along with people much more easily than if he feels badly about himself. If you are going to click well with people, start by taking inventory of your own personality traits and inquire about your own attitudes.

Let's start with your self-image—your self-esteem. Why? Because the feelings you have down deep about yourself influence how you feel about others. The glasses you use to look at others are the same ones you use to look at yourself. If, when you look at yourself, you are not very pleased, you'll always have some distortion when you look at others.

How do you rate yourself? Here is a checklist that might give you some clues:

  • Can you usually take life's disappointments in stride?
  • Do you have a tolerant, accepting attitude toward yourself as well as others?
  • Can you laugh at yourself?
  • Do you neither underestimate nor overestimate your abilities?
  • Can you accept your own shortcomings?
  • Do you have a good measure of self-respect?
  • Are you able to deal with most situations that come your way?
  • Is your personality marked by much fear, anger, jealousy, worry, insecurity, domination, withdrawal, or manipulation?
  • Do you get satisfaction from simple, everyday pleasures? Or do you have to be entertained?
  • Do people like to be around you? Are you fun to be with?

Answering these questions thoughtfully will give you some insight about your own adjustment. If you have to answer several of them in a negative manner, you can take steps to improve. The practice of taking these needs to the Lord each day in prayer with an openness to grow will bring about terrific changes. You do have a tremendous resource in Christ if you are a true believer. The Bible says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). It's amazing how good God can make people when they are willing to be honest with Him. And He usually uses others to help us grow.

If your answers to these questions suggest you have a poor self-image, talk this out with a listening friend. Understanding how you developed negative attitudes toward yourself can help immeasurably.

If negative attitudes toward yourself are deeply ingrained, they may demand the help of a professional counselor. If so, you're wise to get that kind of help. Many smart people do!

At any rate, your ability to click with others depends upon how you click with yourself! If you're too nervous, insecure, rigid, hostile, domineering, manipulative, or withdrawn, you are probably going to have a tough time getting along well with others.

I know a man who complains that "nobody at church is friendly." But as you take a close look at him, you'll discover that he is definitely a major part of his problem. And, as the Bible tells us, "A man that has friends must show himself friendly" (Proverbs 18:24).

Understanding People Around You

If you are to relate well to others, you not only need to understand and accept yourself; you also need to understand other people. One of the biggest hindrances to such understanding is assuming that the other person has the same insights and feelings you do. That's natural, but it may not be true for several reasons.

Three-Dimensional Persons

One person may have a somewhat different physical functioning than another. Take the person who is plagued with a variety of allergies. In severe cases the person's chief preoccupation may be with what he can and cannot eat; what he can and cannot do; the things he has to stay away from. The healthy person may have little appreciation for the other fellow's absorption with his problems. He has never walked in his shoes. And this is just one of hundreds of physical problems that cause people to react as they do.

You cannot possibly understand people unless you make allowance for the impact of physiological differences and disorders on their behavior.

Filling the Spiritual Vacuum

But medical and physical differences are not the only differences in people. Among other things, people are spiritual beings. God has given them a spiritual nature that longs for fulfillment.

Some people have a lot going for them spiritually. They have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ; they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they read and study the Bible and they have a good measure of His guidance in their lives. They know why they are here on earth, and they are looking forward to their home in Heaven. They gain encouragement, perspectives, correction and guidance from their relationship with God and their knowledge of His Word. Life is a pretty clear path for them because they know what direction they're going.

But many people have virtually nothing spiritually going for them. They do not know Jesus Christ as Savior. They are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit. They have almost no spiritual guidance, and the meaning and significance of life is quite a mystery to them. They're stumbling along the best they know—but without God's guidance!

Don't Forget Emotions

There is a third dimension we need to consider. Man is a complex being. As the Psalmist wrote (139:14), we are "fearfully and wonderfully made."

Beside the physical and the spiritual, there is still another very large area which seriously affects your and my thinking and actions. This is the emotional. Human beings have several basic emotional needs, including the feeling that one belongs, that he is loved, and that he is a worthwhile person. Usually it is the mother and father who help to meet these needs; and whether or not these emotional needs were met affects a person's lifelong feelings about himself.

Not long ago, a young man wrote me a letter saying, "I grew up thinking that belligerency was strength, and love was weakness. This tells you something about the home I grew up in. There was no love there. My father didn't know how to talk or deal kindly with his family, although he could talk with outsiders. He always criticized, condemned, hollered at me, and gave me frequent beatings. Both my mother and father talked behind my back about my many faults and failures. I was literally destroyed inside, with fear and hate as the only emotions I knew. Self-confidence was absolutely non-existent. A useless, good-for-nothing self-image was formed inside of me."

This man went on to describe the pain and conflict these early experiences brought to his life for years.

We all sift our experiences and interpret them in the light of what we learned to think of ourselves and how we learned to feel as children. So whether it is a neighbor, someone in your church or school, or a relative, it is well to remember that down deep, other people may have very painful feelings that are causing them to act in ways that we don't understand.

On the other side of the ledger, there are those who are unusually well-adjusted, and it may be hard for them to understand why anyone would have any other than positive feelings. So, if you want to get along with people and understand them, you must realize they may have inner dynamics that are causing them to act and feel in certain ways.

to be continued...

© 2003 Narramore Christian Foundation. Used by permission.