Two Beliefs That Will Change The Way You Deal With People (Even The Annoying, Toxic, and Narcissistic Ones)

Here are two beliefs everyone should adopt about other people. [This is up for discussion, of course, as I am subject to these statements.]

  1. People are always doing the best they possibly can with the knowledge, mental frameworks, resources, beliefs, energy, and skills at their disposal.

  2. People are always acting out of deep human need, never want or desire.

The first belief is fairly straightforward. It includes everyone all the time—yes, sociopaths, too. As Socrates said, “no one ever does wrong willingly.” Someone that is taken over by violent extremism or manic-depressive behavior wouldn’t choose to go off the deep end. A mother that yells at her son on the subway wouldn’t choose that if she knew a better way of quieting him. A man would not commit a white collar crime, would not murder another person if he had the right emotional training and, perhaps, a different set of values. You wouldn’t eat a plate of cookies over a plate of vegetables if you had the right neuro-associations and disciplines in place.

You can trace every wrong move to the result of some deficiency in skill, value, virtue, or to some misguided belief. To prevent that move in the future, we must address what’s going on under the surface. [Tip: telling someone they are wrong, cough Hitler, doesn’t often influence the change you want it to. We are more complicated than that.]

The second belief builds off the first. Tony Robbins asserts that there are six driving human needs: certainty, uncertainty, significance, connection/love, contribution, and growth. What a person says and does, and how they say and do it, reveals what needs they are prioritizing.

Take for example, a coworker who steals credit for the project that you did (without her help). Why would she do that? We can speculate. Maybe she’s terrified of losing her job and needed your boss to acknowledge her value (certainty). Maybe she’s been feeling slighted by management and overlooked (significance). Maybe she’s looking for conflict (uncertainty).

Whatever the reason, your job is to figure out what need she is meeting. This is the most effective way of dealing with her seemingly narcissistic behavior. Because once you realize what need she is trying to meet you can choose to help redirect that elsewhere.

The same goes for anything you see another human (or yourself) do or say that you can’t quite understand. Addiction to painkillers is a solution, not a problem. Violence meets someone’s needs for significance, certainty, uncertainty, even connection. Workaholism, exercise, eating, travel, social media obsession—the same.

There’s a gap there that need to be filled by something. If you want to help someone, don’t punish the behavior. Find the gap and redirect the solution.

These beliefs take practice. They are tested often. Just writing all of this down is my practice to make sure I’m reinforcing these beliefs deeper and deeper.

Often, when I feel someone has done or said something at the cost of me or someone I love, I’m infuriated. My immediate reaction is not kind or patient. But if I react that way towards them, I lose. I’m rendered ineffective.

But after a few breaths, after I’ve come back to these two points, I’m calmer, clearer, more rational. I ask deeper questions trying to get at the root causes. Why is this person acting this way? What needs to change so it doesn’t happen again? What can I do to help?

Armed with real answers, I make a plan and execute…

Kate Ward