How to get others to treat you the way you want them

John Maxwell reveals the secrets of how to get others to behave the way you want them to. It takes hard work, but there is no other way

Woman pointing to man

Recently, I took my daughter Elizabeth out to a restaurant for lunch. The waitress, whose job was to take care of people, made us feel that we were really inconveniencing her. She was grumpy, negative, and unhelpful. All of her customers were aware of the fact that she was having a bad day. Halfway through our experience I tried to change this woman’s negative attitude. Pulling out a $10 bill, I said, “Could you do me a favour? I’d like some change for this $10 bill because I want to give you a good tip today.” She looked at me, did a double take, and then ran to the cash register. After changing the money, she spent the next 15 minutes hovering over us. I thanked her for her service, told her how important and helpful she was, and left a good tip.

As we left, Elizabeth said, “Daddy, did you see how that lady changed?”

Seizing this golden opportunity, I said, “Elizabeth, if you want people to act right toward you, you act right toward them. And many times you’ll change them.”

Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ summed up a series of profound thoughts “on human conduct by saying, “Therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you” [Malt. 7:12].

In this brief command, Christ taught us a couple of things about developing relationships with others. We need to decide how we want to be treated. Then we need to begin treating others in that manner.

Here are five ways we all want others to treat us. There’s not a person reading this who doesn’t need, like, or respond to these qualities in others.

You want others to encourage you

There is no better exercise for strengthening the heart than reaching down and lifting people up. Think about it; most of your best friends are those who encourage you. You don’t have many strong relationships with people who put you down. You avoid these people and seek out those who believe in you and lift you up.

The story of Eugene Lang gives us an ultimate example of encouragement. Entrepreneur Lang was Success magazine’s “Successful Man of the Year” in 1986. The following is a part of a feature article about Lange’s encouragement of others:

A gray-haired man stands alone in the center of the auditorium stage—a distinguished, paternal presence sporting a fine wool suit and the barest trace of a moustache. He scans the sunlit room, with its peeling paint and frayed draperies, but his gaze lingers on the people.

They are Black and Hispanic men and women who fill most of the seats in the auditorium. Though some do not speak English, their attention is fixed on the man on the podium. But his speech is not aimed at them. He has returned to this place where he once was a student to address the 61 graders, dressed in blue caps and gowns, who are seated in the front rows.

“This is your first gradutation—just the perfect time to dream,” he says. “Dream of what you want to be, the kind of life you wish to build. And believe in that dream. Be prepared to work for it. Always remember, each dream is important because it is your dream, it is your future. And it is worth working for.”

“You must study,” he continues. “You must learn. You must attend junior high school, high school, and then college. You can go to college. You must go to college. Stay in school and I’ll ... “ The speaker pauses, and then, as if suddenly inspired, he blurts out: “I will give each of you a college scholarship.”

For a second there is silence, and then a wave of emotion rolls over the crowd. All the people in the auditorium are on their feet, jumping and running, cheering and waving and hugging one another. Parents rush down the aisles to their children. “What did he say?” one mother calls out in Spanish.

“It’s money! Money for college!” her daughter yells back with delight, collapsing into her parents’ arms.

The place was an elementary school in a poverty-stricken, drug-ridden, despair-plagued Harlem neighborhood. The speaker was multi­millionaire entrepreneur Eugene Lang, who 53 years earlier had graduated from that very school.

The date was June 25, 1981, and the big question was whether the warm and ever-confident Lang, a man who believes that “each individual soul is of infinite worth and infinite dignity,” would fulfill his promise.

Well, he did and he still is. Of 61 graduates, 54 stayed in contact with Lang, and 90 percent of those achieved a high school diploma or equivalent, and 60 percent went on to higher education. You have to understand, at that time, in that community, the high school drop-out rate was 90 per cent.

People need to be encouraged. Eugene Lang believed in these kids and it made all the difference in how they lived the rest of their lives.

The happiest people are those who have invested their time in others. The unhappiest people are those who wonder how the world is going to make them happy. Karl Menninger, the great psychiatrist, was asked what a lonely, unhappy person should do. He said, “Lock the door behind you, go across the street, find someone who is hurting, and help them.” Forget about yourself to help others.

You want others to appreciate you

William James said, “The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”

Man and woman discussing their work
Pointing out mistakes bluntly will only encourage others to behave the same with you

Have you heard the story about the young politician’s first campaign speech? He was very eager to make an impression on his audience, but when he arrived at the auditorium, he found only one man sitting there. He waited, hoping more people would show up, but none did. Finally he said to the one man in the audience, “Look, I’m just a young politician starting out. Do you think I ought to deliver this speech or dismiss the meeting?”

The man thought a moment and replied, “Sir, I’m just a cowhand. All I know is cows. Of course, I do know that if I took a load of hay down to the pasture and only one cow came, I’d feed it!”

Principle: We cannot underestimate the value of a single person.

With the advice from the cowhand, the politician began his speech and talked on and on for two hours as the cowhand sat expressionless. Finally he stopped and asked the cowhand if the speech was all right.

The man said, “Sir, I am just a cowhand. All I know is cows. Of course, I do know that If I took a load of hay down to the pasture and only one cow came up, I surely wouldn’t dump the whole load on him.”

Principle: Don’t take advantage of people.

J. C Staehle, after analyzing many surveys, found that the principle causes of unrest among workers were the following, listed in order of their importance:

  1. Failure to give credit for suggestions
  2. Failure to correct grievances
  3. Failure to encourage
  4. Criticizing employees in front of other people
  5. Failure to ask employees their opinions
  6. Failure to inform employees of their progress
  7. Favoritism.

Notice that every single item has to do with the failure to recognize the importance of the employee. We’re talking about people needing appreciation. I try to apply this principle every time I meet a person. Within the first thirty seconds of conversation, I try to say something that shows I appreciate and affirm that person. It sets the tone of the rest of our time together. Even a quick affirmation will give people a sense of value.

Treat others as you want them to treat you. Treat them as if they are important; they will respond according to the way that you perceive them. Most of us think wonderful things about people, but they never know it. Too many of us tend to be tight-fisted with our praise. It’s of no value if all you do is think it; it becomes valuable when you impart it.

You want others to forgive you

Almost all emotional problems and stress come from unresolved conflicts and failure to have developed right relationships with people. Because of this, many people have a deep desire for total forgiveness. A forgiving spirit is the one basic, necessary ingredient for a solid relationship. Forgiveness frees us from guilt and allows us to interact positively with other people.

Ernest Hemingway, in his short story, “The Capital of the World,” tells the story about a father and his teenage son who lived in Spain. Their relationship became strained, eventually shattered, and the son ran away from home. The father began a long journey in search of the lost and rebellious son, finally putting an ad in the Madrid newspaper as a last resort. His son’s name was Paco, a very common name in Spain. The ad simply read: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the Madrid newspaper tomorrow at noon. All is forgiven. I love you.” As Hemingway writes, the next day at noon in front of the newspaper office there were 800 “Pacos” all seeking forgiveness.

There are countless Pacos in the world who want more than anything else to be forgiven.

The unfortunate truth is that many of us, instead of offering total forgiveness, pray something like this Irish Prayer:

May those who love us, love us;
And those who don’t love us
May God turn their hearts;
And if He doesn’t turn their hearts,
May He turn their ankles,
So we’ll know them by their limping.

People who find it difficult to forgive don’t see themselves realistically. They are either terribly arrogant or tremendously insecure. Though hanging onto a grudge gives some people a feeling of satisfaction, the truth is people who do not forgive are hurting themselves much more than they’re hurting others. A person who possesses this characteristic and keeps score in relationships is a person who is emotionally wired to carry all the stress that goes with carrying grudges.

Forgiveness should be given as quickly and as totally as possible. Do it now. Don’t be in the position of the young man who no longer has the opportunity to communicate with his parents. Because of his procrastination he will never experience the joy of their forgiveness and reconciliation.

You want others to listen to you

My mother was the librarian where I attended college, and each time I entered the library, there would be a half a dozen college girls around her desk. Mom has always had an incredible counseling ministry, not because she is such a great talker, but because she is a tremendous listener. There’s a difference between hearing people and listening to them. Listening is wanting to hear. Mom loves people and wants to hear from them; people respond to that kind of caring.

As people gain more authority, they often develop a lack of patience in listening to those under them. A deaf ear is the first indication of a dosed mind. The higher people go in management and the more authority they wield, the less they are forced to listen to others. Yet their need to listen is greater than ever. The further they get from the firing line, the more they have to depend on others for correct information. If they haven’t formed the habit of listening—carefully and intelligently—they aren’t going to get the facts they need, and people will resent their decisions.

I saw a television sketch that, with some variations, might seem familiar in many households. A husband is watching television and his wife is trying to engage him in conversation:

Wife: Dear, the plumber didn’t come to fix the leak behind the water heater today.

Husband: Uh-huh.

Wife: The pipe burst today and flooded the basement.

Husband: Quiet. It’s third down and goal to go.

Wife: Some of the wiring got wet and almost electrocuted Fluffy.

Husband: Darn it! Touchdown.

Wife: The vet says he’ll be better in a week.

Husband: Can you get me a Coke?

Wife: The plumber told me that he was happy that our pipe broke because now he can afford to go on vacation.

Husband: Aren’t you listening? I said I could use a Coke!

Wife: And Stanley, I’m leaving you. The plumber and I are flying to Acapulco in the morning.

Husband: Can’t you please stop all that yakking and get me a Coke? The trouble around here is that nobody ever listens to me.

You want others to understand you

How do you feel when you’re misunderstood? What kinds of feelings well up inside you? Loneliness? Frustration? Disappointment? Resentment? Peter Drucker, often called the “Father of American Management,” claims that 60 percent of all management problems are a result of faulty communications. A leading marriage counselor says that at least half of all divorces result from faulty communication between spouses. And criminologists tell us that upwards of 90 percent of all criminals have difficulty communicating with other people. Communication is fundamental to understanding.

Relating recap

Let’s capsulise what we’ve covered in these last few pages. You want others to

  • encourage you
  • appreciate you
  • forgive you
  • listen to you
  • understand you

As you think about these qualities, consider how they apply to your own life. Perhaps this short course in human relations can help each of us develop qualities that we admire in others:

The least important word:
I [gets the least amount done]

The most important word:
We [gets the most amount done]—relationships

The two most important words:
Thank you—appreciation

The three most important words:
All is forgiven—forgiveness

The four most important words:
What is your opinion?—listening

The five most important words:
You did a good job—encouragement

The six most important words:
I want to know you better—understanding

In life, you are either going to see people as your adversaries or as your assets, If they are adversaries, you will be continually sparring with them, trying to defend your position. If you see people as assets, you will help them see their potential, and you will become allies in making the most of each other. The happiest day of your life will be the day when “we” really is the most important word in the English language.

P.S. To maintain sanctity of the source, this article follows American English.
Excerpted with permission from Be A People Person—Effective Leadership through Effective Relationships by John C Maxwell; published by Jaico Publishing House.


A version of this was first published in the June 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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