Personality assumptions based on interpersonal interaction.
March 7, 2007 9:50 AM   Subscribe

What assumptions can generally be made about a person or potential partner based on their treatment of others?

I know almost everyone has heard that you should judge someone not by the way they treat their equals, but how they treat the ones below them on the totem pole. Are there any other tips in this general direction that hold (mostly, accounting for variation that you'll have with such a large number of people) true?

What does it tell you about a person when you watch the way they treat other people, animals, and even objects?

Please include anecdotes if you have them, or any specific things that have led you to believe what you do, or what you have noticed. Thanks!
posted by Glitter Ninja to Human Relations (32 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Treatment of waitstaff and bartenders to me is always a good indicator of true nature. And, since a lot of first dates tend to happen in restaurants, it's a handy barometer. Condescension or outright rudeness to undeserving waitstaff is an immediate red flag.
posted by spicynuts at 10:01 AM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I've always felt that one of the best ways to judge how someone treats others is go out to dinner with them and see how they interact with the waiter/waitress. I've done this a few times and universally (in my experience) the ones who show respect to the wait staff also handle themselves the same way with those lower on the totem pole.
posted by tundro at 10:03 AM on March 7, 2007

Interaction with animals can be quite telling. People who are abusive may have a history of being abusive to animals when they are young.

Alternately, I know that if one of my animals reacts negatively to a person, I seriously evaluate future interactions with that person.
posted by onhazier at 10:05 AM on March 7, 2007

I'd say that interaction with waiters and waitresses shouldn't define your perspective on someone. A lot of times the guys who are charming / chummy with waitstaff just have that 'charming' thing down - so some of them are just charming schmucks.
Just a brief opinion, from a (hetero) dude.
posted by tmcw at 10:14 AM on March 7, 2007

I have an ex boyfriend who treated waiters, cashiers, phone answerers, etc like gold. Unfortunately, he was an exceptionally gifted faker and wasn't a very nice person at all. On perview, tmcw has it.
posted by KAS at 10:22 AM on March 7, 2007

I agree-- if someone is disrespectful to the waiter, that's kind of worrisome.

Also, and I guess this is sort of specific to dating: How people talk about their past relationships (yes, maybe you really had a string of bad luck with women who turned out to be crazy, or maybe women GO crazy because they're dating you, or maybe YOU'RE the crazy one)

How people deal with minor setbacks: if there's no parking near the restaurant, does he panic? Get angry? Does he make jokes about it and stay calm?

In general, I feel like seeing people drive in traffic is extremely revealing. Some people are fairly relaxed, some people are more like "THANKS ASSHOLE!!!" and imagining people cutting them off at every turn.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:23 AM on March 7, 2007 [3 favorites]

That said, one thing you'll find... anyone who's BEEN a waiter or waitress treats them differently. And generally tips better.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:26 AM on March 7, 2007

Watch how they regard those a notch down on the totem pole behind those people's backs. Red flags:

Setbacks, inconveniences, and mistakes are ALWAYS someone else's fault.

Questions are answered politely, but eye-rolling commences after. (Corollary: chummy with the waitress, but condescending out of earshot.)
posted by desuetude at 10:29 AM on March 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'd say that interaction with waiters and waitresses shouldn't define your perspective on someone. A lot of times the guys who are charming / chummy with waitstaff just have that 'charming' thing down - so some of them are just charming schmucks.

True. The waiter thing is kind of a cliche at this point. Almost anyone can put on a smarmy smile for a 5 second interaction with a waiter, especially if they're on a date and know they're being evaluated.

I look more at simple things like: does the person return calls? do they keep commitments? do they apologize when they're in the wrong?

but the biggest barometer is, how does the person react when I do something nice for them? Do they
a) appreciate it and reciprocate or
b) see it as a sign of weakness and treat me worse

this usually tells me everything I need to know, especially for a romantic relationship (but it works for other kinds too) To me, there are two kinds of relationships- the a) kind, based on genuine liking for each other, and the b) kind, that's a constant power struggle. Even if I come out on top, I don't particularly care for b).
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:37 AM on March 7, 2007 [3 favorites]

The lesson to be learned from all the waitstaff commentary here is that (at least if you believe in it as a metric), it can only be used negatively. That means that if someone treats a server badly, they're a prick/bitch. On the contrary, treating a server well, that's just being human.
posted by fake at 10:37 AM on March 7, 2007

People who are overtly charming to waitstaff throw a red flag to me. Genuinely kind and considerate? A requirement.

Saying "please" and "thank you" = required.

Greeting people with eye contact/a smile = awesomeness.

Greeting people with a name = more awesomeness.

I watch how someone interacts with meeting new people as well as with old friends.

Can they accept a compliment gracefully?

How do they react to small set backs?

Are they punctual?

Damn, I'm picky.
posted by FlamingBore at 10:46 AM on March 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

well, sometimes waitstaff do deserve to be treated badly, or at least less than politely.

I was on a first date once, and the waitress was literally harassing us because we weren't drinking up the two drink minimum fast enough for her taste. I wasn't particularly keen to drive home drunk, and she was downright rude, so I told her off (something I had never done before). I think my date liked that I stood up for her (us).

as for anyone who's BEEN a waiter or waitress treats them differently. And generally tips better. ...

I think this falls more under how we wish the world was, than the way it really is. We'd all like to think that people who have been through something empathize with those now going through it. But I have observed many former waiters/bartenders who are rude and tip poorly. Sometimes it seems to work less like empathy and more like frat hazing: "I went through the shit, so now you have to too."
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:53 AM on March 7, 2007

I'm great with animals and I'm very nice to wait staff and retail workers, but I make a lousy romantic partner. So don't use that behaviour as a metric.
posted by cmonkey at 10:56 AM on March 7, 2007

I agree with thehmsbeagle's point above - one of the biggest indicators of where a person is in their life is how they talk about past relationships. A mature person will usually accept responsibility for their part in the relationship, good or bad, and doesn't choose to dwell on the negative. Someone who paints vivid pictures of just how horrible their last partner was gets an immediate red flag from me.

My last two major relationships both spoke very well of their exes - and my wife is on excellent terms with every major relationship she ever had. We had at least 4 of our exes at our wedding.
posted by widdershins at 11:01 AM on March 7, 2007

Alternately, I know that if one of my animals reacts negatively to a person, I seriously evaluate future interactions with that person.

Ugh. This is the most frustrating thing about dealing with (some) pet owners, they treat their dogs and cats like freakin' oracles. I'm always really nice to animals I meet, petting and playing with the ones who approach me but willing to leave well enough alone with the skittish ones. And still, about one in 5 will completely throw a spaz and hate me. A lot of times it's a dog who's just really protective of his (female) owner, especially when approached by men. At least take factors like this into account when you judge people based on their interactions with your animals.
posted by rkent at 11:02 AM on March 7, 2007 [2 favorites]

It's not so much that being nice to the waitstaff means they're definitely good. It's that being rude means they're definitely bad.
posted by jon_kill at 1:31 PM on March 7, 2007

There was an extensive thread very similar to this recently, but as usual I just can't find it.
posted by Listener at 2:11 PM on March 7, 2007

Many years ago I dated a guy for about a year. One of the first times he came over, my somewhat elderly cat jumped on his lap while we were eating dinner. He tossed her off and pushed so hard that she hit a nearby fan. I knew she startled him, but still, it totally ticked me off. Even though he could tell I was mad, he laughed about it.

I thought many times after that that I should have called it quits at that point. Not that he was particularly cruel, but he was just unpleasant to date--jealous, insecure, unable to laugh at himself. I don't think that the cat incident was particularly telling of his other qualities but I did look back on it and wished I'd ditched him at that point, instead of enduring the unpleasant break-up a year later.
posted by BluGnu at 2:18 PM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think behaviour as part of a group, as opposed to behaviour when someone is on their own, can be telling in regard to strength of character.
posted by sarahw at 2:38 PM on March 7, 2007

For guys, I've always paid attention to how they treat their Mom. Some guys that seem completely normal act like absolute jerks to their mothers. Examples of bad behaviour: treating her disrespectfully, swearing at her (or about her if she isn't present), making ridiculous demands of her. These are all Big Warning Signs.
posted by web-goddess at 3:48 PM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

yes, talking about family and past relationships is a good indicator. a man who is dismissive of his mother and/or sister is usually going to be a total pain in the ass. likewise, a man who calls his ex crazy (unless she's actually in an asylum) is probably not someone you want to spend your time on.

also how they treat people at a crowded movie theater can tell you a lot. does he put his coat on the chair next to him even if the theater is filling ujp? how do they let people by? how do they handle standing in line? the crowds?
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:57 PM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

The waiter/waitress thing is more of a line item than a litmus test. In other words if they're rude to the server then it should be considered a red flag, but if they're nice it doesn't particularly mean anything (for the reasons mentioned by other posters -- could have other issues, could just be a charming sociopath, etc).

Stuff I watch out for:

Mistreating service workers, perceived inferiors, animals, etc. - this could indicate a tendency to exploit vulnerability or (in the case of animals) a disregard for innocent life.

Talking behind someone's back or gossiping - I would be much more guarded in trusting someone who does this, because their behaviour indicates they don't have a problem betraying others' confidences.

Treatment of Mom (for guys, anyway) - I think this can go two ways. On one hand, being contemptuous of Mom is definitely a red flag and could indicate some issues dealing with women in general, but on the other hand the typical "Mama's Boy" behaviour could indicate an inability to set boundaries.

Interaction with family members - This has a lot to do with what kind of family they have, which might not be readily apparent. If the person's family is relatively normal and functional and s/he's curt with them? Red flag. Could indicate taking relationships for granted or just straight up immaturity. If the family is toxic and s/he's distant? Generally I'd see that as a positive (recognizing when to extract themselves from a harmful relationship, being self-aware) but depending on the situation it could also be a negative (giving up too soon).

How (much) they talk about themselves - Obviously if someone doesn't shut up about how great they are it probably means they're insecure and self-absorbed, but even being overly self-deprecating can mean the same thing -- they're still monopolizing the conversation with their insecurities. Either way, it could make for a jealous partner (though I think everyone is insecure to some degree).

That's about all I can think of for now... I'll close by pointing out that there are of course grey areas in all of this; as with anything to do with people your intution is probably your best guide.
posted by AV at 4:46 PM on March 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Cheapness, which is a good one to assess (again) in a restaurant. Dated a trust-fund guy once who either barely tipped or didn't tip at all. I was mortified. I don't want someone who throws money around, but I want a partner who will treat servers, etc, well, who will buy a beer for a friend without keeping track of every penny owed, etc.

Do they have healthy, longterm relationships? Do they hate all their exes? Have all their friends "screwed them over" so they aren't speaking any longer? Someone who can't maintain a friendship is, in my mind, a bad bet as a romantic partner. Dated one guy who had no long term friends, and who, years later, was still too angry to even say the names of his exes. I ran screaming.
posted by purenitrous at 5:13 PM on March 7, 2007

Interaction with children is interesting to observe. Even if you're not fond of little ones, you can still demonstrate patience and kindness.
posted by gursky at 5:19 PM on March 7, 2007

Modern Ways of Testing Character from...six weeks ago.
posted by dorisfromregopark at 5:20 PM on March 7, 2007

I agree with cmonkey, animals and I get along great and I always develop a good rapport with waitstaff, bartenders, etc. I'm also a bit of a misanthropic jerk, so while they ain't bad metrics, they certainly shouldn't be your only measure.

I've been out of the game for so long I doubt my advice would still be pertinent, but I seem to remember focusing on non-verbal details. How long she made eye contact, if she would pause in a conversation to allow me to speak, her basic body language (crossing arms, sitting in a non-forward facing way, and the like.) None of these were deal breakers, but they did put me in a frame of mind on how to deal with the person.
posted by quin at 5:44 PM on March 7, 2007

Metafilter: a bit of a misanthropic jerk
posted by intermod at 8:26 PM on March 7, 2007

- How they talk about past lovers
- Their interactions with their parents
- Their level of courtesy on public transportation (removing backpack, not blocking available seats, etc)
posted by loiseau at 8:34 PM on March 7, 2007

One of the HUGE red flags I look out for is when a person acts above and beyond any normal boundary of patience and kindness towards someone (small, cute children are their normal targets). It's always to impress someone within eye/earshot distance.

To me it screams: I'm displaying the most obvious, generic displays of kindness and patience so that you will think I'm a good person. But really, I am a huge, manipulative butthole who doesn't understand how to properly speak or interact with people so I just play this stupid game hoping you will fall for it.

eh, maybe I read too much into these things.

I also whole heartedly base the rest of my judgment on the same things FlamingBore listed, and the others I favorited.
posted by zippity at 8:59 PM on March 7, 2007

if she would pause in a conversation to allow me to speak
This is a big one with me. I can be a bit shy, and if the person seems interested in what I have to say, that's a very good thing. If they are simply interested in talking*, then I'll lose interest quickly.

* And not just about themselves either, some people just seem to like to talk about anything, even when they obviously have nothing to say.
posted by philomathoholic at 9:26 PM on March 7, 2007

I used to know this girl who would only "switch on" her personality when a man would enter the room. If you were hanging out or whatever, she would be sullen and dismissive. Guy walks in and BANG! She's lively, flirty, wide eyed and playing the ingenue, totally interested.

She was a baaaaaaad friend. And from all accounts, a fickle, conniving girlfriend, too.

So fakers, basically. Baaaaad.
posted by unmusic at 3:06 AM on March 8, 2007

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