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Expect People to Be Who They Are


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In business and in life, we often interact with people based on what we hope will be their personality, their way of doing business or their way of responding.
But the reality is, people are who they are and they give us signals and clues about who they are – if we pay attention. It’s so important to be aware of what people are revealing as we make decisions about our interactions with them. Without that awareness, our expectations can often conflict with reality and cause stress and frustration in our business and personal relationships.

A perfect example of this point really hit me recently as I was traveling with my grandson to Chicago for a mini vacation. One of the things I’ve noticed about William is that he is an extremely active 6-year-old boy and, though grandma would love for him to sit down, be still and not get into anything…that’s not reality. I remember last summer feeling really frustrated and stressed when he came to visit, because I kept trying to fit William into my perfect little box of being a perfect little well-behaved boy. But what 6-year-old boy do you know who is perfectly behaved?

When William came to visit this summer, I realized that I needed to make a shift in my thinking and expectations. If I wanted to make sure that our time together wasn’t full of frustration and unrealistic expectations on my part, I needed to stop trying to make William fit into my perfect little box of being a perfectly well- behaved little boy and expect him to be who he is – a sweet, very rambunctious, sometimes incorrigible, but very loved, little boy. You see, the problem wasn’t William. He was just doing what little boys his age do. The problem was with my expectations.

I had an opportunity this summer to shift my thinking and you also have an opportunity to shift your thinking as well – personally and professionally. You see, I decided to shift my perspective. I didn’t expect William to shift. I expected him to be who he is and we got along much better this summer, because some of the things he did, were things I expected him to do.

As you’re thinking about your employees and customers, think about how people are showing you who they really are via their email, voicemail, posts on social media and one-on-one interactions with you. Pay attention to who people are telling you they are, because they are sending you those signals and you can use that information to determine how best to work with them. It may also help you decide whether or not it’s wise, or a good fit, to work with them at all.

Especially in business as an entrepreneur, I’ve often found myself ignoring the signals potential clients were sending, because I was excited about their project and wanted a working relationship to go well. But, when the person was someone whose values didn’t line up with mine and I chose to ignore that, I’ve regretted the decision to work with them anyway – every time.

People will show you who they are, but sometimes we don’t accept this. Maya Angelou says, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” I’ve decided to live by this advice and it has saved me a lot of grief and frustration in business and life. I don’t seek to fit people into my mold anymore or ignore the signals they send, instead I seek to understand who they are and then make a determination if working together is a mutually beneficial fit.

I want you to think about your personal and professional relationships and ask yourself how often you are trying to fit people into your mold. Are you paying attention to the signals they’re sending? Consider how your relationships might be improved if you expect and allow each person to be who they are, embrace it, accept it and then make a decision regarding how you choose to manage that relationship.

By Lethia Owens