You can’t stand her. His behavior is galling. Every conversation is a confrontation with that person.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we all got along?
But we don’t. Most of us harbor negative emotions toward certain individuals that go beyond run-of-the-mill irritation. Because we’re human — meaning we have different hopes, approaches, and triggers in our lives.
That doesn’t mean, however, those differences are always insurmountable. To the contrary, they could be the foundation for some of our most fascinating relationships. If we temper our animosity enough to see the other person’s value.
If you’re game to make your world a friendlier place, here are four ways to coach yourself.
1. Why bother? Because cookie-cutter opinions only get us so far.
It’s true what C.S. Lewis said, that friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”
Common ground with another person lets us relax and be ourselves. So it stands to reason that differing outlooks would drive us apart. But what if the differences gave you new ways of seeing and being in the world? Now that’s interesting. Fresh information and perspectives enable us to live more fully and openly.
To find value in the differences, ask yourself: What do I admire about this person? What do they do that I wish I could do? What might I learn from them? When you begin looking at your enemy from a positive viewpoint, you instantly expand your world.
To act on that, consider what you could gain from this person. It might be a behavior to observe and emulate. Or you might ask him to explain why he acts or thinks a different way, and let it soak in (without arguing).
If you can’t embrace the difference, try what political commentator Sally Kohn calls emotional correctness. In her five-minute TED talk, she explains: “If we can find compassion for one another, then we have a shot at building common ground.” And that often comes down to not what you say but how you say it.
2. Redirect blame. Because what sets you off may be more about you than them.
It’s easy to point fingers and say, “She’s always late,” or “He’s wasting my time.” It’s probably true. But it may trigger something deeper in you.
To get at the root of what bothers you, ask yourself: What concern does she kick up in me when she does that? We’ve all got buttons that when pushed bring out the ornery in us. Familiar sensitive spots are respect, acknowledgment, being understood or being accepted.
This self-knowledge gives you wider perspective the next time you’re offended. It lets you ease up on your enemy (she probably doesn’t even realize how she affects you), take a breath, perhaps respond less heatedly.
3. Modify. Because you may not be able to change how they act, but you can adjust how you do.
You’re not perfect, nor should you try to be. But you can attempt to respond better in relationships where there is discord, thus lowering the strife.
To show up better than you have been, ask yourself: What reaction can I curb when this person gets my goat? Common culprits are complaining, anger, shutting down, gossiping, crying.
It’s difficult to admit that we’ve acted out. It takes matching your behavior with your emotion, and then doing something different the next time you get heated. If you complain, say something nice about the person instead. If you clam up, say something benign like, “I’d like to give that some thought.” If your anger bubbles up, excuse yourself until it subsides. It does take practice.
4. Get familiar. Because you’re not a mind reader, and neither are they.
Just like your enemy can’t know the depths of his affect on you or why, neither can you know his internal workings. Unless you practice empathy.
To get at a shared understanding, ask yourself: What could I tell this person that would help them see me as I’d like them to see me? What would you like to know about their motivation?
Strike up a conversation (in person, on email or Slack, wherever you communicate best), starting with a gentle question. Listen without judgment, imaging what it must be like. Share your situation as it relates to you, not to them. Before diving in, you may want to practice with the questions at the end of this article on empathy.
One final thought: Before you dive into any of these questions, savor the relief in knowing that enemies don’t have to stay enemies.
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