How to Test-Drive Friends and Irritate People 190 Comments
Sometimes you need to make friends and influence people. Other times, you should just test drive them and push their buttons.
The art of irritation can, in fact, be just as valuable as the art of persuasion. How so? Let’s start with the problem: people are good liars and actors… up to a point.
What if it were possible to fast-forward relationships, whether with new friends, business partners, or romances? To get past the honeymoon facade of niceties and see their true tendencies underneath all it all?
I’ve been experimenting with methods of “removing the mask” so-to-speak, and it can be done. Relationships cost a premium of attention and time, and I—like most–want people in my life whose real personalities and motives will uplift and strengthen me instead of drain and demoralize me.
Catching bad apples early begins with recognizing a truism:
Adversity doesn’t primarily build character—it reveals it…
Therefore, by putting someone under pressure or in an adverse situation, you can pull back the covers and get a glimpse of what’s in store a few weeks or months down the line.
The little things are the big things. Josh Waitzkin, 8-time national chess champion (and the subject of the film, “Searching for Bobby Fischer”) explores the surprisingly accurate cross-referencing of behavior in his book, The Art of Learning:
“As I moved into my late teenage years, many of my tournaments were closed, invitational events where ten to fourteen very strong players gathered for two-week marathons. These were psychological wars… It was during these years that I began to draw the parallels between people’s life tendencies and their chessic dispositions. Great players are, by definition, very clever about what they show over the chessboard, but, in life’s more mundane moments, even the most cunning chess psychologists can reveal certain essential nuances of character. If, over dinner, a Grandmaster tastes something bitter and faintly wrinkles his noes, these might be an inkling of a tell lurking. Impatience while standing on line at the buffet might betray a problem sitting with tension. It’s amazing how much you can learn about someone when they get caught in the rain! Some will run with their hands over their heads, others will smile and take a deep breath while enjoying the wind. What does this say about one’s relationship to discomfort? The reaction to surprise? The need for control?”
Here are a few options for doing your own behavioral cross-referencing with a new potential friend, partner, or mate. All of them happen naturally over time, and the concept is to pick/create circumstances here and there to get an advanced read. Before you label me a bastard, read the whole post:
1. Meet them for dinner or lunch at an appointed time, and indicate upon their arrival that you made a mistake and set the reservation for 30 minutes prior. See how they respond to the change in plans. (Testing: how they contend with mistakes on your part)
2. Same as 1, but tell them that the reservation was accidentally made for 30 minutes after their arrival. Alternatively, travel with them and purposefully orchestrate things so that you miss a bus or train. Obviously, you then fix the problem and cover costs. (Testing: how they deal with waiting and unexpected changes in plans)
3. Take them to a restaurant with good food but bad service. (Testing: how diplomatically they contend with and resolve incompetence, which is the default mode of the universe)
4. Invite them to an event or function and then profusely apologize when you realize you’ve forgotten your wallet. Offer to repay them later or treat them the next time out. (Testing: how they relate to money issues. Wonderful people sometimes turn into irrational monsters as soon as even a few dollars are involved. It drives me crazy to keep a running ledger of who owes whom for a few dollars here and there, especially in social settings. Repaying the favor is mandatory, but dwelling on differences of pennies is tiring.)
5. Take them somewhere extremely crowded where they’ll be inadvertently bumped, preferably where they are exposed to people of different races and of lower socio-economic classes. Large outdoor markets are good, as are subways during rush hour. (Testing: biases against specific races and social classes, which are usually fast to emerge after there is any physical contact.)
6. Explore the most controversial topics until you find something the two of you disagree on. Ask them to explain why people have the opposing viewpoint. I use this mostly for potential romantic partners and potential travelmates. (Testing: how well they listen and both consider and summarize points-of-view or feelings opposite their own. I always look for both friends and girlfriends who fight well. Not in the physical sense, but in the intellectual and emotional sense. If I travel with one of my best friends for even a week straight, there will be times when we butt heads and fight. It’s inescapable. In those cases, are they civil and good at listening and finding compromises? Good at identifying common ground, picking their battles, and laughing off the unimportant? Or, do they lose control of their emotions and make hurtful personal attacks or generalizations? Do they use guilt or other negative emotions instead of taking time to discuss things logically? Hold grudges?)
Needless to say, I’m not recommending you cram all of these into a single meeting (not unless you want a punch in the mouth), but the premise is simple: life is both too long and too short to suffer through toxic relationships. The sooner we have an accurate read on someone, the better.
Rather than hoping for the best and getting trapped in relationships you are unwilling to end due to guilt and inertia, you can test drive using a few specific situations and get a taste of what’s in store. I realized how revealing the above scenarios were while traveling, as they came up organically with the inevitable mix-ups and occasional bouts of bad luck. The question then became: can you go about glimpsing someone’s true personality in a more reliable way? That said, there is no need to orchestrate bad service at a restaurant, for example, if you can achieve the same end doing something fun but uncontrolled. A good long weekend of getting lost with someone will reveal most of the character you need to see. Just ensure you expose them to adverse conditions or awkward situations.
Most people spend more time planning their weekends than their relationships. Don’t make that mistake. You are the average of the 5 or so people you associate with most.
[Postscript: There have been some very strong comments on this post! Could it be that I'm using this entire post to see how people respond to a controversial viewpoint? Hmmm... To see my responses, just search ### in the comments by using Ctrl+F.]
Odds and Ends: 4HWW in more than 25 countries!
I just received the Dutch version of the 4HWW! Yay! Can anyone translate the subtitle and quote? “Leid een rijk leven zonder veel te doen” and “Geweldig! Dit boek zal je leven veranderen. -New York Times” Here is the Dutch cover and the other 24 publishers, in case you want to find someone who’s working on your language or country:
Arabic- Jarir Bookstore
Brazil- Editora Planeta Do Brasil
China- Hunan Literature & Art Publish
Denmark- Borgens Forlag A/S
Estonia- Eesti Ekspressi Kirjastuse AS
Finland- Basam Books
France- Village Mondial
Germany- Ullstein Buchverlage GmbH
Holland- De Boekerij BV
Hungary- Bagolyvar Kiado
Indonesia- OnRead Books Publisher
Israel- Babel Publishing House
Italy- Cairo Editore
Japan- Seishisha Publishing
Korea- Bookie Publishing Company
Latin America- Grupo Editorial Planeta SAIC
Poland- MT Biznes
Portugal- Casa das Letras / Noticias
Romania- Minerva Pub House
Russia- Dobraya Kniga Publishers
Spain- RBA Libros S.A.
Taiwan- Crown Publishing Company, Ltd
Thailand- Bliss Publishing Co., Ltd.
Turkey- Inkilap Kitavevi Yayin
Posted on November 15th, 2007