An undeniable fact of life is that we all have to deal with people we don’t like.
This is hard for me to admit, to be honest. I like most people. My standards are low — if you’re semi-polite, and we have even a single thing in common, I can talk to you. I’m not hard to please at all.
However, I’d be naive if I believed I’d get along with everyone my whole life.
Now, there’s a lot of research out there on how to make other people like you, how to attract other folks and make them think you’re the most wonderful, charming, eloquent person to set foot on Earth. I’ve read my fair share of stories on how to win friends and influence people.
But frankly, when I started working at my current job, I found myself getting more and more annoyed with one particular coworker. We clashed, we sniped, we had passive-aggressive arguments on Slack.
I didn’t need to make her like me — I just desperately needed to be able to get along with her.
I think most people will know the coworker I’m talking about.
Rude, often late, inconsiderate, disrespectful. She “needs” me to do things she should do herself. Continually interrupts myself and others. She trash talks every other employee. She’ll review and micromanage my work unnecessarily.
It started affecting my work. I’d leave my headphones on even when I wasn’t listening to anything, just to avoid being distracted by her. I began to dread coming in the mornings and having to put up with her. I actually changed my working hours to start an hour earlier and leave earlier to minimize my contact with her.
This was a job I loved doing. I was passionate about the company and my work, and I got along with everyone else in the building.
Just not her.
There were two options as I saw them. I could continue to passive-aggressively deal with her, which served no-one, or I could change the one thing I could control: how I felt about her.
Forcing yourself to like others isn’t a skill taught in schools. It’s not easy, as I it’s very worthwhile. Here are three steps I took to make myself like this coworker just a little bit more, and enjoy my day more as a result.
I used empathy.
Taking a step back, it’s important to realize that people act the way they do for a reason. My coworker was being annoying, but why?
The very act of thinking about others feelings forges a link between us and them in our brains. Using empathy to place yourself in someone else’s place humanizes them and puts their behavior in an understandable context to you.
I made time and spent energy speaking with my worker to figure out why she was so negative. I didn’t quite manage to plumb the deepest depths of her persona, but I had a lot more empathy with her situation and more understanding of her behavior.
I made her laugh.
This trick is slightly better known. Physiologically speaking, smiling sends endorphins to your brain.
This works two ways. First, smiling makes our brains think we’re happy, which triggers it to release neurotransmitters called endorphins to our system, making us feel happy, not just fake it.
If you smile at the same person every day for a week, it starts to become a habit and your brain will begin to associate the happy feeling with that person.
Secondly, smiling and laughing is often a reciprocal action. When we perform these acts, the people around us will often laugh and smile as well. When we see others genuinely happy, we automatically assume they are more trustworthy, more intelligent and more attractive.
So now when my coworker comes in, I give her a great big grin, and she gives me one back. And as the days go on, my smile is less and less forced.
I took more control.
Psychologists say one of the most frustrating things humans find is lack of control. And when we’re not in control, we lash out at whoever is. When you’re in a situation that’s outside of your sphere of influence, this is called an “external locus of control.”
The way to get back in control and feel less negatively about whoever you’re speaking with is to preempt them. Don’t let them drive the conversation — take charge yourself.
For example, when I have interactions with my coworker, I find that she’s often very down and pessimistic. So when we speak, I don’t wait for her to start.
I take the lead and immediately start talking about what a lovely day it is (if applicable), how exciting the project is that we’re working on, what I’m enjoying about her outfit that day.
This establishes an “internal locus of control” which makes me more comfortable, and less likely to be annoyed with her. I’m controlling the narrative. Because I’m in charge of the conversation, I’m no longer free-falling in her negativity.
Frankly, she’s still annoying.
But even though my annoyance levels are the same, I find my tolerance and patience with her have increased as I’ve employed these techniques to help me get through every day.
I understand more where she’s coming from, I’m more resilient to her negativity, and I’m able to find humor and charm in our conversations. I also understand myself better — why I resented her and how taking more control in our interactions could help me.
We all have annoying people in our lives. The key is to focus on what we can change about ourselves, not them.