Monday, January 15, 2001

The Success Coach

How to deal with people you dislike

By Michael A. Crom
Gannett News Service

        We have all been in the same situation: trying to communicate with people that we don't like but that we know we have to interact with. We tend to stress out about the idea of seeing and meeting them — never mind talking to them.

        And we all know the toll that stress takes on our mental and physical health. How much precious time do you spend worrying about these encounters? If you're like most of us, more than you'd like to admit.

        John Howard, an insurance consultant, told me he felt overwhelmed by this type of situation at work. He would think about the person and the coming meeting all evening, and at times, all night long.

        He would worry about eye contact, what he would say and how it would sound. He could not focus on the business agenda, but rather focused on the person and his personality. “From the moment I found out that we were going to be in the same meeting, my mind could only focus on that news and nothing else. I would be completely consumed.”

        Yet it doesn't have to be this way. You don't have to like everyone you come into contact with, but you can make the relationship easier on yourself by following a few key communication tactics:

        • Begin in a friendly way. “I never realized how my body language was making the situation worse until I made a conscious effort to smile at my co-worker and to ask her a nonwork question, such as how her family was doing or what she thought about the local restaurant,” Mr. Howard said. “Before, I would enter the room, sit as far away from her as possible, fold my arms and wait for the sparks to start flying.”

        • Show respect for the other person's opinion. Never tell a person he or she is wrong. This can be especially difficult, especially if the person is antagonistic or poorly informed. However, we've found that it often doesn't take long for a “difficult” person to become more easy-going once he's truly being listened to.

        That's exactly what happened with Mr. Howard. “I completely stopped using "red light' language,” he said. “I consciously never used the words no, wrong or not when I was in a meeting with her. Instead, I'd throw my concern out to the group or back at my co-worker thusly: "That's interesting , why do you feel that way?'

        “When she had to start explaining herself to the whole team, I found that she soon was thinking things through more before she'd comment.”

        • Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view. Again, this can be a challenge when you're convinced that he is coming from a completely alien mind-set. Yet, with a little practice, you can begin giving people the benefit of the doubt and start see why they might feel that way.

        “I finally put myself in my co-worker's shoes,” Mr. Howard said. “She had been fired from her last job and probably thought she couldn't afford to fail here. I think she was trying to show how valuable she was and how much she knew. I was taking it as an insult, but she was just trying to pump herself up.”

        • Give honest and sincere appreciation. Remember what your grandma always said, “If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.” It may seem quaint, but it works, especially when you're in a contentious relationship.

        “Once I realized that she just wanted to feel she was making a contribution, it was easier for me to let go,” Mr. Howard said. “I realized that letting her 'win' a few points wouldn't detract from my esteem in the company, and it might even get a project done faster.”

        Of course, there were still tense moments, but Mr. Howard and his co-workers were able to handle them as professionals, instead of letting their emotions get in the way. You can use the same tactics in your difficult relationships.

        If you have a question or need advice on a certain topic, please e-mail The writer is executive vice president, Dale Carnegie Training.


Ergonomic rules kick in Tuesday
Mixed reviews for worker protection
Exit interviews debated
- How to deal with people you dislike
Promotions & new on the job