Theodore Roosevelt had said that "the most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people". Research after research show how good relationships with people around us are important for our health and even to our longevity. Knowing that, it seems that building good and positive relationships with the people around us would become our most sought after goal, as it holds the key to our happiness and health.
And yet we struggle.
While building and nurturing good relationships with some people in our lives may come easy, there will always be those around us that we truly struggle to get along with, both at work and at home. We struggle with our spouses, we struggle with our extended families, with our kids, with certain co workers, our boss, our clients- and that struggle is always there. Upsetting us. Taking its toll on us. Leaving us unsure what to do. Saying some things and then regretting them. Not saying other things- and regretting that too.
For many people, the situation of struggling in our relationship with someone, comes with our deeming of them as "difficult". As if deeming those people "difficult" gives us some kind of an excuse to try less, or not to try at all.
The reality is that deeming the other as "difficult" is not a reality, even if we can find 5, 10 or fifty people that would agree with us. It would still be a matter of opinion no matter how we look at it. What is difficult here for sure, and that is not a matter of opinion, is our dynamics with that person. Now, while we don't have control over someone being "difficult", which in a way excuses us from responsibility for our share of improving the relationship and the dynamics, we do have control over changing dynamics if we consider it difficult, simply because no matter how you look at it- dynamics takes at least two people.
And this is where the key to change truly is.
So once you have shifted from talking about "difficult people" to talking about "difficult dynamics", here are eight things that you can start doing immediately that will change the dynamics with someone that you are struggling to get along with, which will lead you towards greater peace of mind, and overall improved happiness and health (its amazing what toll stressful relationships take on us. Truly something you want to avoid or reduce to an absolute minimum):
1. Accept and respect your differences:
Many times we judge others simply because they think differently. Our notion that the way we see things is the 'right' way, is of course completely in our mind and we have to accept the fact that in order to have good relationships with pretty much anyone in our lives, we cannot limit ourselves to having good relationships with those who agree with us. It is with those who think differently and our substantially different from us that our greatest challenge is- but also our greatest opportunity. If we teach ourselves to accept and respect diversity of opinions and points of view, we hold the key to more accepting relationships with challenging people in our lives. Keep in mind that feeling judged and unaccepted does not allow for good relationships to grow. Which leads us to the next point.
2. Don't judge
Other than the fact that it is really not our place as human being to judge other human beings, judging someone causes them to feel attacked. Someone who judges you is not on your team, not your friend and not your ally. They are oftentimes perceived danger in the sense that they criticize who you are and what you do, and the general reaction is usually to stay away from them, physically and emotionally. Who wants to be close to someone that judges you? Judging works against good relationships, against teamwork and leads to much unnecessary hostility.
3. Listen courageously
I am sure you have heard before that listening attentively to the other person is important and that many of us are so caught up in what we want to say, that we neglect to listen to the other. Listening attentively is only half the work. Listening courageously means that you need to be completely open to feedback that the other person has on....you. Yes, you may not be as perfect as you like to think, and it takes a lot of courage to accept and listen to that too. Once you are able to do that, though, there is true opportunity for change and growth. Guaranteed.
4. Don't assume
The reality is that we assume so many things about the people around us and why they do what they do, simply because we do not have much information about them. We fill in those gaps of information with our own assumptions and convince ourselves in our own theories, completely forgetting that these theories are in our minds only.
5. Realize the complexity of what you don't know
We know everything about ourselves and very little about the people around us. Always remember that there is a lot that you do not know about the person in front of you, and that coming up with assumptions about why they do what they do, does not really fill in the gaps- it is only an illusion. While asking people questions may give us some information, they may be completely unready to share things with us. We just have to accept and respect the fact that there is so much we do not know.
6. Don't blame
Blaming the other person for a situation that was created is a dead end street. It takes us nowhere in achieving what we want and the only thing it accomplishes is ensuring that the other person completely resents us. Rather than blaming people (pointless and promotes hostility), blame dynamics or situations. Then you can think together how to improve the dynamics. Dynamics don't mind being blamed.
7. Don't handle a heated situation while it is still hot
Handling interpersonal situations while you are angry is a huge mistake. We are not in full control of our actions and words when we are very angry and are likely to say and do things that we will regret. Don't touch the pot when it's hot, is a sentence that I use a lot with my clients. Unless you want to get burned.
8. Don't get stuck in the past
People spend a lot of energy in talking about things that happened in the past. The reality is that past talk is pointless, because the past cannot change, so there is no point discussing it over and over again. What can change is the future. Make the present and the future the focal point of your discussions. If something happened in the past that really bothers you, use it proactively- as something that you are looking to avoid or change going forward, and focus on that.
Remember, your happiness, health and longevity depends on the quality of your relationships with the people around you. The power is in your hands to change dynamics, improve interactions, and move forward.