How to Relate Better to People
by Dr. Clyde M. Narramore


Y ou can learn to get along with almost anyone," said the speaker with a burst of enthusiasm.

At that moment Mrs. Jones turned to her husband and whispered, "He doesn't know some of the people we do, does he?"

Perhaps it was the overly positive attitude of the speaker or the fact that the Jones' had some "difficult" neighbors, or it might be that Mr. and Mrs. Jones had a hard time getting along with people because of their own hang-ups. At any rate, they wanted to hear more!

One of the most rewarding things in all the world is to relate well to other people. You can build great bridges, create a masterpiece in oils, compose an oratorio, write a bestseller, go to the moon, invent ingenious machinery; or do many other things—but nothing you accomplish is of much value unless it has relevance to other people.

People are God's masterpieces. He could not be satisfied even when He had created the heavens and the earth and every living thing. So He said, "Let us make man." And God wasn't making a mistake. He created man in His own image (Genesis 1:26). This is how much God thought of man. Undoubtedly, one of the reasons He created man was to have someone with whom He could fellowship, because we read in the Bible that God had fellowship with Adam. God was relating to what? He was relating to human beings.

So, you and I need to do the same. "How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity" (Psalm 133:1). One of the greatest things we can learn in life is to relate to other people. And just as we need the right key to unlock any door, so are there keys to understanding and getting along with people.

How Are We Doing?
It's amazing how much we can do these days beyond the sphere of Planet Earth-far out in space-yet how little we are doing right here on our own hometown planet, especially when it concerns relating well to people. We're really not doing too well.

Someone has said that a study of most nations is a study of their wars and turmoil. Some time ago I was in Russia , and I was impressed with many things beside their poor economy. One was that here was a nation which has often been the center of turmoil: wars and killings, and people conquering and destroying one another. In Red Square , for example, I saw a "killing block" where thousands had been slain on the spot. As one Russian leader has said, "In Russian our hearts seem broken and we're always crying!" And while the United States has won the war in Afghanistan, several ethnic groups within that country are still in conflict.

Internationally, people have rarely gotten along with others. And even with our knowledge explosion and fabulous technological advances, things are not improving along this line.

"Just as we need the right key to unlock
any door, so are there keys to understanding
and getting along with people.

Business, church, and other organizational leaders know that interpersonal skills are important. In fact, they often have a difficult time finding employees who get along well with each other.

Something Can Be Done
Is it a hopeless situation? No! We don't have to endure people; we can enjoy them and they can like and enjoy us.

Although there are millions of people who don't understand others and can't get along, there are millions who can and do. Their lives are happy and radiant. They have learned how to relate to people. And because they do, their lives are richer. Not only do they make others happy; they make themselves happy too.

Of course, most of us do not automatically understand other people. As in every other area of life, we need to grow in our understanding. There are certain helpful insights to be learned. A person does not suddenly become a violinist, for instance, or a physician. So it is if we are going to become specialists in getting along with people. There are some insights and principles to understand and practice.

Even Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, asked God to give him above everything else, "an understanding heart," and perhaps that was one of the greatest proofs of his wisdom!

Some People Try Even a Saint
We cannot always click perfectly with everyone. Even the Apostle Paul said, "If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men" (Romans 12:18 ). Paul knew that some people were sufficiently difficult to get along with that there were limits on a harmonious relationship.

Where to Begin
If you are going to ignore your interpersonal skills, there's no better place to start than with yourself. A happy, well-adjusted person can get along with people much more easily than if he feels badly about himself. If you are going to click well with people, start by taking inventory of your own personality traits and inquire about your own attitudes.

Let's start with your self-image-your self-esteem. Why? Because the feelings you have down deep about yourself influence how you feel about others. The glasses you use to look at others are the same ones you use to look at yourself. If, when you look at yourself, you are not very pleased, you'll always have some distortion when you look at others.

How do you rate yourself? Here is a checklist that might give you some clues:

  • Can you usually take life's disappointments in stride?
  • Do you have a tolerant, accepting attitude toward yourself as well as others?
  • Can you laugh at yourself?
  • Do you neither underestimate nor overestimate your abilities?
  • Can you accept your own shortcomings?
  • Do you have a good measure of self-respect?
  • Are you able to deal with most situations that come your way?
  • Is your personality marked by much fear, anger, jealousy, worry, insecurity, domination, withdrawal, or manipulation?
  • Do you get satisfaction from simple, everyday pleasures? Or do you have to be entertained?
  • Do people like to be around you? Are you fun to be with?

Answering these questions thoughtfully will give you some insight about your own adjustment. If you have to answer several of them in a negative manner, you can take steps to improve. The practice of taking these needs to the Lord each day in prayer with an openness to grow will bring about terrific changes. You do have a tremendous resource in Christ if you are a true believer. The Bible says, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13 ). It's amazing how good God can make people when they are willing to be honest with Him. And He usually uses others to help us grow.

If your answers to these questions suggest you have a poor self-image, talk this out with a listening friend. Understanding how you developed negative attitudes toward yourself can help immeasurably.

If negative attitudes toward yourself are deeply ingrained, they may demand the help of a professional counselor. If so, you're wise to get that kind of help. Many smart people do!

At any rate, your ability to click with others depends upon how you click with yourself! If you're too nervous, insecure, rigid, hostile, domineering, manipulative, or withdrawn, you are probably going to have a tough time getting along well with others.

I know a man who complains that "nobody at church is friendly." But as you take a close look at him, you'll discover that he is definitely a major part of his problem. And, as the Bible tells us, "A man that has friends must show himself friendly" (Proverbs 18:24).

Understanding People Around You
If you are to relate well to others, you not only need to understand and accept yourself; you also need to understand other people. One of the biggest hindrances to such understanding is assuming that the other person has the same insights and feelings you do. That's natural, but it may not be true for several reasons.

Three-Dimensional Persons
One person may have a somewhat different physical functioning than another. Take the person who is plagued with a variety of allergies. In severe cases the person's chief preoccupation may be with what he can and cannot eat; what he can and cannot do; the things he has to stay away from. The healthy person may have little appreciation for the other fellow's absorption with his problems. He has never walked in his shoes. And this is just one of hundreds of physical problems that cause people to react as they do.

You cannot possibly understand people unless you make allowance for the impact of physiological differences and disorders on their behavior.

Filling the Spiritual Vacuum
But medical and physical differences are not the only differences in people. Among other things, people are spiritual beings. God has given them a spiritual nature that longs for fulfillment.

"Human beings have several basic
emotional needs, including the feeling
that one belongs, that he is loved,
and that he is a worthwhile person."

Some people have a lot going for them spiritually. They have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ; they are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they read and study the Bible and they have a good measure of His guidance in their lives. They know why they are here on earth, and they are looking forward to their home in Heaven. They gain encouragement, perspectives, correction and guidance from their relationship with God and their knowledge of His Word. Life is a pretty clear path for them because they know what direction they're going.

But many people have virtually nothing spiritually going for them. They do not know Jesus Christ as Savior. They are not indwelt by the Holy Spirit. They have almost no spiritual guidance, and the meaning and significance of life is quite a mystery to them. They're stumbling along the best they know-but without God's guidance!

Don't Forget Emotions
There is a third dimension we need to consider. Man is a complex being. As the Psalmist wrote (139:14), we are "fearfully and wonderfully made."

Beside the physical and the spiritual, there is still another very large area which seriously affects your and my thinking and actions. This is the emotional. Human beings have several basic emotional needs, including the feeling that one belongs, that he is loved, and that he is a worthwhile person. Usually it is the mother and father who help to meet these needs; and whether or not these emotional needs were met affects a person's lifelong feelings about himself.

Not long ago, a young man wrote me a letter saying, "I grew up thinking that belligerency was strength, and love was weakness. This tells you something about the home I grew up in. There was no love there. My father didn't know how to talk or deal kindly with his family, although he could talk with outsiders. He always criticized, condemned, hollered at me, and gave me frequent beatings. Both my mother and father talked behind my back about my many faults and failures. I was literally destroyed inside, with fear and hate as the only emotions I knew. Self-confidence was absolutely non-existent. A useless, good-for-nothing self-image was formed inside of me."

This man went on to describe the pain and conflict these early experiences brought to his life for years.

We all sift our experiences and interpret them in the light of what we learned to think of ourselves and how we learned to feel as children. So whether it is a neighbor, someone in your church or school, or a relative, it is well to remember that down deep, other people may have very painful feelings that are causing them to act in ways that we don't understand.

On the other side of the ledger, there are those who are unusually well-adjusted, and it may be hard for them to understand why anyone would have any other than positive feelings. So, if you want to get along with people and understand them, you must realize they may have inner dynamics that are causing them to act and feel in certain ways.

They Will Respond
One of the encouraging things I have learned through the years is that people do not have to remain as they are. As long as we are alive, we can change. And we can help other people to change and be happier.

Here are some techniques and basic approaches that will predispose people to respond favorably to you.

The Plus of Appreciation
Every person likes to be thanked. We appreciate being appreciated! We respond positively to those who encourage and compliment us. Perhaps you're not getting along with others because you are usually concentrating on yourself rather than thinking about how the other person feels. You may be overlooking his longing to be thanked and appreciated. The Bible has much to say about thankfulness. And, while we need to be grateful to God, let's not forget to show appreciation to the people around us.

Some people are caught in a "self" trap. For example, their own pain and problems or lack of parental models prevents them from noticing and recognizing other people. But whether your acquaintances are well-adjusted or not, they will tend to respond to your encouragement.

Is Anyone Listening?
No matter where we go in the world, we find that people are much the same. They want someone who will listen to them. I remember a lady phoning me from Texas. She started talking non-stop. She poured out her heart until I thought I should remind her this was probably costing her a pretty penny.

"Is there someone nearer whom you can talk to?" I asked.

"No, Dr. Narramore," she replied, "there isn't. There's no one in Texas who wants to listen. They all want to do the talking themselves." I'm sure there were plenty of people in Texas who would have listened to her but she apparently didn't know them!

Whether people are in Texas, New York, California, or elsewhere, they need to talk, and, of course, someone needs to listen. So, if you want people to respond to you, if you want to click with them, there is a surefire way to do it—become a genuine listener. People don't need your advice as much as they need your listening ear.

We are attracted to people who will listen to us. Just notice your own friends. Are they not people with whom you feel comfortable and who will let you do the talking? When you let people talk, you are helping them meet a basic need to release their feelings, to sift their ideas and make plans for the future. They like you because you're helping them by listening!

Accepting People "As Is"
One of the problems in getting along with people is that we tend to want to change them. We don't accept them as they are. Rather than concentrating on their good points and their strengths, we focus on their weaknesses.

There are several reasons why you and I may not accept people as they are. Dorothy, for example, was a past master at finding the weaknesses of other people—especially men. If anyone followed her around for a few days, he would find that she was continually finding the faults in her husband, men in her church, and fellows at the office where she was employed.

"People don't need your advice as
much as they need your listening ear."

Little does Dorothy realize that she has a basic hostility, especially toward men, because of the negative relationship which she had as a child with her own father. When Dorothy was growing up her father had little time for her, and told her so. Then when she was a teenager he left the family and never returned. As a result Dorothy has a built-in dislike for all men and she finds fault with them easily.

Steve, on the other hand, notices the undesirable traits in other people because he feels insecure himself. Perhaps he doesn't realize how insecure he is. But the results are just the same. By criticizing other people and looking for their undesirable points he attempts to lift his own self-concept.

Other times we exaggerate others faults or weaknesses because we see in them things we dislike in ourselves. We may actually be "projecting" onto them our own problems. Fred, for example, was known as a person who exaggerated; but while he couldn't see this trait in himself, he disliked it in other people. He couldn't bear to indict himself, so he indicted others.

We will never be able to relate well to people until we have accepted them for what they are, rather than for what they're not.

The Magnetic Optimist
Have you ever noticed that you tend to move toward people who are cheerful? There's something about a joyous person that draws people to him, much like metal to a magnet.

Life is not happy for everyone. In fact, many people are discouraged most of the time. It isn't that they want to be; but their circumstances and conditions are such that they are unhappy with the way things are going.

Consequently, when someone comes along who is radiant and happy, it's like a pleasant breeze. "A merry heart does good like a medicine" (Proverbs 17:22) is a demonstrable fact. Just notice the next time you are in a crowd how people gravitate to those who are encouraging and optimistic.

When you look around and see other people's problems, your own may not seem so significant. You can go through the day thanking God that you have arms and legs and eyes and ears, and that you feel as well as you do. You can thank God for all the good things that have come across your path that day. If you want to get along with people, remember they don't need another down frown. What they appreciate is someone who is looking on the bright side. Many people don't realize how negative they come across.

Actually, as born-again Christians, we have much to be happy about, because in the final analysis we are on the winning side. We might have temporary losses here on earth, and we may be disappointed in some people or situations. But finally we are going to be in the presence of God for eternity. Earth is just a passing-through place. So we can be happy every day about this. "Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him" (I Corinthians 2:9)

As you think about how you are coming across to other people, ask yourself, "Am I positive? What do people think when they see me coming?" You can do something about your attitudes by being aware of them, and then making a definite effort each day to look at the positive side of life.

Clueing Them In
Another secret of getting along with people is to let them in on things. People like to be included in plans that affect them. Sometimes a person appears to have a negative or uncooperative attitude when actually he just doesn't know what's going on. We tend to reject the things we don't understand. We're usually down on what we're not up on.

For a number of years I served as a psychologist with the Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools. My job was to travel to various school districts to help administrators, teachers, and students. I noticed that the better teachers would, toward the end of the week, outline to the boys and girls what they would be covering the next week. The children were in on the plans; and when "next week" arrived, they felt the ideas were theirs! By including them in the plans, the teacher got their cooperation.

If you want to relate well to people, remember that they appreciate being brought in on what you have in mind when it concerns them. This is true even though the person's part in developing the plans may be minor.

Enough, But Not Too Much
There's a fine line between mothering and smothering. We see this in the child whose mother does everything for him, like tying his shoelaces when he is old enough to tie them himself. No wonder kindergarten teachers sometimes complain about their workload!

If you are an energetic person who is outgoing, organized, and talented, you may have a tendency to "take over." You may "help" people too much.

We should be on the lookout for ways to help people. However, they often need our "sweat" or our assistance rather than our "taking over" and doing it ourselves. People want your help but they don't want too much of it. They feel better about themselves when they are doing and creating. They will like you for helping them without taking away their dignity. Isn't this worth thinking about if you really want to get along with people?

It Pays To Be Honest
On the surface, it may appear we don't need to emphasize the value of honesty to a Christian. But there are subtle aspects of honesty that make all the difference between clicking and not clicking with people.

Tom, for instance, has an annoying habit that is costing him friends. It's nothing sinful, but people tire of him after awhile because of it. He says he just "tells it like it is." Perhaps so. But he doesn't choose the best times to do it. You can be honest, yet unwise.

People seem to sense whether you're being honest. And they appreciate your forthrightness. When I was a child I heard my uncle whom I admired so much, give an illustration when he was speaking to a group of children.

"Always be honest in your dealings with people," he said. Then he demonstrated with two empty drinking glasses. He took a little mallet and struck one glass on its side. It made a dull, clunking sound because the glass had a crack in it. Then he took the other glass and tapped it. What a nice, clear ring it gave. "The problem with the first glass," he said, "is that it has a crack in its character. But the other has a beautiful, honest ring. Always try to be like the clear ringing glass!"

"People want your help but they
don't want too much of it. They
feel better about themselves when
they are doing and creating."

In summary, getting along with people boils down pretty much to these areas we have discussed.

If you are not relating well to other people, as well as you would like you can change. It has to start in your head and your heart!

One of the best places to begin is usually with our thoughts and feelings about yourself. It is difficult to like and be liked by others if you dislike yourself.

Try to understand how the other person feels, taking into consideration the physical, spiritual, and emotional causes of his behavior.

Perhaps you can begin to compliment and encourage people more.

A good listener is always in demand. Should you be lending your ears and encouraging people to talk more?

What can you do each day to become a more optimistic person?

People appreciate you more if you let them in on plans that affect them.

Have you been smothering people rather than assisting them? They do want your help, but they don't want too much because it robs them of their own contribution.

Since accepting people as they are is such a major factor in getting along with them, you may want to accept people more for what they are rather than for what they're not, or what you'd like them to be.

Keep an eye on your H.Q. (Honesty Quotient.) It pays.

Remember, the right key will always unlock the door. This is true in getting along with people. And most of us can use better keys for relating well to them.


The Christian Counter
The Christian Counter