Of all the many different methods, I’ve learned seven over the years that have helped me tremendously—either they were the sign that led to a long, fulfilling friendship or they were the warning before things fell apart.
Note: Please don’t use these to condemn or judge people. Everyone has bad days and our personalities can change. (If anything, we should look at our own character before evaluating others.)
Also, keep in mind each thing on its own might not say much; but together, they can reveal a lot. From there, it's up to you to decide whether you want to be friends, clients, or lovers with them—or not.
1. How they keep their commitments
They're not always big — like swearing under oath or wedding vows—but we actually make a lot of commitments in life like:
“I’ll let you know about the meeting by Friday.”
“I’ll be there in 5 minutes.”
“I’ll call you at 6 pm.”
Yet we don’t always keep them. Now, life happens and it's important to give some leeway, especially for things outside of our control. But if you notice a pattern where someone fails to follow through with any of their commitments—or regularly changes them—it can reveal someone who isn't reliable, doesn't hold themselves accountable for the things they say, or doesn’t value you all that much.
2. How they treat people below them
“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”
— Malcolm S. Forbes
A common test is how people treat service staff at restaurants, cafes, etc. It’s a decent one, but to me, I think the bigger picture is how people treat those who can do absolutely nothing for them or to them. (Waiters, on the other hand, can definitely do something to you if you’re a jerk so it pays to be nice.)
Strangers on the street. People selling flowers on the sidewalk. Janitors. People “below” their position at work. How does someone treat those people or talk about them? It can tell you a lot.
I remember being at a cafe on a Friday night that was packed with people going to bars and clubs. A homeless man walked in selling flowers and people started rolling their eyes and laughing at him. Sure, they laughed, but what did their actions say about them?
3. How their car looks
Years ago, I had a client who was a surgeon at a leading hospital and who used to interview new residents. I never forgot what he told me.
“It’s not allowed,” he would say with a chuckle, “but I’d love to just go to the parking lot and see inside their car.”
It wasn’t to judge the kind of car they drove or how fancy it was. It was to look inside and see if it was clean, organized, and tidy, or if there were food wrappers and empty soda cans everywhere.
He had a point. In Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell shared a study where the personality of 80 students was assessed by those students’ closest friends versus complete strangers who only spent 15 minutes visiting their bedrooms.
The complete strangers, it turned out, were more accurate.
“What this suggests is that it is quite possible for people who have never met us and who have spent only twenty minutes thinking about us to come to a better understanding of who we are than people who have known us for years… If you want to get a good idea of whether I’d make a good employee, drop by my house one day and take a look around.”
Obviously, if you can visit someone’s home, even better. But anytime you get a ride from someone, it might tell you quite a bit about a person, their identity, behaviors, and how they think and feel. How you do one thing is how you do everything.
4. How they act when they make a mistake
We all make mistakes. But when you address it in a respectful, kind, and fair way, how do they respond?
Do they apologize and commit to avoiding it?
Do they make excuses, get defensive, or go silent?
Do they blame you, accuse you of making it a big deal, or go back in time and list your transgressions (that they never mentioned before and have been saving just for this occasion)?
Sadly, I’ve had to let friends go because of this, but it was the right decision. I believe the true mark of a person isn’t how they act when things are going well; it’s how they act when things are not going well. There’s always going to be some conflict and disagreements in any relationship, but how they respond in those moments can reveal a lot about their character and ego.
5. How they act when you make a mistake
On the other hand, if you make an honest mistake and apologize, how do they respond?
Do they respect you and share how they feel? Do they take it in stride?
Do they make things personal and say, “You always ____” or “You never _____?”
Do they belittle you, hold a grudge, or insult your character, intelligence, etc.?
If it’s the last one, it doesn’t always mean they’re “bad” people. (Maybe they had a tough upbringing and it’s how they were raised.) But it definitely reveals a bit about their “true colors” and how they’ll act when times get tough.
6. How they act with people they want something from
I’ve noticed some people have a “split personality.” For example, when some guys see women they’re attracted to, they suddenly act friendly and happy; once those women leave, they're back to their old selves. I knew guys like that and, if we went out on a Saturday night, their eyes would dart all over the room searching for women as they half-listened to their own friends.
The thing about people like this is they don't really have an established sense of self—who they are changes completely depending on who they talk to. And they only put on their “A-Game” when they’re around a person they like, they admire, or they want something from.
Do they put on a special show around certain people? Do they “kiss up” to people above them while ignoring people below them? Do they “friend hop” to climb their way up the social ladder? Take notice.
7. How their real-life compares to social media life
I once knew a guy who was obsessed with how he was portrayed on social media—his posts, profiles, and stories were designed to present him in the best light possible. Yet in reality, he was just a relatively average guy who was good at his job.
We eventually had a falling out, but looking back, this was one of the biggest warning signs. Because, like on social media, he was overly concerned with how people thought of him, he made his friendships calculated, and he chased validation and approval.
Check how someone acts on social media versus reality? Do they always need to put on a show, humblebrag, or showcase every “amazing” detail of their day—even though their life is ordinary? It can say a lot about how a person thinks, how they feel, and what motivates them.
Again, the point of these checks isn’t to judge someone. (After all, my ex-friend wasn’t a “bad” guy; we just had different personalities.) It's simply to gauge someone's personality—in that moment—and see if it aligns with your values, your goals, and what's important to you.
Because once you surround yourself with people who match those important things to you, you’ll find awesome relationships that will grow and grow over time.
I hope it helps.