Friday, April 16, 2010

Enough About Me. What Do You Think About Me?

I’m going to assume you don’t have a Narcissistic or Schizoid Personality Disorder nor that you lie somewhere on the Autistic spectrum of disorders (I may be assuming too much). If you do, in fact, suffer from one of these disorders, seek psychiatric help (look up DSM IV codes online to check yourself out).

For those of you with ordinary (but annoying) self-centeredness, read on.

I received an email from a loyal reader complaining about her geek friends and acquaintances who have dating problems. Her assessment? “No matter how much they think they are thinking about the girl, 99% of the time, they are still just obsessing about themselves. Is she going to give me her phone number… what does she think about my look… why won‘t she call me… I deserve a post-mortem of why I was rejected.” And further she writes “they never talk about whether the girl had any fun [on a date].”

I’ve written a bit about this before--jestingly (but, actually, seriously) suggesting that you be yourself only less narcissistic. But this bears repeating.

Let’s pause and make everything you do this weekend not about you--your self-esteem, your comfort, your conversation, your impression on others, your impression of others, your faults, your fabulousness. How do you do that? How do you become less narcissistic, and more empathetic, caring and compassionate?

Fundamentally you start seeing other people actually as people--not as answers to your needs.

If you want to start at the beginning, start with your parents. Do you see them in terms of what they can do for you--give you gifts, money, emotional support, a place to go on holidays? And if they can’t do anything for you, do you not talk to them? You need to see them as individual persons with fears, anxieties, dreams. This is a long term goal but you need to relate to your parents as people and not as providers for you. This will help you to see everyone else in your life as individual people as well.

Okay, but what practically do I mean? What can you do this weekend to start being less of an ass?

Stop judging others. When you start to make a negative judgment (“she’s rude,” “she’s too fat”), stop yourself. Use the old rubber band around your wrist and snap yourself. Making judgments is about you, not her. So cut it out.

Engage in active listening: listen well enough that you can summarize back to her what she said; focus on the feelings of the story not the facts; mirror the other’s body language, gestures and turns of phrase. If you don’t know about active listening, look it up on the Web--it’s pretty basic stuff. Active listening also means that you will remember what others say so that next time you see them you can follow-up: “How’s your mom doing after her accident?” “How’s the job search going?” “Did you have fun in Borneo?” Right now you should be able to think of a follow-up question that you could ask every one of your friends and acquaintances. If you can’t think of a question, you haven’t been listening. Make it a goal this weekend to listen well enough so you will have follow-up questions for next time.

Identify your annoying habits and quit doing them. What are your annoying habits? Anything that would be considered rude--performing grooming tasks in public (combing your hair, picking your nose/ears/face/teeth, flossing), interrupting, answering your cell/checking your cell, being late (I don’t care what your excuses are, don’t do it!), being tedious (telling stories about you traffic woes, parking woes, household chores, third hand anecdotes or stories about friends/family that we don’t know--and further do not care about), talking too loud or too soft or mumbling, being too blunt/offensive/insulting.

Engage in basic etiquette. At someone else’s house:
pick up after yourself (bring your dishes to the kitchen, help do the dishes)
Leave the toilet seat the way it was
Fill the Brita pitcher if you drink the last of the water
Take off your shoes in a shoeless house
Bring a hostess/host gift. And it should be something s/he will actually like. Don’t bring a bottle of red wine because it’s your favorite or because it shows up your extensive wine knowledge. Bring a pinot grigio because you remember her saying she likes it. Or bring yellow flowers because they match his cheerily painted front door. Right now you should be able to think of a personal host(ess) gift you could bring to each of your friends and acquaintances. Can you? If you can’t, you haven’t been listening.

Pay attention to the cues of others to figure out what they are feeling. Practice this weekend by attending to others and trying to guess what they are feeling even if not directly expressed--does she have a headache? Is he tired/stressed out? Is she annoyed/angry?

Quit focusing on your own discomfort, social awkwardness, etc. If you go to a party this weekend, look around the room. Find the person who seems most uncomfortable or is alone. Make it your job to make him comfortable and help him have a good time.

Do favors for others--asked or unasked. If you hear someone at a party mention he has to take the bus home, offer to give him a ride. Don’t wait to be asked. Offer. And, just for this weekend, don’t you ask others for favors.

Do what other people want--you don’t always have to get your way about what movie to see, what restaurant to go to, etc. For this weekend, only do what the other person wants.

Give compliments. And don’t make the compliment circle around back to you and your great taste or the print you have by the same artist, etc. And make the compliment about the other person and not just a thing--for example, don’t say “I like your earrings,” say “Those earrings look really good on you.”

Notice who/what’s around you: litter on the street, a lost or injured animal, a driver who needs to change lanes, a pedestrian trying to cross the street in pouring down rain, the homeless guy panhandling on the corner. Notice and do something to help.

Volunteer doing something for the less fortunate. There are all sorts of “fun” volunteer opportunities (the symphony, public radio, etc.) and that’s great but you need to help out at a soup kitchen or an animal shelter or Habitat for Humanity.

Okay, your weekend of selflessness has begun!

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