HB Unfiltered: Reading People
By Heather Bergeron
Reading people is tough: it’s crucially important, but impossibly difficult to teach someone how to do.
So, so hard, right? I mean, think about how you would explain to someone how to do it.
At first you’re thinking, cues like “don’t be too serious,” “don’t be too energetic,” “just always be positive,” “let’s fix this,” “be appropriate,” “make it fun,” “hang with someone as long as you can,” and “always help someone as much as you can,”
While those are all things that work 95% of the time, they’re not always the right way to deal with people.
“Don’t be too serious.” There are plenty of situations that call for people to handle things with a great deal of seriousness: finding out someone’s experiencing some sort of tragedy, hearing about an injury or illness someone’s dealing with, when someone gets their heart broken, when you’re in the middle of a really hard workout and it’s taking every ounce of your energy to just stay focused.
“Don’t be too energetic” and “make it fun.” People have tough days. It’s not that it’s ok for them to be complaining or acting miserable, but they have a right to not be forced into someone who thinks all they need is constant joking around, or overwhelming amounts of dancing and singing. Most of the time, they can certainly remove themselves from the “energy” and the “fun”, but not always. Sometimes energy and fun can save a person’s day…and sometimes it can make it even worse.
“Just always be positive.” It’s super helpful to surround yourself by positive people. Absolutely. There’s nothing worse than people that are always on board with a bitch session or are easily pulled down into the rut that you’ve been living in for days on end. But there are those rare moments where you just want someone to say, “Yeah, that sucks.” This one’s a tough one to say that about, though, because I’m literally talking about once-in-a-blue-moon sort of stuff. I almost never, ever want my friends to give in to my moments of depressive weakness, but a really good friend knows when you need an ally…and, not a problem-solver.
Speaking of “problem solvers” and “helping someone as much as you can.” This is one of my big ones. Ben rides this line so dangerously, but is super consistent with being able to read into when people really want and are looking for help, versus when they should just try and figure it out on their own. And, having seen it go drastically different directions, I’d rather have someone back off and allow me to be the one responsible for asking for help than feeling like I have to dodge and run away from someone who can’t see that I really just need and want to figure it out on my own.
“Be appropriate.” Uggghhh. Even as I write this one, I cringe because it totally depends on who you’re dealing with and where that person is in any given moment. Even me; I would 99% of the time prefer people that can tastefully be any level of inappropriate, but there are rare moments when I’m just not up for it. And, there are plenty of other people that are just totally uncomfortable with being inappropriate…and, they deserve the right to being treated with “appropriate” behavior.
Finally, “hang with someone as long as you can.” This is another biggie. There’s a time to stay, and a time to go. If someone wants you to stay, they’ll make it abundantly clear that they want that to happen. If you’re not getting that signal from them…like, the clear-as-day sort of signal…it’s best to just go. If they really do want you to stay, they’ll let you know. There’s a very delicate balance that needs to be found between helping someone “enough” so that they know you’re there to support them, and enabling behavior that promotes dependency and laziness.