When you meet people for the first time, what’s the first thing you do?
Is it to evaluate the people and think, “Hmm, he looks unfriendly” or “She doesn’t like my type” or “That group is out of my league, I’d better avoid them.” If you think this way, then you’re judging people based on personal bias, not necessarily reality. The same applies to how we judge our own appearance.
If you shop for clothes by designer label, go out to be seen in the hottest places in town, drive the latest status car—you’re spending money to impress people. Is it worth it? I’m guessing you know the answer to that question. Being genuine means presenting your image in the same way for anyone, regardless of status or position.
People are generally most comfortable with those who aren’t trying to artificially impress them. That’s not to say you shouldn’t dress or behave appropriately for an interview or social function, it simply means you should always represent the real you—who you are on the inside. However, that’s not so easy to do in a world of appearances, where subjectivity often overrules authenticity.
Early in life, we form approval-seeking habits. We want to be liked, so we do what we think will impress the audience we want to be liked by. This causes us to size-up those who might influence our success. When we pre-judge people, we cause unnecessary stress and it can create a cycle of negative thoughts that automatically sets us up for failure.
We don’t want people to judge us without knowing us, however we do this almost all of the time. Key to overcoming this tendency is to stop judging and stay focused on the moment with a beginner’s mind. A beginner’s mind starts fresh, with no preconceived expectations, and considers that everyone has inherent value beyond what we see at first glance. When we do this, the added benefit is that we feel less obligated to impress others.
Maybe you’ve heard something like, “People make-up their mind about you in the first 30 seconds after meeting you,” or “There’s no second chance for making a first impression.” This way of thinking places a lot of unnecessary pressure on you. To get over this pressure-cooker mindset, try considering how you feel when others try to impress you. Most likely, their contrived behavior made you feel they were faking it because they were trying too hard, or it made you feel they were perhaps hiding something. Your preference would be for that person to relax and just be natural. Now turn that perspective around for yourself. If you try too hard to impress others, most likely you won’t. If you relax and just be yourself, you will better attract the people who you want to attract. But, first you need to overcome some bias.
Overcoming our human tendency to think the worst, by believing someone may not like us, requires a more positive outlook. The truth is, you may feel you don’t have someone’s approval when really you do. Just because a person hasn’t said anything or appears negative doesn’t tell all. Maybe that person is just having a bad day. You may be reading something into the person or situation via the false narrative that naturally plays in our minds.
The temptation can be to start dwelling on what hidden motives a person might possess. For example, if someone doesn’t speak with you at first, your false narrative may cause you to think, “They’re avoiding me because they don’t like me.” That probably isn’t true. Try instead to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. In most situations where we expect a favorable encounter with someone…voila – one happens! That’s because our interpretations of what we visualize or hear from people tend to be much more negative or frightening than what people actually believe or think. So we need to stop projecting our negative bias onto others.
The good news is that what you think is completely your own concern, and under your control. What someone else thinks is their own concern, and outside of your control. You wouldn’t want someone else telling you what to think, so why would you try to control other people’s opinion of you? They’re allowed to think whatever they want, even if it’s contrary to what you want. That’s their privilege. Just as it’s your privilege to maintain your opinion. So, the simple solution is don’t worry about what others think, just respect their opinion. You don’t have to agree with it, just respect that they’re entitled to their own thoughts and leave it at that.
When you’re consumed about what someone is thinking, then you become distracted from what really matters. As soon as you start saying things like, “He didn’t treat me fairly”, “She doesn’t respect me enough,” or “He isn’t concerned with what’s most important,” your mind turns away from what matters most to you. The big relief happens when your focus returns to what you can control. Other people can have their own opinions, but your opinion really matters most to you. And, the freeing effect of just considering your own opinion allows others to relate more genuinely to you as a result.
So, the next time you start thinking, “He didn’t treat me fairly”, remind yourself to stay focused on your own cares and then ask yourself, “What’s the most important thing I need to do?” The answer will probably be something like, “I’m in control of me and what I do.” It’s quite freeing to stay focused on your own issues without needing to control the other person, or to interpret someone else’s thoughts.
Too often we ignore our own needs to either impress others, which in a sense is an attempt to control the thoughts of others. By focusing on only what we can control, ourselves, we actually gain approval from others because they see us as confident and in control. Those perceived as ‘comfortable in their own skin’ embrace their authenticity, their quirkiness, their all – because they’ve already determined what’s most important to them, and the rest doesn’t matter much. People tend to respect those who know what they want and need. Conversely, those who continually seek approval usually elicit the opposite effect.
This includes trying to be overly polite to others. Instead of being perceived as considerate, oftentimes people interpret obsequious politeness as a forced way of making a better impression. Still worse are those who make excuses. Even though it wasn’t your fault that a report was late, any excessive attempt to make excuses can be perceived as a contrived attempt to manage your self image. It’s best to earn respect through an honest portrayal of the truth, regardless of the consequences, and to question the need for making excuses.
Our approval seeking habits must be broken to relieve us of a terrible burden. Once accomplished, we can simply enjoy another person’s company, without feeling stressed to be quick-witted or entertaining. We won’t be tempted to interrupt others, and instead we can focus on what they’re saying. There’ll be no need to make unnecessary apologies or excuses. Stress will begin to decline because you no longer need approval from others.
Your self esteem will rise as well as your joy. So, let the burden go. You don’t need anyone else’s approval because only your approval of you matters. And, this paradigm shift will make life so much more enjoyable. By giving yourself permission to be you, you are free to live in the moment. Focus on your own intentions, without sizing up others around you, and you’ll do fine. There’s no need to be overly polite, overly apologetic, or defensive. Once you develop the habit of concentrating on your needs and just accept others for who they are, you’ll relieve yourself of a tremendous burden. You really don’t need anyone else’s approval!
– Randy Kay is Chief Learning Officer of PACEsetters, a human development firm. Prior to this he has overseen training and development for top performing companies, been a biotech CEO, Board Member for over 20 organizations, executive for Fortune 100 companies, and has published four books and several articles in business magazines such as Switch & Shift and Forbes as well as conducted interviews through numerous networks including television. Do you want to grow and develop your career and life? Contact Randy Kay directly or discover more at www.pacesetters.training
“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.” – Mark Twain
“Do not look for approval except for the consciousness of doing your best.” – Andrew Carnegie