Ten Insights to Help Us Better Relate to Others

We make people choices every day. We decide whom we will invite to lunch. We make our meetings shorter when the person with whom we are meeting is a complainer. Our choices tell us who gets our call, emails, and texts. Our people choices determine our spouse and people we hire.

Anthony K. Tjan recently wrote an article in Harvard Business Review that provides the guidelines to understand people. The article is very helpful. But we must caution that these guidelines do not necessarily mean we are to avoid those who don’t measure up on all ten points. To the contrary, as Christians we are called to relate to people who might not “normally” be our best friend. We are to have big hearts that have room for a host of hurting people.

Nevertheless, his points are definitely insightful and helpful to help us understand people better, even ourselves. Here is my summary of his ten points.

  1. What is the talk-to-listen ratio? Are people so full of themselves that they talk incessantly, primarily about themselves? Tjan suggests if they talk more than 60 percent of a conversation, they either have bloated egos, or they don’t think they can learn anything from you, or they are nervous and rambling.
  2. Does the person give or take energy? I immediately think of a few people I really look forward to having in meetings. Their enthusiasm and optimism energizes me. Then there are some that turn a 30-minute meeting into an eight-hour day. I love being with energy givers. Please keep the takers away from me!
  3. Does the person act or react? People who act are strategic persons and problem solvers. People who react tend to be victims and critics.
  4. Is the person real or a fake? Most leaders can detect a person who is genuine versus someone who is pretentious. The latter group includes the infamous “suck up.”
  5. Do you know his or her spouse? With what type of person did he or she (ostensibly) choose to spend the rest of her life? What does that say about him and his own judgment?
  6. How does this person treat someone he or she doesn’t know? Several months ago I had dinner with a leader I know pretty well. We split the bill, but the server would not accept the expired coupons he had for his bill. He went into a rant over $10 with this suffering server. That told me much about the character of that leader.
  7. Has this person struggled in his or her own life? Tjan cites his own studies that show a higher business success rate for those who had struggles relatively early in their lives. He further concludes that, in many cases, those struggles shaped the person’s character positively.
  8. What does this person read? One of the most enlightening exercises I recently conducted on an executive retreat was to have each of the eight-member team give an account of his or her recent reading. I learned as much about some of the leaders of my organization then as any time previously.
  9. Would you go on a long car ride with this person? Wow. That question causes me to pause. As an introvert, I really wonder how many people I could fit into that category.
  10. Is this person self-aware? Tjan saves one of the most important questions for last. Though none of us see ourselves perfectly in the mirror, some are much better than others; some are much worse than others. I am so grateful for a few men in my life who tell me what’s in my mirror. It’s not always pretty; but it’s always helpful.

I am grateful to Anthony K. Tjan for this list.

What do you think about its effectiveness in helping us understand people? What would you change? What would you add?


  1. Allen Calkins says

    Another great list to reflect on…
    Two additions I might suggest:
    1) How transparent are they? Do they share their failures and frustrations as well as their successes without dwelling on them?
    2) How enabling are they? Do they take the time and risk to call into question what is said/done by others when it is not Biblical? Do they disciple by example as well as by word? You are always able to learn from those who are committed to living for the Lord in a public and encouraging way.

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