By the time you're an adult, you are an expert on how to judge yourself and others. You’ve had years of practise by now. You’ve got real clarity on the type of person you naturally get along with and those people who are just annoying. Some people are so irritating that you actually spend time thinking about what you might do to them when no-one is looking, but somehow you manage to restrain yourself. Reality check! Right now, someone is probably thinking the same thing about you. That’s the thing about us humans. We're complex social creatures with our own values and embedded beliefs about how people should behave and interact. Interestingly, we can dislike someone without even knowing why, and then look for evidence to prove ourselves right. In other situations, we've plenty of reasons stored in the memory bank to support why that person should not be trusted.
Instincts and intuition all play a part in the experience we have of others. There’s plenty of psychological research to explain why some relationships are easy and others make us want to stab ourselves in the eye. Most of us have a desire to be both liked and respected by others, and when conflict occurs it naturally has to be 'the other person’s fault'. Naturally! 'If only everyone was like me, the world would be amazing'. A challenge that many leaders face is that they want to recruit and fill their team with people who are just like them. And while parents are not meant to acknowledge having a ‘favourite’ child, they often secretly tell their besties about the child who is ‘easiest’ to parent. Guess what? The favourite child, the chosen one, is normally the one most like them. That’s awkward, so let’s move on.
Here's what we coaches know for sure. The most successful and happy people find healthy ways to work with those they wouldn’t choose to have in their life – professionally, socially and within their own family. They're very aware of how they invest their energy in terms of relationships. So, if you want that loser in the office to be less obnoxious, or you want to stop feeling anxious whenever you see that family member, you need to take a look at you!
Being able to have healthy and respectful conversations and interactions with all types of people is a valuable skill. There’s a great TED Talk (15:55) that offers tips to get along with anyone – meanwhile, this instructional video (10:31) from a world debate champion outlines the essential features of productive disagreements grounded in curiosity and purpose. We’re also fans of the book: Talking across the divide: how to communicate with people you disagree with and maybe even change the world.
The key here seems to be the importance of empathy when it comes to connecting with people as individuals, rather than their opinions. Imagine how different life would be and what you'd do with all the time you currently spend being frustrated. This could be the greatest life hack of all. Appreciating behavioural styles and thinking that’s different to your own could in fact give you new perspectives.
Consider implementing these six tried and tested strategies the next time a relationship feels hard (don’t hurt anyone, that won’t go well):
- Be the grown up – People can’t make you feel a certain way. You get to choose what you think, which determines how you feel. Consciously choose the meaning you're giving the situation and the person. Rise above the child-like behaviours and identify a solution, which might be as simple as removing yourself from the situation.
- Respect almost everyone – Find what you can appreciate about the person. Don’t focus on the negatives and what they're doing wrong. Deliberately start positive conversations about topics you can both contribute to. Critically, differentiate between the person and the behaviours that you might not like.
- Be strategic – Consider the outcome you want and do what’s required to achieve that. Perhaps you need to compromise or let something go.
- You're not that important – The world does not revolve around you. Just in case you weren’t clear on this. Acknowledge that sometimes you might be wrong. Everybody you meet and know is in the middle of their story.
- Pick your battles – There are certainly some fights that are worth fighting. If something that you highly value has been wronged then constructively find a way to share your view and speak your truth.
- Choose to be kind rather than right – We grown-ups so often need to be right. It’s OK. It’s ego. We all have one. We want to look good and show people we're adding value. We get it. But there are occasions in life when showing compassion, empathy and flex in your own thinking is so much more important than proving you know better.
Let’s be clear: these tips are about getting along with people you don’t naturally click with or find difficult for some reason. If the person slept with your partner or stole from you, they clearly need to go, so disregard the above immediately. For relationships with all other people, you can absolutely find a way to make them work without being besties. We can indeed respect people we don’t like. Controversial, we know!
– The Coach Place Global
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