how to change the world

What do other people think of you?

The more one pleases generally, the less one pleases profoundly
— Stendhal, Love

By John-Paul Flintoff

You can never know what other people think of you. But if there are lots of people, there may be lots of opinions.

I tested this idea recently.

I was with a group of about 30 people, running a workshop on “How to be confident.” At the start, before anybody knew much about me, I said, “You have come to the right person. I know a lot about this subject.” As much as I was able, I tried to say this cheerfully, confidently, but not arrogantly.

And then I said, “Time out!” I said I was doing an experiment. I said that I wanted to know what people thought about me when I said that. I really, really wanted to know their honest opinion – and promised not to be upset.

The first few people to put their hands up said something along the lines of, “I’m glad to hear that, it makes me think that I am in the right place, and I will learn something useful.”

But I was convinced that others must have other views. So I kept repeating that I was curious to know the full range of opinion, and would welcome ANY other comments.

Eventually, a man put his hand up and said, “To be honest, I thought you were a bit of an arrogant twat.”

Hurrah!

This was wonderful, because it allowed me to point out that everybody in the room had seen the same person – me – saying exactly the same thing. And that there was quite a difference of opinion about that person, and what he said.

In other words, I have absolutely no way to control how other people see me. You might think that is scary – but I found it to be entirely liberating. It lifts a huge burden of anxiety about trying to please everybody. I can’t. So I might as well just be me – behave in whatever way feels right. If people like that, fine. If they don’t – that’s fine too.

What a relief!

Posted: February 10, 2015