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How To Know A Person’s True Personality When We Are So Good At Disguise Nowadays

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How To Know A Person’s True Personality When We Are So Good At Disguise Nowadays

Wouldn’t it be great if we could always tell whether someone is who they say they are or if they’re just faking it? Usually our instincts help us differentiate between authentic and untrustworthy people, but sometimes we misjudge. First impressions are critical, but they are only a brief snapshot of a person’s character.[1]

We are too easy to be fooled

When I met our (now ex) colleague, Adrian, he seemed like a great fit for Lifehack. He blew us away in his interview. Imagine the ideal first impression, and that is exactly what he gave us.

Adrian showed up in a tailored navy blue suit. He was tall, dark, and handsome. He was well-spoken, with an accent not unlike Benedict Cumberbatch. He possessed a confidence free of condescension, and an eagerness to be part of our team. He was polite during the interview, and it was clear that he had done his homework about our company. It should come as no surprise that we offered him a job.

In Adrian’s first few months, his work performance was top-notch. He had a way of listening that made his coworkers feel that they were truly heard. He was a complete gentleman around the ladies, but he was also a real guy’s guy.

It seemed like a match made in heaven, only at first

Oh how wrong we were about Adrian. The turning point in how we felt about him came when we put him in charge of a project.

Until this point, everyone had agreed with him about his ideas, but in a planning meeting for his project, someone disagreed with a point that he made. I can still picture the switch flipping in Adrian’s mind. A vein stood out on his forehead, his face turned red, and a harsh tone we had never heard him use escaped his lips. He became defensive almost immediately.

We have an unspoken rule about keeping our criticism constructive, and the point that our coworker made was valid. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity for growth, Adrian viewed it as a personal attack. Not only did he refuse to take advice from anyone, but he argued with those of us who tried to problem-solve around the issue. Needless to say, we all left that meeting feeling shocked and harassed.

So it turns out we are all bullies

We hoped that it was a fluke. Perhaps Adrian had a bad day. There was no way that the well-mannered man who had walked into that interview could have verbally eviscerated all of us like that.

Unfortunately, the outburst wasn’t a fluke. It was the thin carapace of the ideal employee cracking to reveal the monster lurking beneath. He began talking about us behind our backs. He ranted about how we should not have given him such feedback. We discovered that Adrian couldn’t handle negative feedback, nor did he value the other members of his team. Adrian was an arrogant jerk.

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Thank goodness he spared our supervisor the trouble of firing him. When his probation ended, he resigned on the grounds that we, his colleagues, bullied him.

How do we misjudge people?

Getting the first impression correct, whether it is for an interview or a first date. Is the difference between a door opening or slamming in your face. It’s the difference between getting the job, the opportunity, or the significant other.

I think it’s common for us to pull out all the stops when we want to impress someone. We dress up, change the way we speak, and avoid our weaknesses. We try to show people what they want to see.

One of my friends dated someone who created a false impression about himself to fool others. He was an attractive and successful man with a nice home and good taste. If you met him, you’d probably think he was a classy fellow. That’s what my friend thought until she got to know him. She soon learned that the reason for his crisp appearance was extreme vanity. He cared for no one but himself.

I can certainly remember working hard to give a good impression at an interview for a teaching job. I was honest about my capabilities and training, but I wore my only suit. I measured my tone carefully. I did everything that I could to show that I would be a great teacher. I did get the job, but I didn’t wear a suit every day. There is a certain amount of self-fashioning that everyone does in a job interview.

When does working to create a great first impression cross the line?

I’m not going to tell you not to put your best foot forward in an interview or on that first date, but I can say that it is possible to invent a character completely unlike yourself if you aren’t careful. That character could wind up making you miserable by landing you the job that wasn’t a good fit for you or putting you in a relationship with someone who isn’t a good match.

The ideal first impression is best possible version of your true self, but it is still you.[2] People get into trouble when they stop being themselves altogether.

How do we avoid inauthentic people?

Nobody wants to be duped into committing to a disagreeable person. We need to be able to like someone based on their true nature. Knowing who a person really is isn’t a big deal if you don’t have to develop a close relationship. When you have to spend most of your time collaborating and problem-solving, knowing who is on your team is essential.

When someone goes through their day to day in-character, it can work for a while, but eventually they will reveal their true colors. In Adrian’s case, it took us months to uncover who he actually was underneath all that charm. When it comes to beginning a new friendship, romantic relationship, or employment, we often commit based on information from our first impression. Sometimes our first impression is not the truest reflection of a person, though.

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    Identities can be summarized in a pattern of three concentric rings, as shown in the image above.

    The outer ring:

    Our outer ring is the way that we want the world to see us. This is the image that we keep in our heads about how we should look, think, and act. As we head into a first date, a networking event, or a job interview, we hope to project an image that we think will make us successful.

    This can lead to us putting pressure on ourselves to conform. We rehearse our answers and work to make sure that we give the world something that it wants.

    Middle ring:

    Beyond thinking about what we want the world to see, we actively fashion a reality based on what we want to show people. We carefully craft our answers when asked our opinions. We care what people think of us, and most of us work to show people the idealized versions of ourselves.

    The yogis of Instagram are the perfect example. You’ll always see them executing a difficult posture perfectly, but you’re not going to see them struggling in class. In professional settings, we refrain from using certain language, and we address our colleagues in a more formal manner than we might use when we are with our friends. That is a filtered version of reality.

    Core ring:

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    At the core of our being, our innermost circle, we are our true selves. This version of you is the one that you show to the people you trust the most. With our nearest and dearest, we can give our honest opinions and express our real beliefs.

    Being our true selves requires us to be vulnerable, which may be why we are so guarded about our true nature. We can also become defensive if we are criticized in this state. If someone critiques us in our truest form, they are finding fault with who we actually are instead of a constructed version of ourselves.

    For example, you may be your most authentic self around your family members or your partner. Accepting criticism at work can seem second-nature, but if your partner offers you some unsolicited feedback, you might chose to argue.

    Time can be a factor in how well you know a person, but you can also meet a person and feel like you’ve known them forever. Truly knowing somebody isn’t about how long you have been acquainted with them. It’s about how far into these circles you can reach, and how much the person is willing to let their guard down so that you can do that.

    If you want to learn someone’s true personality, you need to get as close to the core as possible

    Building a bond based on authenticity instead of artifice can happen in a relatively short span of time. Close relationships and friendships tend to form more quickly when people face a common threat or overcome an obstacle together.

    Going through a life-altering event together isn’t the only way to get to know someone. You can also observe how they interact with others or by present them with challenges.

    People can’t live “in character” indefinitely

    Notice unconscious habits that the person might have put in place to hide their true nature. We can often tell a lot about a person by the way that they speak about others. Individuals prone to gossip may be offering you a glimpse of poor character.

    The manner in which a person talks about their ex can give you some insight into their character. Pay particular attention to how they handle people different from themselves and how they react in disagreements.

    “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”
    -John Wooden

    You can learn about someone by seeing how they respond when they are tested

    If Adrian had been challenged earlier, we would have known about his character flaws much sooner. We generally try to please people. We can mistake our willingness to cater to others for a good relationship.

    The way that a person responds in disagreements tells you more about them than watching them in their comfort zone. Ideally, we want the people around us to be able to listen to others and communicate. They should be able to express their ideas and opinions and collaborate with others to find common ground.

    Challenging a person’s core self can feel uncomfortable, but it reveals things that you need to know about them if you want to have a meaningful relationship with them.

    Ask questions that require them to dive deeply into themselves and see what types of answers they give. If you don’t want to ask a private question, you could try asking them an ethical question.[3] “How do you feel about diversity?” and “Is it ever okay to tell a lie?” can expose biases and principles.

    In a conversation with a potential romantic interest, you could inquire about past relationships. Many people don’t want to spend time dwelling on an ex, but their reaction may indicate how they handle disappointments.

    The types of things a prospective employee tells you about a former employer can help you understand whether they would be a good fit for your organization. What they chose to discuss and the way that they talk about their old boss can reveal their values.

    We have to cut through the illusion

    If we want to have meaningful relationships with others, it is imperative to be able to see a person’s core nature. Avoiding commitments to disingenuous people gives you more room to identify those personalities that do mesh well with you or your organization.

    Getting to a person’s true self can take some practice, but it is a vital skill for unlocking your future happiness and success. There may be missteps along the way, but you will become a better judge of character with time. One way or another, they can’t keep up the illusion forever.

    “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” -Maya Angelou

    Reference

    More by this author

    Brian Lee

    Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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    Last Updated on November 18, 2021

    10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

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    10 Proven Ways to Judge a Person’s Character

    We all fall into the trap of judging a person’s character by their appearance. How wrong we are! All too often, the real character of the person only appears when some negative event hits them or you. Then you may see a toxic person emerging from the ruins and it is often a shock.

    A truly frightening example is revealed in the book by O’Toole in Bowman called Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Instincts Betray Us. A perfectly respectable, charming, well dressed neighbor was found to have installed a torture chamber in his garage where he was systematically abusing kidnapped women. This is an extreme example, but it does show how we can be totally deceived by a person’s physical appearance, manners and behavior.

    So, what can you do? You want to be able to assess personal qualities when you come into contact with colleagues, fresh acquaintances and new friends who might even become lifelong partners. You want to know if they are:

    • honest
    • reliable
    • competent
    • kind and compassionate
    • capable of taking the blame
    • able to persevere
    • modest and humble
    • pacific and can control anger.

    The secret is to reserve judgment and take your time. Observe them in certain situations; look at how they react. Listen to them talking, joking, laughing, explaining, complaining, blaming, praising, ranting, and preaching. Only then will you be able to judge their character. This is not foolproof, but if you follow the 10 ways below, you have a pretty good chance of not ending up in an abusive relationship.

    1. Is anger a frequent occurrence?

    All too often, angry reactions which may seem to be excessive are a sign that there are underlying issues. Do not think that every person who just snaps and throws his/her weight around mentally and physically is just reacting normally. Everyone has an occasional angry outburst when driving or when things go pear-shaped.

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    But if this is almost a daily occurrence, then you need to discover why and maybe avoid that person. Too often, anger will escalate to violent and aggressive behavior. You do not want to be near someone who thinks violence can solve personal or global problems.

    2. Can you witness acts of kindness?

    How often do you see this person being kind and considerate? Do they give money to beggars, donate to charity, do voluntary work or in some simple way show that they are willing to share the planet with about 7 billion other people?

    I was shocked when a guest of mine never showed any kindness to the weak and disadvantaged people in our town. She was ostensibly a religious person, but I began to doubt the sincerity of her beliefs.

    “The best index to a person’s character is how he treats people who can’t do him any good, and how he treats people who can’t fight back.”

    Abigail Van Buren

    3. How does this person take the blame?

    Maybe you know that s/he is responsible for a screw-up in the office or even in not turning up on time for a date. Look at their reaction. If they start blaming other colleagues or the traffic, well, this is an indication that they are not willing to take responsibility for their mistakes.

    4. Don’t use Facebook as an indicator.

    You will be relieved to know that graphology (the study of that forgotten skill of handwriting) is no longer considered a reliable test of a person’s character. Neither is Facebook stalking, fortunately. A study showed that Facebook use of foul language, sexual innuendo and gossip were not reliable indicators of a candidate’s character or future performance in the workplace.

    5. Read their emails.

    Now a much better idea is to read the person’s emails. Studies show that the use of the following can indicate certain personality traits:

    • Too many exclamation points may reveal a sunny disposition
    • Frequent errors may indicate apathy
    • Use of smileys is the only way a person can smile at you
    • Use of the third person may reveal a certain formality
    • Too many question marks can show anger
    • Overuse of capital letters is regarded as shouting. They are a definite no-no in netiquette, yet a surprising number of  people still use them.

    6. Watch out for the show offs.

    Listen to people as they talk. How often do they mention their achievements, promotions, awards and successes? If this happens a lot, it is a sure indication that this person has an over-inflated view of his/her achievements. They are unlikely to be modest or show humility. What a pity!  Another person to avoid.

    7. Look for evidence of perseverance.

    A powerful indicator of grit and tenacity is when a person persists and never gives up when they really want to achieve a life goal. Look for evidence of them keeping going in spite of enormous difficulties.

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    Great achievements by scientists and inventors all bear the hallmark of perseverance. We only have to think of Einstein, Edison (who failed thousands of times) and Nelson Mandela to get inspiration. The US Department of Education is in no doubt about how grit, tenacity and perseverance will be key success factors for youth in the 21st century.

    8. Their empathy score is high.

    Listen to how they talk about the less fortunate members of our society such as the poor, immigrants and the disabled. Do you notice that they talk in a compassionate way about these people? The fact that they even mention them is a strong indicator of empathy.

    People with zero empathy will never talk about the disadvantaged. They will rarely ask you a question about a difficult time or relationship. They will usually steer the conversation back to themselves. These people have zero empathy and in extreme cases, they are psychopaths who never show any feelings towards their victims.

    9. Learn how to be socially interactive.

    We are social animals and this is what makes us so uniquely human. If a person is isolated or a loner, this may be a negative indicator of their character. You want to meet a person who knows about trust, honesty and loyalty. The only way to practice these great qualities is to actually interact socially. The great advantage is that you can share problems and celebrate success and joy together.

    “One can acquire everything in solitude, except character.”

    Stendhal

     10. Avoid toxic people.

    These people are trying to control others and often are failing to come to terms with their own failures. Typical behavior and conversations may concern:

    • Envy or jealousy
    • Criticism of partners, colleagues and friends
    • Complaining about their own lack of success
    • Blaming others for their own bad luck or failure
    • Obsession with themselves and their problems

    Listen to these people talk and you will quickly discover that you need to avoid them at all costs because their negativity will drag you down. In addition, as much as you would like to help them, you are not qualified to do so.

    Now, having looked at some of the best ways to judge a person, what about yourself? How do others see you? Why not take Dr. Phil’s quiz and find out. Can you bear it?

    Featured photo credit: Jacek Dylag via unsplash.com

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