In a perfect world, each human we interacted with would be considerate, mindful, prompt, kind, generous and more. They'd get our jokes and we'd get theirs. No one would ever be cross, snippy, ruffled or anything less than convivial.
Of course we all know this is not a perfect world. And imperfections all around us are what keep things interesting. That said, I guarantee that most of us frequently come across people who make us tick, or seem to trigger negativity in us for whatever reason. Sometimes we know why, sometimes we don't. Sometimes understanding the negative dynamic makes it easier, other times it seems irrelevant.
Regardless of the particulars, it's important to accept that many people in life that we interact with won't be as considerate, as mindful, as prompt or as kind as we'd like. Inevitably, we too will rub a few people the wrong way.
In these cases, we may simply choose to accept that we can't get along with everyone ever. But it's also possible to talk with and work alongside people we don't like; in fact, it's a great learning experience for setting boundaries, and being compassionate with both ourselves and others.
Here are seven tips for navigating those tricky relationships, and to remain calm, present and authentic to ourselves in the process:
1. Appreciate the power of the pause.
For most of us (myself very much included) the moment someone says something that offends me or does something otherwise inconsiderate, I've formed an opinion. I try not to be judgmental of course, but sometimes you just can't help it. When someone's actions or words trigger me, I tend to fast forward: I'll find myself imagining how a project to turn out poorly, how they'll screw up a partnership, how they'll offend clients.
Because of the very fact that there's infinite potential to fast forward your thoughts into the negative, let's take a moment to collectively remember the power of pausing.
Take a deep breath and one big step back. Now think of what that simple gesture could do for you in a tough interaction. Before you jump to any conclusions, try making a conscious decision to put the judgment on hold for a second. From this pause, you'll be better able to proceed with a mind and heart that are at least slightly more open.
2. Honor your ability to stay neutral.
Once we've decided we "don't like" someone, it is so, so easy to view every last thing they do through a lens of negativity: "Look at her! Grabbing those tea bags like she is a professional barista!"
Remember that the person you don't like is not an intrinsically bad human. He/she is someone's child. He/she is probably someone's spouse or parent. People love him/her and look forward to their emails.
You don't have to love this person, but realize the difference between "not connecting" with someone and actively nursing a grudge toward them. It can feel like getting your feathers ruffled is the easiest option when something or someone triggers you. But ultimately, negativity totally becomes a vicious cycle and makes things worse. Remember: your ability to stay neutral really is there inside of you. So honor it.
3. Ask "What if ...?"
Any question beginning with the words "What if ..." is a powerful one. It allows you to see any situation according to its infinite alternatives. It goes without saying that in a situation or interaction you perceive as negative, there is inevitably a way to see a positive spin — even if it's just that you can learn from the challenging aspects.
So look for the good, and not in a cliché way. Really tune into the present situation and consider alternatives. Make a conscious effort to note and acknowledge your trigger-person's strong suits. Does he/she always pull his weight in group projects? Is he/she patient with questions? When you notice these more positive alternatives, point them out to yourself.
4. Create some space for yourself.
If you're really, really struggling with this person, allow yourself to take some space. Go work in another room, sit at the other end of the conference table, mingle in other circles at the networking event. You can also give yourself psychological space; realize you don't need to respond to his comments in the big, group email. You're not required to take part in the discussions he/she initiates. This time and space will be healing, and prepare you to be better able to deal with the person and/or situation that is stressing you out.
5. Maintain those boundaries.
If this person causes you to feel exactly the same way every time you engage with him/her, think about how you can create boundaries that will keep you sane. If he/she's always alluding to making tons of money (while you are potentially feeling some financial stress), politely tell him/her that your New Year's resolution is to limit money conversations to your accountant.
If someone asks too many personal questions, you can tell them. If they're always irritating you with their political or religious diatribes, kindly tell them you're avoiding conversations about these sorts of hot-button topics for right now.
6. Give people the benefit of the doubt (or at least pretend you are).
This one's simple (but not necessarily the easiest). For instance, if someone cuts you in line, try saying this: "Oh no! You must not have realized that the line starts back there. It's not totally clear!" That way, the other person has a chance for redemption (after all, we can all be careless now and again).
Of course, you needn't do this every single time someone "screws up," but extending a bit of grace and generosity to people (whether it's real or a result of "faking it") is beneficial. Not only is it a better idea to assume first that someone simply didn't realize there was a line, for example, but it will make you feel less stirred up and stressed out.
7. Realize that what you don't like in others is frequently what you don't like in yourself.
Ooof. That's hard to hear, isn't it? But if we're being real, that person's inclination to be late or interrupt or make awkward jokes is often tied to our fears about our own sense of humor or tardiness.
So before you add someone to your Don't Like List, take a moment to consider what exactly you are clinging to about them. What do these things say about you? Are there any connections you can make? Get curious, and radically honest.
It's doubtful that you will like everyone you meet. But with a bit of perspective and empathy, you'll be able to navigate life as if unfazed.
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