The importance of understanding how to treat others and why it changes everything

Growing up, you were most likely taught to treat another the way you want to be treated. This is great advice, as most people want to be treated with respect, dignity, and to have their voice heard.

In the case of addressing the fundamental needs of others, it makes sense. Respect and dignity are never bad things. But there is a way to go deeper here. If you really want to connect with another and create space for a transformative environment, treat them not as you want to be treated; but how they want to be treated.

My preference or your preference?

A couple of years ago on Christmas, my wife Mandy gave me this present. I unwrapped my gift with excitement, eager to see how I had been spoilt. And there it was – a DVD. The nature of the DVD was very surprising. I had been given an instructional DVD on Salsa dancing.

Now, I don’t dance. Dance is not a skill of mine. Dance is not really something I aspire to do. Salsa dancing isn’t something I had ever mentioned wanting to learn. And so, it was somewhat difficult to convey excitement for my gift.

Now, Mandy is different. At the time she had her own successful Belly Dance Studio. She was a great dancer and performer, eager to learn new things (including Salsa dancing), and full of confidence when it came to moving her body to the beat. The family watched on, chuckling. They laughed at how the gift in my hands had been bought through the eyes of another who found this gift valuable.

This would’ve been a good scenario to learn the art of “how to treat others the way they want to be treated”. 

The importance of understanding how to treat others and why it changes everything

The Reward

I wonder how often our generosity conveys our own desires and not that of the other. Take the manager who spoils his team with a round of golf, for example. He loves golf and his ideal reward would be golf, so he wonders why the reward is seemingly unappreciated by some. But some members of his team don’t like golf – some haven’t even played golf – and find no value in it. The generosity is great, but the nature of the generosity declares misalignment.

To know what’s important to another person takes time and understanding. It requires that we move from a thin, shallow knowledge base to deeper, empathetic insight. And when we do, we can only but create connection

As Vivek Murthy (Surgeon General of the USA) says, all of us have a deep and binding need to be seen for who we are. When I am seen, and when your actions demonstrate that you have seen me, you can only but impact me. 

How to learn the song in another’s head

One of the greatest acts of generosity is the act of showing your understanding that others are not you. When you realise that others don’t know what you know, don’t see what you see, don’t believe what you believe and don’t want what you want, you can begin to create some magic. It starts to make another feel truly seen – as if you’ve heard the secret song in their head and can sing it back to them. This is the space where you can truly learn how to treat others.

How do you learn another's song, you ask?

It requires that we understand and honour another’s story. The only way to do this, is to allow them the opportunity to express what matters to them. If this sounds complicated, don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be. Here are some great starting points:

  • Intentional Listening: It’s easy to listen – but it takes a little more effort to intentionally hear what another is saying. If you find this difficult, practice repeating what you hear another saying when they’re expressing something to you. Use phrases like, “So what I’m hearing you say is…. This is really important to you…”
  • Be curious about others values: If someone shows a deep value for something that you don’t value, or aren’t familiar with, get curious about it. Ask questions. Find out what it is that makes this so important to them. And care enough to have conversations around it. Soon enough, you’ll develop a deeper understanding of that person’s values, and they’ll feel more comfortable opening up to you.
  • Ask good questions: Anyone can ask how your day was. But if you ask good questions, you can unearth some deeper understanding of what makes another tick. Listen out for ques of topics that interest another, and when you hear them, ask about them. Maintain the mindset of being a “student of life”. 
The importance of understanding how to treat others and why it changes everything

Once you know someone on a deeper level and understand how to treat others according to their individual values,  it’s a lot easier to ask yourself, “If I were them, would this be valuable to me?”

As we enter this season of generosity, perhaps one of the greatest gifts we can give another is to find out what song is in their head. And as much as you find the temptation to push your preference of generosity, step back, and honour theirs. And when you do, guess what? They will probably ask about the song in your head.  

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