“I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”
Dr. Maya Angelou
Dr. Maya Angelou’s wisdom has inspired countless people around the world. And she is right, little does sometimes tell you a lot.
I guess though that we all have our own heuristics when trying to read people. Some guy named Sean suggests on Quora that seeing people drive is the ultimate way to catch a glimpse of their personality. My driving style tends to be quite eerily similar to Annie Hall’s, so I’m not particularly willing to give any credit to Sean on this point. Another guy named Yannick seems pretty confident that just by looking at his profile picture you can infer his godlike charm. He seems to be into damask suits. To each their own.
What will follow, then, is a personal list of a few tricks that have proven useful to me. Actually, it’s my top 5.
The Way Someone Treats Service Staff
That’s a given. When you’re dealing with people working in retail, food service, etc, you’re in the ultimate position of power. They can’t really disagree with you and they have to pretend to be nice even if you’re acting like the average Karen. If someone treats them poorly, it shows that he/she has low empathy and low integrity. Nobody likes a big bully. It’s a giant red flag.
How Someone Reacts to the Good Fortune of Others
What do we lose by another’s good fortune? The world is not a zero-sum game where another person’s win is your loss. Yes, we’ve all envied a friend at some point in our lives. At root, envy is about the inevitable competition we face as we navigate through life. But you probably don’t want to deal with someone who is constantly feeling rancorous. There are a few telling signs you should pay attention to. Take the “concern troll”. Someone is enthusiastically sharing their future career plans and another person responds: “Gosh, you’re going to have to deal with a lot of pressure.” Maybe that’s true, but did they intend to help out or just to throw shade?
How Someone Responds to “What’s New?”
Like many people, I usually resort to the default response of “good,” “fine,” or “same old.” However, if someone lights up when you ask that question, it probably means that they have a side project going, cool hobbies, maybe that they love traveling. A multiple sentence answer is usually the sign that you’re dealing with a proactive and positive person.
How Someone Talks About Others
I pay attention to the ratio between how much people talk about their projects, how much they enjoy asking about your life, and how much they talk about people who are not present. A tendency to talk of others in negative terms is a big no for me. And it is linked to higher levels of narcissism and antisocial behavior.
Maybe There’s No Such Thing
I do not share the philosophical belief that someone’s mind is entirely private and thus impossible to get to know. Yet you should take these small things as mere hints. You can’t really judge someone without knowing the whole story.
Refrain from prematurely judging others. But start observing them. You can still learn a lot about someone’s personality. And you can then use this information to be mindful of who to be around and to change the way you come across to others.