We all have to talk to people we don’t like, whether in our professional or personal lives. We try to avoid these people. We try to work around them. Sometimes we spend a lot of energy trying to get away from them. And, despite our efforts, we often still have to spend time with them.
Most people don’t like the experience of disliking people. Some blame it all on the disliked person. Some people assume all the blame themselves (“why don’t I like that person? what is wrong with me?”). And, despite self-reflection (or lack thereof), the uncomfortable sensations remain.
It’s okay to dislike people. It happens. Sometimes we don’t have rational reasons for disliking people. Even if the reasons elude us, one of the most useful things we can do for ourselves (and for everyone else) is to acknowledge our dislike. Once we recognize our internal reality, we can then take useful steps in our external reality when we have to spend time with these people.
Here are five things you can do to make the best of the time you have to spend with someone you don’t like:
1. If they are much older than you, really look at them and picture them as kids. Kids are cute. All of us were kids at one point. Sometimes things happen to kids that lead them to act in certain ways as adults. These certain ways helped them cope with and survive in the world. Maybe these strategies don’t actually work well now, but they may have been lifesaving when they were kids.
Have compassion on the kid.
2. If they are much younger than you, really look at them and picture them as elderly people. You might recognize that, if they keep doing whatever it is that they are doing, they will have difficult lives as older adults. Maybe they haven’t learned what they need to learn yet. Maybe the time you spend with them can help them learn something different so they aren’t destined for decades of misery.
Have compassion on the elder.
3. Try to get to know them better. Abraham Lincoln remarked, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”
Yes, this means that you might have to spend even more time with someone you don’t like. When you start exercising curiosity about people you don’t like, though, you often learn that you both have something in common. Sometimes you learn things about the person’s past that might explain why they he does the things he does. Instead of thinking of him as an “annoying dickwad”, you may notice that you now think of him as “that poor guy who no one cared for as a kid”.
4. Assume that the person is having a rough time in his life. None of us shine when we’re dealing with the problems and failures that inevitably occur. We often have no idea what challenges people have in their lives. Even though their challenges may occur in contexts that have nothing to do with you, the ways they deal with those challenges may affect how they interact with you. What they do that vexes you may be the best way they know how to cope.
5. Approach them with the assumption that these people are your teachers. Everyone you meet can teach you something. Because we often have no idea what has happened or is happening to people, it is foolish to believe that we know more about life than those around us. This person might teach you how to show more compassion or exercise more patience. This person might be an accurate reflection of those aspects of you everyone else finds annoying. Your reaction to this person could help show you how you can make your other relationships better.
You may protest that these suggestions may not reflect actual reality: “These are just mind tricks you play on yourself!” However, you cannot control the behavior of other people. You are limited to choosing how you can react to and interact with the people you dislike.
Thus, if the goal is to make the best of your time with people you don’t like, would you rather be “right”? or would you rather be “effective”? These five suggestions may not be “right”, but they are more likely to make you effective.