Thoughts of a geek

17 July 2012

Narcissism or self improvement

Filed under: Me — Tags: , — qwandor @ 8:31 am

During my recent visit to New York, a couple of good friends gave me some advice on things I should work on to improve how I relate to other people, and particularly how I communicate. The 5 main points (I think), were that I should:

  1. Stop and think before saying things, particularly with regard to how direct I am. I tend to be quite direct and straightforward in what I say, and I think that this is mostly a good thing, but sometimes I can be perceived as overly confrontational, which can be unhelpful as it makes some other people (perhaps especially those I do not know so well) defensive and so hinders communication. So I guess I need to think more about politeness, while still trying to be clear. This has been pointed out to me before in a work context too, so I think it is definitely something I need to work on.
  2. Think how others will react to and feel about what I say and do. This is related to the first point, but a bit broader. This seems fairly obvious and something I already knew, but it is good to have a reminder. Part of the difficulty here is how to build an accurate mental model of how other people think, which I do not think I am very good at.
  3. Acknowledge good things (and do so first). In written discussion in particular, I often tend to ignore the parts of a comment or argument that I agree with (hey, I agree with them, so I do not have anything to say about them) or otherwise have no opinion about, and just jump straight to the bits I disagree with or want to dig further on. This is how I expect people to respond to me, and it seems inefficient to discuss some point about which I do not have anything more to contribute to the conversation, but as was recently pointed out to me on this very blog (thanks Daniel!) this puts some people off further conversation. My intent in arguing is the opposite, so this is problematic. I think the issue may be that some people assume that silence means disagreement, whereas I assume it means agreement? Anyway, apparently the solution is to start be acknowledging the parts I agree with, and I guess to thank people where appropriate. This comes back to the first point a bit again, sacrificing efficiency for politeness. This seems like a fairly straightforward solution, but getting into the habit of actually remembering to apply it is likely to take a while. If you notice me not doing this, please remind me!
  4. Accept compliments before arguing. Apparently I am bad at accepting compliments and tend to argue with them. I had not particularly noticed this myself, so will have to try to pay more attention in future. If you notice this please point it out to me.
  5. Read a book about reading people. I am not quite sure what was in mind here, and am not entirely convinced that this sort of thing can be taught well by a book. But if you have any recommendations let me know.

Do any of you who know me have any other advice to add to this list? Or have you had any useful feedback about yourself? How have you applied it? How possible is it to change how you communicate and relate to other people?

I thought a bit myself as well, and a couple of observations of myself were:

  • I used to be much better at concentrating, less distractable. Unfortunately as I have got older my ability to concentrate on a single complex task, particularly to just sit think about something, think through how to solve a problem in my head, seems to have decreased. This is unfortunate.
  • On the topic of relating to other people, I tend to assume (at least subconsciously) that people are / work like me; the problem is that they are not. As I am learning, many of them work and think in completely different ways. Relationships may be much less symmetric than I tend to assume; the other person does not necessarily feel the same way about me as I do about them, nor even about the relationship itself. This makes it difficult to model how they will react (as required for point 2 above), and generally to understand them and the motivations behind their actions.


  1. I’m currently reading Pressing the Right Buttons ( ) which is quite good so far. It’s about different personalities, and how to recognise and relate to them.

    Comment by Isabel — 17 July 2012 @ 9:32 am

    • Thanks for the suggestion! From the description it sounds like that is mostly about business relationships, while I was thinking here more about personal relationships with friends, acquaintances and new people. No doubt there are some things in common though. Where have you found that book most applicable? And are there any particular things you have learnt from it?

      Comment by qwandor — 17 July 2012 @ 9:39 am

      • I bought it for GB leadership type stuff, but have found the information to be fairly generic. Haven’t got too far into it yet to have learnt many particulars! We had a training day with the author which was good. (And I totally hear you about not getting around to reading books.)

        Comment by Isabel — 18 July 2012 @ 3:51 pm

      • Yep. I already have a pile of mostly-unread books on my shelf. |-:

        Comment by qwandor — 18 July 2012 @ 7:57 pm

      • Yeah, I just moved house … with somewhere between 600-700 books. I estimate I’ve read about 3/4 of them all.

        Comment by Isabel — 19 July 2012 @ 1:32 pm

      • That is fairly impressive. I only have around 20 on my shelf, and most of the ones I have read I have then given away to somebody else.

        Comment by qwandor — 19 July 2012 @ 7:47 pm

  2. Awesome, Andrew 🙂 I’ll have a think about books.

    Comment by melmylvaganam — 17 July 2012 @ 10:13 am

    • Thanks! Though the trouble with books is that I rarely get around to reading them. Direct advice would perhaps be more readily applied.

      Comment by qwandor — 17 July 2012 @ 10:28 am

      • Ok I know you already said no books and I know this one is a little….ah cliché…. and possibly embarrassing due to the reputation it has in pop culture, but have you read “How to win friends and influence people”? I read the “for girls” version which was shorter (mostly because it was written for 14-year-olds) and found it really good. I feel a bit traitorous about recommending a secular book but I found it very practical…just in pointing out the things that we often do subconsciously that can be so unhelpful to relationships. The one I remember most is about being too sure in arguments, it mentioned that acknowledging you might be wrong allows the other person to relax their stance too, shifting the discussion from being about pride to being a more cooperative truth seeking. So it’s not really about reading people but being deliberate in our words and actions. Worth a look.

        Comment by Polly — 9 August 2012 @ 3:50 pm

      • I have not. Actually I think someone else recommended it to me too, but I forget who. Perhaps I should read it then. I just do not know when.

        We had an interesting talk at work today, called something like “Life of an engineer for non-engineers”, which pointed out some of the differences between engineers (or more generally geeky sorts I guess) and non-engineers, particularly about how we communicate. I think I do often tend to be fairly direct in arguments, and this works well when arguing with engineers (e.g. every day at work, so the majority of the conversations I have), but perhaps not so much with non-engineers.

        Comment by qwandor — 9 August 2012 @ 7:57 pm

    • Or, for that matter, short articles that I can read in one go.

      Comment by qwandor — 17 July 2012 @ 10:29 am

  3. You’re welcome 🙂

    This is good, so much of this stuff is easier once you’re looking out for it, but, of course, it’s still so much practice 🙂 – like you said in your next post though it doesn’t take too long to warm up.

    Comment by Daniel Sherson — 22 July 2012 @ 7:21 pm

    • Yes, practice is certainly a key here. As for warming up, yes and no. It does not take all that long if I am spending large chunks of time having deep conversations with good friends, but that is unfortunately not something I get to do regularly. Occasions like visiting old friends overseas, or having friends from home come by London and visit me are the main times that happens, but that does not occur all that often.

      Comment by qwandor — 22 July 2012 @ 7:57 pm

    • And I do not find that brief moments snatched here and there last long enough to ‘warm up’ any significant amount.

      Comment by qwandor — 22 July 2012 @ 7:58 pm

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