People skills: how to better judge others?

Seeing a person's true character behind his or her mask - that's something people-scientists manage to do better than others. Fortunately, you can train your own knowledge of human nature

Bosses need a good knowledge of human nature, after all, they have to lead a team. But how do you know if your own assessments about others are correct?

Content: Here’s what you can expect in this article

What is insight into human nature?

People skills – this is the ability to quickly assess others, to empathize with others and to recognize how the other person is doing and what he or she is up to. Experts say: if you can quickly assess what problems, worries, wishes, but also character traits the other person has, you can handle any situation more easily – because you can sit in the other person’s chair, show understanding and react accordingly. Also, a judge of character can quickly tell if the other person’s appearance is "genuine" or if they are just putting on a show.

Those who have a good understanding of human nature therefore have an advantage in many situations:

  • He can negotiate better because he knows the motives of his counterpart and can anticipate his behavior
  • He can avoid conflicts and find compromises because he is good at assessing the sensitivities of others.
  • He is less likely to be deceived or disappointed because he is able to assess the character of his fellow human beings more unerringly than others.

Especially important is knowledge of human nature for people who have to lead others. "I have also met bosses who were successful without any knowledge of human nature, mostly narcissistic power mongers who had no interest in others," says social pedagogue and body language expert Tatjana Strobel. "Long-term, better bonds with customers and employees, however, are achieved by those entrepreneurs who are empathetic. People skills as a soft skill are becoming more and more important – also because good employees are harder to find and keep. It helps enormously if a boss is able to assess and appreciate his staff."

Test: Do I have a good understanding of human nature??

But often we overestimate our own knowledge of human nature. We think we can assess others quickly – and yet we are wrong. Often we do not even notice it. The reason is a perception error: the so-called confirmation bias (read also: Thinking errors: How our brain falls into traps).

The phenomenon is well researched in psychology: We prefer to perceive only what is pleasant for us, what is consistent with our convictions and our world view. We consciously or subconsciously blank out what doesn’t fit into the picture – regardless of whether it makes sense or not. The consequence: we find someone trustworthy at first glance, for example, and subsequently tune out everything that contradicts this assessment. In this way, we do not notice that our assessment is not correct. And we don’t realize that our people skills aren’t as good as we think they are.

So how do we find out how good our people skills really are??

A good test: At family gatherings or the regulars’ table with friends, observe people closely, draw conclusions about how they are doing, what is on their mind – and then ask them to check to what extent your own assessment is correct. Positive side effect: Such conversations help to deepen the relationship with each other – simply because we have them so seldom.

In addition, there are numerous tests that show how well one’s own knowledge of human nature is developed. Expert Strobel has also developed such a test: To the test: are you a judge of character?

Is people skills innate?

The basis for people skills are the mirror neurons in the brain: These can and must be trained. This usually happens through contact with our parents: as a child, we observe what they do, how they behave in certain situations – and what their face and body language express in the process. In this way, we learn to know people like a language: gestures, facial expressions and voice pitch form a kind of vocabulary, which in interaction form a sentence with a specific statement.

"The exciting thing: The people with the best knowledge of human nature are those whose parents spent a lot of time with them in childhood and played with them a lot. And those whose parents did exactly the opposite and were very arbitrary in their behavior: In such families, it is virtually vital for children to be able to recognize the prevailing mood on the basis of nuances," says Tatjana Strobel.

How can I train my knowledge of human nature??

Make observing your fellow human beings a daily routine.

There are countless occasions: while jogging in the park, you can watch the game between parents and children; while watching a talk show, you can analyze how interlocutors react when they are interrupted; at the train station, it makes sense to look at who looks like what when they are waiting – and how they react when the expected person shows up.

Analyze the behavior of others.

"Always ask yourself: how do people react with their body language to the situation they’re in right now? What do their faces look like? And how do they feel right now?", advises expert Strobel. If you practice every day, you will soon be able to assess your counterpart more quickly and better in everyday life – and you will be able to act more confidently in any situation.

Know yourself.

To be able to assess others, you also need to know about your own personality. Become aware: What are my values? What are my weaknesses and strengths? What am I dreaming of? What are my goals? How far would I go to achieve these goals? How do I affect others? If you don’t know and assess yourself correctly, you will also be wrong with others.

Do you know typical perception errors.

Not only the mentioned confirmation bias leads us to misjudge others. There are several other psychological traps that am can fall into. Well researched is for example the Halo-Effect (Halo=Sacredness). It says that we conclude from the known characteristic of a person to an unknown one – although there is no connection at all. For example, we meet another person and find him or her likeable. We conclude that he is also loyal and honest – although there is not a single clue for the latter. Or: A colleague always has a neat desk. We conclude: He certainly works in a structured way and is very reliable.

If I have a good knowledge of human nature – is it then impossible to be mistaken about someone??

Unfortunately no. If we are friendly with someone or even love them, we often push our gut feeling away – even if it screams out loud that something is wrong with a person. Especially in family businesses or start-ups, this can quickly become a problem. "We then deceive ourselves in order to prevent the positive image of the other person from being scratched by the flaws we have discovered," says Strobel.

Here it helps to try to consciously separate private and professional matters: In this way, the emotional level disappears from an observation – and one’s own knowledge of human nature has a chance again.

Which difficult types can I recognize more quickly thanks to a good knowledge of human nature – and how can I counter them??

Where can I learn more about the topic of people skills??

In her book "I know how you feel" (Goldmann, 12.99 euros), Tatjana Strobel describes in an entertaining and comprehensive way what it means to know people and how anyone can learn to interpret body language signals better – not only on the job.

  • Joe Navarro: "People read. An FBI agent explains how to "decode" body language (mvg, 16,95 Euro). Comprehensive yet concrete introduction. The ideal book to take to the coffee shop and practice on the spot – thanks to lots of pictures that illustrate exactly what others express through body language and how.
  • Martin Betschart: "I know what makes you tick. How to see through people" (dtv, 9,90 Euro). Doer type, mind type, spirit type: Using case studies from his coaching practice, manager trainer Betschart explains which people we usually encounter at work and in our private lives, how to recognize them – and how best to meet them in order to use their skills and talents.

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