Let me be brutally honest: I find it hard to accept many people.
I judge them, label them or imagine I understand them, and I feel resentful of what I imagine their attitude and life experiences to be.
But lately I’ve been working on being more accepting of others. Here’s how I’m doing it, and the benefits I’ve been seeing as a result.
1) Lower your expectations of others
Expecting a lot from others is a recipe for disaster.
The reason it’s not smart is that you’re putting your power outside yourself and outsourcing your well being and success.
If you want to know how to practice acceptance of others, the best place to start is by lowering your expectations of them.
Certainly some folks will exceed your expectations or pleasantly surprise you, but let’s face it:
The vast majority will tend to let you down or disappoint you if you have high expectations of them.
This brings us to point two…
2) Enjoy the positive qualities of others rather than focusing on the negative
Another of the key ways to be more accepting of other people is to focus on their positive qualities instead of the negative.
I’m not saying to ignore if somebody swears in your face for no reason or cheats you.
But in general, approach others with the intention of focusing on at least one thing you like about them rather than the quality or qualities you may dislike about them.
To be sure, you may still notice these unpleasant qualities, but by consciously choosing positive things to focus on, these won’t tend to linger in your mind as much.
I like the way that Imam Omar Suleiman talks about this:
“The sign of a beautiful person is that they always see beauty in others.”
3) Focus on bridges that you don’t want to burn
I myself am very guilty of this: focusing too much on those I’m upset with or don’t want to be around instead of those I do.
Now we as humans have a tendency to sometimes focus on the negative or the problem, I get that.
And knowing who you don’t like or don’t want to be friends with is important.
But you can also get too stuck focusing on which bridges you want to burn, instead of the ones you want to build.
In a crowd of 50 you may find that you don’t feel a strong urge to talk to most people there, but that there’s one guy who strikes you as interesting.
Instead of focusing on the 49 who you feel no instinctual connection to, why not focus on the one guy you do want to talk to?
4) Treat others as individuals, not just types
Many people may belong to groups of various kinds and have qualities about their personality or culture that tie them together.
But they’re still individuals.
They have their own experiences of life and see through their own eyes.
When we write people off as nothing but a “type,” we end up selling them – and ourselves – short.
We buy into the outer label or category, instead of being open to getting to know someone on a deeper level.
A good way to look at it is to think of how you feel when others only see you for your surface characteristics or identity.
It’s disappointing, right?
The same goes for when we write people off just based on superficial external characteristics or appearance.
5) Don’t pass a verdict when you only have half the facts
People show us who they are in many ways, including their words, actions, beliefs and the social roles they choose.
But many of us are also wearing masks.
We may have been socially conditioned to certain roles: for example, we may act introverted due to feeling socially anxious when we actually are more extroverted…
Or we may act aggressive and judgmental due to feel excluded or unappreciated for who we are or socially invisible.
This is part of why it’s important not to pass a verdict when you only have half the facts.
Even if you know someone from work or another context, you may not know many things about their life and their personal experiences.
They may be behaving in ways that misrepresent who they really are, or they could be willing to change.
Often, your own refusal to judge them or fall for a provocation could be just what they need to soften up and show you a more authentic side of themselves.
6) Give others the benefit of the doubt where possible
I once went with a couple to their megachurch in Fort Worth, Texas.
Instead of going to church, we headed upstairs to a kind of religious couples advice group.
It was kind of odd, but the part that made a lot of sense was when the assistant pastor said that successful couples try to give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Whenever possible, they try to see a potentially positive or neutral intention behind something which disappointed or frustrated them in their spouse’s behavior.
This is a very good principle to act on in general when trying to increase acceptance and appreciation of others.
They may be screwing up or quite annoying, but remember to give them the benefit of the doubt.
They’re quite possibly doing the best they can in their current situation.
“When we accept others as they are, it means that we understand that they are doing the best that they can do at the time.
“Remember, if they could do any better, they would.”
7) Find common ground where you can
Another of the best ways for how to practice acceptance of others is to find common ground where you can.
This may vary by each person, so it really depends.
- Shared or similar career goals
- Love of similar music, movies or books
- Cultural, spiritual, ethnic or religious ties
- Interest in related hobbies such as sports, crafts, collecting
- The ability to make each other laugh or appreciate a good joke
Sometimes finding common ground can, indeed, be as simple as sharing a funny joke.
You don’t need to have an extremely deep connection in order to find some common ground.
It could just be that your bus is late and you commiserate with the lady on the bus bench that this city’s bus service is really frustrating.
This might seem irrelevant or like random griping, but even the smallest patch of common ground with someone can build the foundation for a positive future interaction.
8) Discover ways you can work together
Many times you will find it easier to accept people when you have ways that you can work together with them.
For example, coworkers may clash or find each other frustrating until getting the chance to work together productively and find out ways their colleague may be more competent than they thought.
When you work with somebody it becomes easier to accept them, because you need them.
If you are looking for how to practice acceptance of others, think about them as potential business partners or clients.
I’m not saying just to see dollar signs, but it can sometimes help to see others as potential partners and productive collaborators in order to find more appreciation of them and patience with their faults.
9) Find win-win activities you can do with others
Many times our modern capitalistic society teaches us that life is a zero-sum game.
In other words, for you to win somebody else has to lose or be “beaten” and put into second place.
It’s reinforced through many of our norms in society but it’s actually not a very logical mindset in many ways.
Why should one person have to lose for the other to win?
There are many situations in life where a successful group effort or collaboration is much more valued than one “side” or person winning over others.
- Fortifying a city or community to prevent damage from a natural disaster
- A family coming together to care for each other during a time of crisis or illness
- Musical creation and collaboration where everyone works together to make amazing melodies…
And so on…
The best way to start accepting others more is to look for ways you can be on their team and work for solutions that are a win for everyone.
10) Accept the fact that people are different
Accepting the fact that everyone is different doesn’t mean you have to approve of everyone or even like them.
It just means you have to let go of what’s out of your control…
This means first and foremost: other people!
You may feel out of place with them, out of step or that they don’t get you, but you can’t change them or force them to understand you.
This is where it’s important to accept the fact that people are different and it’s just the way life works.
As the band Florida-Georgia Line sings in their 2018 track “People Are Different:”
“Heavy metal, hip hop, steel toe, flip flops
Sip it slow, cold beer, hits you fast, whiskey shot
Accent North, South, good as gold, sailor mouth
People are different…
…Slip on a pair of another man’s shoes
You’ll see by the time you get back
This old world would be a whole lot better place
If we’d all just embraced the fact That people are different
People are different…”
11) Imagine and write down some nasty labels others could have for you
Lastly, there are two exercises I recommend that can help with becoming more accepting of others.
The first is to write down some sticky notes with nasty labels that others may say about you.
They don’t have to be fair or accurate, and they can be prejudiced or stupid or anything you’d like, as long as they are things you have been accused of or that you think others may dislike about you:
- Loud voice
- Overly shy
- Low class
And so on…
In doing this, you come to realize how many labels may be attached to yourself which might seem true on the surface or which have an element of truth …
Yet which are so insufficient to explain who you really are deep down and what makes you who you are…
It’s the same for others we come across.
Our labels and judgments of them may be partly true! But there’s almost always a lot more to them than just the labels we attach.
12) Write five ‘unacceptable’ things about yourself
Lastly, in a related exercise, write down five things about yourself that society or another individual has named as unacceptable at some point.
This might be related to your appearance, background, income level, education, fitness level, personality or style or anything else you’ve been judged or harassed for at some point in life.
They could be similar to the list above or different.
The key is to make them things which are hard to accept for others or are unpleasant or socially frowned upon.
This will also help you flip the script and see how much about you may seem “bad” to others as well.
If you find it hard to accept others, think of it this way:
By extending them the courtesy of reserving judgment you also invite others to do the same with you and the things about yourself that may be less than ideal or pleasant.
Looking in the mirror
Looking in the mirror, we can see how much of ourselves others might judge or find hard to accept.
On an even deeper level:
What do you find hard to accept about yourself?
Practicing acceptance of others should also extend to you as well.
Sure, there is a lot you could change or improve for yourself or might want to be different.
But accepting yourself is a powerful step to accepting others.
Many things may be better off different, but start by knowing that you are worthy and you deserve life, love and respect: and so does everyone else!