Scene 1: My Lyft driver has a 5-star rating. I assume he’s new.
When I get into his car I ask, “How long have you been driving?” He says, “Oh, about six months.”
This blew my mind. To have perfect rating for anything after six months is almost unheard of.
I say, “You must meet a lot of interesting people.”
He replies, “Oh yeah! Everyone I’ve met has been amazing. Either they sit quietly and we enjoy the music together, or they tell me the most interesting stories. There was only one person in six months who I didn’t really like.”
Scene 2: L*, a friend of a friend, is telling me, “Yeah, so I met this girl last weekend. She’s into me, but she’s the type of girl that’s totally disrespectful to everyone. The kind that needs to be put in her place, you know? I texted her, but she ignored my texts. Bitch.”
I stare at him blankly. I always feel uncomfortable when I talk to this guy.
Unbeknownst to L*, I know the exact woman he’s talking about. She’s lovely. She’s bright, playful, and disarmingly funny. It was weird he thought she was a bitch.
A hidden quirk of social behavior
In any given moment, I have the potential to experience a wide array of feelings. I don’t mean this in a spiritual sense; I mean this pretty much literally.
If one of my charismatic and extroverted friends calls, he could convince me that we need to go to the party tonight. In his presence, I would be social, talkative, and playful.
If one of my centered and spiritual friends calls, she could persuade me that attending meditation class tonight is a must. In her presence, I would be calm, focused, and present.
As I’ve mentioned before, the world tends to feel like whatever you focus on. Focus on the potential dangers around you and your anxiety levels spike. Focus on the beauty around you, you’ll fall in love with life.
The same phenomenon applies to human interaction, but the dynamic is more fluid and subtle.
In its most simple form, you tend to draw out the characteristics of people that you expect to see in them. Likewise, people’s expectations of you can (and often do) influence your behavior and attitude.
In other words, if you expect people to be shitty, you’ll notice their shitty parts. If you expect people to be amazing, you’ll notice their amazing parts.
What makes this interesting is that you can elicit different sides of an individual based purely on your expectations of them and how you express those expectations.
And it’s not a coincidence that the Lyft driver feels that his passengers are great people. He expects people to be great. When he interacts with them, he interacts from a place of, “I can’t wait to spend time with this awesome person.” This draws the greatness out of them. Consequently, people like being in his presence. Together, they create a sense of mutual appreciation, respect, and fun.
It’s not bad luck that L* had a negative interaction with the woman he met. He expects people to be terrible. When he interacts with them, he does so from a place of, “Great, here comes another shallow, flakey, idiotic person.” This draws the worst out of people. Consequently, people feel uncomfortable in his presence and do their best to get away from him.
All interactions are co-created
Of course, this brings up a really interesting question: if the Lyft driver were to spend time with L*, how would the interaction play out? Would the driver succumb to L*’s negativity, or would L* feel uplifted?
It depends. In virtually all interactions, the person with the stronger sense of self will succeed in controlling the frame and vibe of the conversation. In other words, if you’re more committed to making me smile than I am to being pissed off, eventually you will make me smile.
Putting it into practice (or how to manipulate people)
So, how do you actually draw the good out of people and begin shaping their behavior and feelings? Good question.
The first step has nothing to do with the other person. As mentioned, whoever has the stronger sense of self in any given moment is most likely going to control the vibe. This means that the more deeply you fall in love with yourself, the more easily you’ll be able to help others fall in love with themselves.
From there, assume that the people you interact with are great people. Assume that they’re funny, open, insightful, and playful. Assume that spending time with them will improve your day. Assume that their pain and complaints are valid and should be met with warmth and compassion.
You’ll notice that simply assuming the best of people begins to draw the best out of them.
If you want to take it up a notch, try the following:
- Find something you like about the other person (their bracelet, their smile, their mind, whatever), and tell them that you like it.
- Ask playful questions and listen carefully to the answers. A few of my favorite questions right now: “Pretend we’re best friends – tell me about what’s actually going on in your life”, “What was the highlight of the past month for you?”, and “What’s the most embarrassing story you’re willing to share? I’ll tell you mine…”
- Be the first to open up and make yourself vulnerable. You don’t have to share everything or even very much, but by opening up you’ll signal to the other person that she’s worthy of trust and respect.
- Ask for advice. You don’t actually have to take the advice, but giving someone the chance to help you is a deceptively powerful way of drawing their best selves out.
You’ll notice that the more you create an opportunity for people to be amazing, the more amazing they’ll become. At a deeper level, you’ll notice that the more you improve people’s lives, the more you’ll feel like your life is filled with purpose, charm, and meaning.
Post Script: the cost (and appeal) of leveraging this phenomenon to create misery
Of course, everything that we’ve discussed can also be used in reverse to make people feel like shit.
Quietly assume that the people you’re with are terrible, and you’ll ruin more days than you’d expect. Ask questions or make statements that draw out the worst in people, and they’ll feel crappy in your presence.
Plenty of people intentionally spread negativity. Heck, I’d be lying if I told you that I’ve never gone for the jugular when I was having a bad day.
It comes at a cost. By creating more darkness in the world, you deepen the darkness within yourself. Treating others with disdain, ultimately, is an act of self-loathing.