Treat people as ‘they’ would like to be treated

Reading time 6 min

“Father Ted” was a highly successful TV sitcom currently doing the rounds of the repeat channels**. It’s about a trio of priests in an island off Ireland’s West Coast.

Their housekeeper, the long suffering and totally dedicated Mrs Doyle, puts in an appearance in most episodes and her usual role is to make visitors feel welcome and at home.

She does this by ‘offering’ them huge amounts of tea and piles of food. – and they are not allowed to refuse!

Their protestations that they are not hungry or thirsty are ignored. “Nonsense! Of course, you will have some tea! Sure why wouldn’t you have a wee drop. Ah, you will! You will! You will!”

And so it goes on until the hapless visitor gives in and drinks the tea or eats the food while a beaming Mrs Doyle watches. “Sure there you are now, wasn’t that lovely!” she triumphantly announces when they have finished.

Do unto others…

Many of us have been brought up to believe that we should ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ which in plain, rather than Elizabethan, English means ‘treat people as you’d like them to treat you’.

Sounds fine. Until you think about it a little more carefully. Because if we follow this rule we end up a little like Mrs Doyle – urging others to do what WE decide will be good for them!

With this very common attitude if I like eating half-cooked fried eggs,  baked beans and mushrooms I assume that everyone else does too. And my way of treating family or friends is to serve them half-cooked fried eggs, baked beans and mushrooms.

If Jack likes to drink lots of alcohol or eat lots of meat then he believes everyone will enjoy these. Or if Jill likes to be comforted when she’s upset she is likely to assume that anyone who is upset likes lots of comfort.

This is the mentality behind much advice-giving, too. “If I were in your shoes I’d…” Our well-intentioned and probably useless advice is based on what we’d do in their shoes. But we are not in their shoes… they are.

Of course you’ll have another!

Though raised in Ireland I live in England and frequently commute to Ireland to present trainings. This gives me the opportunity to observe and compare both cultures.

For example, in some parts of Ireland there is still an unspoken expectation that if you go out for a drink with friends you will keep pace with their drinking. Your protestations that you have had enough and do not want another round are treated as a joke – “of course you’ll have another, sure why wouldn’t you!” And another drink appears on the table alongside the others that you’ve earlier protested you didn’t want. (I have also come across this attitude in the North of England and in Scotland, too.)

“But I meant well…!”

It’s all done with the best of intentions, of course. They ignore our views because they assume that we are all alike and that we will therefore like what they like!

They (and this includes most of us, by the way) believe there is no need to ask us what we would like or how we would like to be treated. Good intentions are good enough!

“You should be grateful!”

With this very common mentality you do not need to check whether the other person is happy with your advice, generosity or hospitality because the attitude is supported by another one – that it is enough to have good intentions!

As long as I mean well you should be grateful for what I do for you – whether you want it or not. Whether or not it is appropriate. Whether or not you like it.

For example, if I’m the breadwinner in the household and money is short it is, nevertheless, OK for me to go out and buy you some lavish present that we cannot afford! And you must be grateful – because I meant well.

It doesn’t matter that my gesture means we have to go short on some essentials such as food or clothing or heating. Or that you didn’t want the gift in the first place. I meant well so you should be grateful!

There’s usually an un-stated threat with this type of generosity… if you do not accept my gesture with a suitable display of generosity then I will sulk!

“Why aren’t you grateful! How can you treat me this way – I was only thinking of you – and after all the thought and effort I put into it, too etc. etc.”

Real communication – NLP-style

In our NLP courses in the New Forest we usually begin with a walk around the grounds. We amble through the different types of woodland,  around the two lakes, and watch and listen to the wildlife. Half way around we stop to look at the view and have a chat about what has most impressed us.

And, of course, what most impresses each of us  Differs considerably. One will have noticed the squirrels. Another the silver bark on the trees by the upper lake. Or the smell of the woods after the rain. Or the loudness of the bird-song.  Or the stillness of the lake. And so on.

Each person is unique

The purpose of this little exercise is to emphasise that each of us has different tastes. Different views. Different ways of thinking. Different needs. And different ways of being impressed. Each of us experiences the world differently. We are each unique.

And real communication means putting aside our ASSUMPTIONS about people. Especially the assumption that we are all alike. It means treating each person as a unique individual. It means finding out what a person likes, thinks, needs, etc. It means asking rather than assuming!

It takes a little longer

Real communication does take a little longer. You put aside your assumptions about me – and spend time learning about me, from me. You do less transmitting and a lot more receiving. Less talking, more listening.

The old ‘I know what people want’ approach is not just sloppy and ineffective it is also a pretty disrespectful way of carrying on.

A key principle NLP is that we respect the other person’s “model of the world”. This means that we respect a person’s right to be different – to have their own beliefs, tastes, interests, values, etc. even if these are quite different to our own.

We aim to value the differences between us and learn from these. And the traditional way of treating people – as you’d like to be treated – is diametrically opposed to this.

Instead of treating others as WE would like to be treated we aim to treat them as THEY would like to be treated…

Action points

1. Aim to ‘walk in their moccasins’ – to step into the other person’s shoes. Take a real interest in what makes each person tick. In what they like and do not like. In what they fear, enjoy, believe, value, etc. etc.

2. Spend the next few weeks asking a lot more questions and making a lot less statements. Turn your Transmit button off – and turn your Receive button on.

3. Use Open rather than Closed questions. Open questions are those which cannot be answered with a Yes or No and they elicit a lot more information.

4. Listen to the answers you get. And utilise the information from these answer in the conversation.

Incidentally, this last point is not as easy as it sounds! For example, you are likely to have had the experience in which someone asks you a question about your feelings or views and, as you begin to reply, you notice they have apparently lost interest! They may be looking at you but the blank look in their eyes indicates that their attention is somewhere else (it’s usually on rehearsing their next comment or question!).

An end to ‘self consciousness’

The main aim of this approach is to get into the habit of learning about the other person and discovering what makes them tick. People are truly fascinating – as you may discover.

A side effect is that you’ll never again have to worry about ‘what to say’ in casual conversation – you simply take a genuine interest in other people. SELF-consciousness is replaced with OTHER-consciousness.

Use this with those close to you, too! You may be surprised to discover how little you really do know about them – or about what makes them ‘tick’.

Having an attitude of sincere interest in their ‘model of the world’ is one of the most respectful ways of creating rapport with people. It is also one of the prerequisites to being able to influence others effectively and ecologically.

(** Father Ted: This newsletter is read in many parts of the world such as Africa, Asia, Australia, and North and South America where the ‘Father Ted’ TV series may not yet have reached. Watch out for it when it does reach your part of the world – it’s very silly and very funny.)

See also this article on Different Models of the World


Bookmark and Share

The Pegasus NLP Newsletter

The above article was originally in our monthly newsletter. It’s published every 2-4 weeks and is free. 

You can subscribe to our newsletter here

And there will be no spam – I promise.  You have trusted me with your email address and I will use it for the Newsletter and for nothing else – and it will never be shared with anyone else. Ever.  (Reg Connolly, founder of Pegasus NLP)

Scroll to Top