We can’t always treat others as WE’d want to be treated

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I’ve always enjoyed people I thought of as “considerate.” In fact, before I knew I was an introvert, I mentally divided my friends and acquaintances into “considerate” vs. “sort of pushy.” If I announced an occasion coming up or had some major life event happen, the “considerate” people were the ones who would ask, “How can I help?” When I had my first child, one such friend actually sneaked into my hospital room to leave me a gift while I was asleep.

The “pushy” ones were the ones who would declare, “I’ll be in charge of the..[whatever],” for an event, or in the case of the hospital stay, they’d arrive ready to be entertained, just when I’d be sleep-deprived, in pain, or otherwise NOT ready for visitors, and of course if there was a new baby involved that made them all the pushier.

I’ve made it a point to have a lot of “considerate” people around me, both introvert and extrovert, but there have been two situations where my trying to be considerate has backfired terribly. And now that I know about personality traits and different peoples’ different preferences for how things are done, it’s totally clear to me: We shouldn’t always treat people as we would want to be treated. We should treat them as they want to be treated. It sounds pretty obvious, but in practice it was harder to realize before I knew I was an introvert.

The first circumstance where I found that my being so considerate hurt me was when I first started working for an innovative, big-picture kind of guy. I’d email him questions and wait for his answers, or I’d email him to tell him why something was going to happen later than expected, and I thought I was doing a great job of keeping him informed. But then while I waited, I started noticing that other people were getting their answers from him! They were able to proceed with their work while I was waiting and being very ineffective.

I’d ask, “How did you get an answer from him? I emailed him two weeks ago!” Yep, I didn’t know the best way to deal with an extroverted boss. I’ve learned since then by watching the extroverts. They don’t groan when the phone rings, do they? They don’t dread someone sticking his head into their office to ask something. So now I go directly to the bosses or other extroverts because I understand that’s how they want to be approached.

The second circumstance is so much worse in many ways. I had a really sweet friend I saw mostly on the weekends when we’d have a quick cup of coffee while our kids were playing. We had a lot in common as far as our lifestyles and day-to-day issues, and we talked about a lot of personal stuff and had a great time doing so. Then gradually we stopped meeting because of schedule conflicts. One day one of my kids came home from school and told me that my friend’s oldest son had leukemia! I was horrified and full of sympathy, and as I read their CaringBridge site I could see that she and her husband were splitting their time between the children’s hospital here and at home taking care of their younger son. She updated the page often, so I knew she had a laptop at the hospital. And I knew from the experience of having one of my parents in the hospital that the last thing anyone needs when they rush home for a quick break is the phone ringing!

So – ever the considerate one, I composed a long email offering my support and telling her that I’d be happy to pick up their younger son and take him with us to dinner and a movie sometime while she and her husband tended to their older son. I thought that would give them a break and give the youngest guy some happy normalcy too. I never heard back from her, but a few years later after her son was in remission, I happened to see her on the sidewalk. I tried to stop and talk to her, but she was extremely cold to me. I started, “When Andrew was sick… I emailed you..I was going to take Michael…” and she interrupted me, “Our email box gets so full we don’t even get all our mail.” Oh, OK.. I’m sorry you never got it..I didn’t know. Once again she interrupted, “Anyway, the email is John’s (her husband) department!” Then we smiled our fake smiles and said nice to see you – and I’ve never seen or talked to her again. I learned then – if your friend is an extrovert, it’s better to be the annoying phone or doorbell ringing than it is for your friend to think you’re neglecting her.

None of this is to say that we have to be “fake extroverts,” of course! I intend to be a happy, normal introvert and people will just have to like me the way I am. But when there’s something important to communicate, I’m going to try to be very conscious of the audience and his/her preferences. That’s the only way I can be sure my message is received!

Photo credit: Annie Mole

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46 Comments

  1. Great post! It reminds me of a lesson I learned while doing fundraising for nonprofits: ask for a second gift in the same way the person responded the first time. So, if they gave via web, ask via web; direct mail, phone, a specific solicitor… match the request with their previous giving method. As an introvert, I wanted web or direct mail to be their method of choice, LOL! But I learned that it wasn’t about me, it was about what how the donor wanted to be communicated with. Thank you for this wonderful reminder!
    Beth Buelow, The Introvert Entrepreneur´s last post ..Rules- Schmules!

    • Thanks Beth! And – that is brilliant re the fundraising. And – I’m with you – I’d be secretly hoping to get the list of people who’d mostly used web or direct mail. 😉

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  3. It’s funny because I have been thinking about the “golden rule” recently, myself. When we are young, most of us are told by our parents, relatives, and even teachers that we should treat others the way that we want to be treated. And while this is a good lesson to begin with since the saying implies respecting each other and treating each other kindly and considerately, it leaves out the fact that each person has individual preferences and not everyone wants to be treated the same. Each person views respect, disrespect, and rudeness differently. So you might not know right from the get go if you are being rude or inconsiderate of someone or even if you’re being a bit pushy in your “consideration” for others, unless the person on the receiving end of that behavior, specifically says so, seeing as how different people have different boundaries. Because appropriate behavior for one person might not be the same for someone else. This is why when my daughter gets a bit older, I am going to sit down with her and let her know this, so when she starts school and generally has to interact with other people, she will take into consideration the fact that people are individuals and therefore, each person will have specific wants and needs which have to be taken into consideration and respected, just like she would want people to respect her individual preferences. And when you respect people’s individual preferences, you are helping them because you are showing them that you are considerate enough to take what they want or don’t want, seriously.

    In the forum area on here, someone started a post about personal space issues, and mentioned the fact that her family and friends don’t have a problem with others getting physically close to them, but that she has an issue with it and she thought that she might be “weird” for feeling the way she does. And I stated in my reply to her that she isn’t weird, she just has a different preference than her family members and friends. She has a personal preference in how she wants to be treated and that’s perfectly normal.

    In the case of you and your former friend, that situation definitely seemed like a communication breakdown, especially since the both of you had stopped socializing as much even before you found out that her son was sick. It’s too bad that it was such a big misunderstanding between the both of you. I’m the kind of person who would really dwell on that situation if something like that were to happen to me, so I can definitely understand how you must have felt.

    • JW that’s great. Your daughter will be one of the few people who learn something like that so young! Most people around me still expect everyone to be the same and are very free with words like, “weird,” or “aloof” or whatever.

      Yes, I did dwell on it for a long time. But she made it clear she is done with me. Lesson learned though!

  4. I understand your point of view, about different people having different preferences, however treat people the way you want to be treated was worded that way for a reason. We cannot get into the minds of other people and we cannot empathize with them either, however we have a very fine sense of our own feelings which we are always out to protect. When we say treat someone as we want to be treated, something hits home in our mind because we can really relate to how we feel when we are wronged or even praised. We can’t really relate to the other person. So, the point is if we treat others as we would want to be treated then we try extra hard because WE would want to be treated well. When we say treat them as they would want to be treated, it is less powerful because we take ourselves out of the equation and we can’t relate as well.

    • Except then I’d be saying, “Well gee, if it were me, I wouldn’t want anyone to come barging in right now…I’d want them to just send a letter.” 🙂 So I guess I’m saying, tailor your actions to what you know about the other person. What’s desirable and considerate in the eyes of many of us introverts may be strange or ineffective or annoying to other personality types.

  5. Michael O’ Connell, I disagree somewhat with that. I do agree that we should treat others the way that we want to be treated, but it has to extend beyond that, meaning that I think that we need to treat others the way that they want to be treated, especially if they state how they would like to be treated. For example, if I make a joke to someone else, and that person says, “I really don’t appreciate that kind of joke”, then from that point on, I know that that person doesn’t like those kinds of jokes, so I shouldn’t do that anymore around that person. Or if someone says “I really appreciate it when you….”, then from that point on, I know that that’s a behavior that I should be doing in regards to that person. And I think that it is actually more powerful when I treat people the way they want to be treated, seeing as how not everything is about me, and when I treat people the way they want to be treated, I am showing that I can take into consideration the needs of others. If I don’t take into consideration the needs of others, then sooner or later someone is going to accuse me of being selfish and making everything about myself.

    The saying “treat others the way they want to be treated” also reminds me of that saying “you teach people how to treat you”.

  6. kathie, i am sorry to read about these sad experiences. perhaps it was more about the overload of their mailbox through the website and the overall very very painful time, than the fact that you offered help via email.

    and you have brought up an interesting thought.

    well, when it comes to bosses, i believe that they have the choice to what they react to, and what not. they are the boss. however i also believe that they need to be able to communicate on several channels, both for employees and customers, and at least say to you: hey xyb, stop your novels, come over and speak with me, this door is open for a reason 😉

    on a private way i think that you are right, we need to develop the empathy to help the other understand us by communicating in an understandable channel. with many extroverts it is indeed easier to walk over or call than write – to get your replies. but i believe that this also works in another way: with friends it often goes that i write and they call back. in my view it is about meeting in the middle.

    to me the term “treat others the way you wish to be treated” does not necessarily mean the communication channel that you use/prefer, but much rather what you send as message and content: kindness, fairness, understanding, consideration, respect…. and receiving the same back, or the opposite.

    • In my case, I’m “in my own world” a lot and often don’t notice what everyone else is doing, so I guess this post was my way of stopping myself and saying I must *consciously* think about how to communicate with someone, when it’s an important situation. Otherwise I may do what comes naturally to me, or I may do what someone tells me to do (“Call me tomorrow.”) but if it’s left to chance I may miss the boat on the things that matter.

  7. JW–
    Your right when it comes to intimate encounters or more specific situations, then yes, treat as they want to be treated. As for situations that are more general or where you don’t know the persons preferences then we must treat them as we want to be treated. For instance, “Don’t litter on their lawn, you wouldn’t want someone to do it to you.” You don’t know the person whose lawn your about to litter on. So, treat as you want to be treated and don’t litter.

    • Ok, I see your point, and I think it’s fair. I think that people should have a basic understanding of manners and etiquette and then apply that understanding and awareness, in general, every day situations.

  8. Great post.

    I think it would be beneficial to make a distinction between “how you want to be treated” and “how you want to be contacted”. Treat others how you want to be treated in my opinion is about treating other people well and being kind to them, because that’s how everyone wants to be treated, right?

    But social skills are a little bit different concept from that, I think. It’s just good to realize that it is not normal to avoid direct contact with people, and that feels just weird to an average extroverted guy if someone can’t call or talk to him or her directly but sends a formal e-mail instead, even though it would feel completely normal for introverted people to act that way.
    Petteri´s last post ..Would You Like to Have a Life without Failures

    • Thanks Petteri. Yes, the title of the post didn’t convey exactly what the rest of it was about, did it! 🙂

      it is not normal to avoid direct contact with people

      Actually it is normal for some of us to avoid contact with people. Not all people, all the time, of course, but in order to get our work done or simply have some treasured solitary time we may avoid some people some of the time. It would have never occurred to me in the past that an extremely busy person would want everyone interrupting him rather than receiving emails which he could read when he wanted, but I did finally learn that after learning about personality types and differences in behavior style.

  9. This really is an interesting topic because I consider myself to be an introvert who has been able to become a little bit more outgoing by constant practicing.

    I still need a lot of solitary time, but I have noticed that if I push my limits a little bit and be more social and outgoing even if that does not always feel natural, it actually starts to feel natural when I have made it my habit to talk to strangers and be more open minded.

    It might be easier in the short run to avoid social contact when you are an introvert, but in the long run I have noticed that I am much more happy when I have the habit of being more social, because it has a lot of positive side effects, such as getting more friends, finding so much more opportunities in life, and people will also like my company more.

    I have also noticed that one of the reasons that made me an introvert was my low self-confidence. I wasn’t confident enough to think that my ideas and discussions would be interesting to other people, so I chose to avoid social contact most of the time.

    For me, being introvert isn’t obviously only a trait that could not be changed, although a big part of it definitely is in our genes.

    Sorry that all of this is not exactly about the topic, but the whole subject is just so interesting that I had to open up a little bit. 🙂
    Petteri´s last post ..Would You Like to Have a Life without Failures

    • Very glad you did! I actually brought up something on our little forum last night that’s sort of similar. A reader had mentioned that now that she has a lot of time alone (she graduated from college in April and is still job hunting), she has lower tolerance for social time and wants to stay home even more. It’s not that introversion is an ailment could be “cured” by going out more, LOL, but that introverts do need to get out and mingle in the world to reap the benefits it has too. Welcome to IntrovertZone Petteri! It’s wonderful to have you here.

  10. Great to be here, nice website and good articles about interesting subject, so I’m definitely subscribing to the feed and coming back again. 🙂

    My point of view is that part of the introvert-thing is natural and in our genes, but some part of it is something else. I used to feel awkward in social situations, and that made me avoid them, but when you do something awkward for 10 000 times, it doesn’t feel awkward anymore – you get used to it.

    I have made it my own personal little habit to always put myself into situations where I feel a little bit insecure, such as talking to bigger audiences, talking to strangers, expressing my opinions louder both online and offline… I see them as growing opportunities and they always make me a little bit stronger person and raise my self-esteem. From the outside it looks like I’ve become less introverted.

    Maybe it’s not natural for me, but it is a way of creating habits and getting used to things that are very beneficial for me and my happiness in the long run. And like I said, when you get used to something and you make something your habit for a long time, it actually becomes a natural part of you.

    …This was even more disconnected from the topic of this article, sorry about that again. 😉
    Petteri´s last post ..Would You Like to Have a Life without Failures

    • No problem at all! 🙂 Finding the perfect balance is something we all wrestle with. We know we need to find ways to enjoy people yet still feel good and not exhausted or miserable, so it’s great that you’ve found ways to stretch and grow. Likewise I know an extrovert who is having to grow in a different direction in order to learn new skills for his job. He really hates sitting alone at his desk for long periods of time but is doing a little more every day!

  11. cb, Another Great post. When ever I come to your site, I spend more time than I have available.

    Micheal, you are correct when you say “it was worded that way for a reason”. The reason is both because making it about yourself provides an emotional ‘hook’ to help it stick in your mind and because you don’t know the other person yet to have a different guideline to go by.

    In initial contact it’s best to follow the golden rule. Latter, when you know someones preferences and go along with them you will get better responses. Isn’t that the main goal?

    • Thanks so much Natalie! Yes, we always start with the golden rule, but then someone like me has to consciously think about the fact that – oh – the Average Joe would not want to be approached and communicated with the same way I do. (Too bad though). 😉

  12. Somehow I can relate my experience to this and I’d say I also learned it from somebody…though I think it was too late. Still, somehow this post reminded me of it. And yes even in writing, I still come to some awkward positions.. 🙁

    • Hi Jamie, Oh heck me too. I’m glad we have the internet now and even shows like Bones and Big Bang Theory so the average person can see that we awkward types are really just geniuses walking among them. 😉

  13. Good read! Very interesting indeed.

    In a way it [the article] touches on the topic that introverts, in some situations, have to put on an act to be accepted by their surroundings.

    I try a different approach. I would not say I am trying to be considerate, but I think it is more correct to say that I try to be polite. I will offer my help how I feel comfortable, and if someone takes offence to that, then we might not talk again.
    In any social situation, interaction is kind of like a marriage; sometimes you have to meet halfway, and if that doesn’t work you have to accept the fact you should divorce.

    I know it sounds a bit harsh, but I have one life and I have dressed myself with a fake smile enough that it is.

    It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for something you are not.
    – André Gide
    Dr. W´s last post ..They are all on drugs!

    • Oh I totally agree. For my family and neighbors and coworkers for the most part, I would hope that they know me (even though I also enjoy getting to know people as slowly as I can) and understand that there’s a lot going on under this surface I present to the world.

      But then when someone close to me has a crisis, or if my salary depends on it 🙂 I’m just trying to remind myself that some others have no way of knowing me or what’s going on in my head sometimes – and it may benefit me to speak their language for a little while. A very little while. 🙂

  14. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to understand or even agree with your post. But your last few sentences took it home for me. You’re exactly right – when it’s “something” important” to communicate. We don’t have to be fake extroverts but sometimes we have to give up a little of our own comfort for someone else. I thought about a recent situation with a girlfriend. I texted her to say hello and she texted back that her father has been really ill the past few days. The text kept cutting and I just told her that I would call her. And I’m an extreme extrovert so I do not make phone calls very often. But it just seemed appropriate that I should actually “talk” to my friend on the phone to hear about her father’s illness.

    Anyhow, I’m glad to read this b/c I’ll remember it next time I’m contemplating if I should pick up the phone or not!

    • Hi Lani – I’m glad you called your friend. You’re exactly right – that was definitely the time to call, not just text. I’ll have such intense feelings of sympathy, empathy, etc., but it does people no good if they never find out about it!

  15. Very interesting post and blog. I find myself switching between introvert and extrovert on a constant basis. It is so easy to fall back on email, text, and IM rather than calling or a face to face meeting with someone. With the first three methods of communicating you can ‘fire and forget’ but the results are the same way because the responder can ‘ignore and delete’ just as easily.

    I enjoyed your point about the extrovert boss as well. Identifiying how people like to communicate is essential to getting their attention effectively.

    Also consider how a 30 second phone call can clear up an ambiguous conversation that might require numerous emails simply because you cannot insert tone and emotion.

    • Thanks Ed. Yes, and I know that some do ignore and delete, but I still think that’s a shame. 😉 It takes just seconds for me to send an email – and seconds to minutes to answer one. But if a phone call is involved, or worse still, a meeting…. there goes the morning. 😀

  16. We cannot always please other people. I consider myself an introvert person as well. But as soon as I get closer with them, I tend to be more outgoing and maybe a bit of an extrovert. But miscommunication can really mess things up. We should not always rely on mails or texts especially on important matters.

    • Hi Beth, yes, I also get a lot more comfortable with someone as I deal with them more and more. In the case of the emails to bosses, it was more a matter of my thinking it’s bad to interrupt anyone, because I despise interruptions. If someone has 30 things to do, why does someone else get to jump right to the top of the list by going in person? But – that seems to be what the extroverts respond to. 🙂

  17. What a sad story… thank you for sharing it. It’s a good reminder of how big the stakes can be.

    As an introvert, I will do my best to keep this in mind… it’s probably a good lesson as I ponder friends that drifted away over my life. Maybe I’m the real source of this issue.

    (my blog link is a little silly – but as I glance at the CommentLuv entry below, I think it’s fun and ironic; Matt is NOT an introvert!)
    Gomez @ autoglass repair´s last post ..Saturday Silliness- Where’s Matt

    • Hi Gomez,

      Well, your natural way of communicating may not have given some of your friends every little interaction they wanted, but I think sometimes relationships just run their course after a few years too. I have one good friend I’ve known for 20 years, and just in the past two years we mutually seem to annoy one another and aren’t as eager to get together for dinners and walks anymore. We just grew in different directions. I’ll have to check out the Saturday Silliness! 🙂

  18. I truly understand your point of view, about people having different perspective and preferences, but we have to bear in mind that we cannot get into the minds of people and know what they’re thinking, we could not also empathize to them either. But we have our feeling to protect us and remind us that their just people and they can commit mistakes too.
    Mike@Poker´s last post ..BLANCA GAMES ACQUIRES CEREUS NETWORK

  19. Jesus.. I came across this article and it screams “That’s sooooo me!” I would LOVE to have lots of discussions with you about me being a brand new recently discovered Introvert. I have sooooo many stuff I want to talk about. How can I talk to you? I do not quite understand how to work around this website yet.

    Thank you.

    • Hi Kirsia, I’m not yet equipped to work one on one with individuals, but there are lots and lots of posts on this blog and loads of comments. Many people are subscribed to the comments so if you leave one on a particular post you should get responses from them too.

  20. Darn hard to learn, as you said, but completely invaluable. I learned that I’ll make myself crazy trying to “train” others to respond as I need them to, and now I meet people where they need to be met — and so much more gets done. It also broke me a little out of my shell, too.

  21. Yeah i agree we could not treat others exactly how we wanted to be treated but at least not to the ugliest form or worst action that could harm or hurt other people. I still believe that what we sow is what we are gonna reap and what measure we used to give is the same measure that we are gonna expect to come back in return. It is better to plant good deeds and positive things than to suffer the consequences of what we have done.

  22. I treat people the way they treat me. If they don’t respect my boundaries, I definitely don’t respect theirs. I do try to be respectful to others and I totally understand that people have varying opinions on polite and rude behaviors. However, I’ve discovered that many people agree with me on this- nobody likes pushy people. Assertive people confidently ask for what they want, but they’re respectful enough to back off if the other party doesn’t seem interested in helping them. Pushy people, on the other hand, will deliberately run over others to fulfill their own needs.

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