We can’t all be friends with everyone at work. But if you find it especially difficult to get along with someone, it may be in your best interest to put a friendly foot forward. Here are six steps for learning how to work with difficult people — so you can get ahead in your career.
Let’s start with an obvious but overlooked realization:
It doesn’t feel good to dislike people.
No one wants to waste their time on negative feelings, much less spend precious energy figuring out how to work with difficult people. But too often, we get so immersed in a tough situation that makes it impossible to think clearly.
While we can’t control the way people treat us, we are 100 percent in control of how we treat them, and that can have more influence on you and the relationship than you probably realize.
Step 1: Decide why you genuinely care about the relationship
If it’s not genuine, you’re going to get nowhere. What’s the underlying reason why it’s so important for you to improve the relationship? If your why is not compelling enough, the rest of these steps will be nearly impossible.
Step 2: Do your homework
Research whatever you can. Act as if they were a dream connection you’re dying to befriend. Learn all you can about their life, what excites them, what they’re good at, where they need help. Learn about family, hobbies, talents, fears – anything’s fair game.
One business negotiations study found that the most talented negotiators spend 400 percent more time searching for shared interests and goals before a meeting than their peers. Research matters.
Step 3: Find one thing in common
Common ground creates connection, and if you research from a place of genuine compassion, chances are you’ll find things that support your desire to connect. A number of studies show that something as trivial as similar sounding names causes two people to feel a deeper connection and get along better.
And that’s just the start. The deeper the connection, the deeper the similarity, the more you like each other. Look for similar backgrounds, family history, personal stories and experiences. And most importantly, find similar attitudes, values and beliefs to align with.
Step 4: Begin to admire this one thing about them
It will likely start small, especially if there’s been bad blood between you two. Isolate that one piece of similarity and give it focus. Find a way to bring it up with them. Thank them for the value it adds to the work you both are doing or what it provides for others. Give genuine praise with specific examples to back it up.
Step 4.5: For bonus points, ask them for help
This strategy has been coined the Benjamin Franklin Effect after Franklin realized the goodwill that he built with his enemies after asking them for help in an area of their expertise. Humans naturally feel more affection towards people they help.
Asking for help also gives you a chance to show that you don’t have it figured out, and this openness can cause the other side to reciprocate openness, further deepening the connection.
Step 5: Praise them behind their back
While it seems obvious to praise someone to their face, third-party praise is a powerful thing – as long as it’s true. It will eventually get back to the receiver.
Plus, their friends will start to like you more when they hear you praising their friend. And if you all your friends like someone, what are the odds that you eventually start to feel the same?
Step 6: Walk in their shoes
Changing perspectives helps us humanize the person instead of seeing them as a frustration in the center of our own world.
Close your eyes and imagine you were seeing and experiencing the world through their eyes. If you shift this perspective, you’ll find a totally new side of compassion. Perhaps you’ll even see some of the light in the frustration they might have for you.
Ask yourself, “If I were them, what would I do, think and feel?”
When executives took a few minutes at the beginning of every meeting to get to know and connect with their adversaries before getting down to business, total deal negotiation time within a Fortune 100 company went down by over 30 percent (from nine to six months), according to a study done by influence psychologist Dr. Gregory Neidert.
This resulted in an average savings of $10-30 million dollars per deal!
If you’re having trouble finding a reason to take the initiative with a difficult person, remember that people don’t just want to do business. They want to be understood and appreciated on a fundamental human level.
Build a reputation as the person who dissolves frustration and converts conflict into solid working relationships.
Scott Dinsmore is an entrepreneur, career change strategist, and founder of Live Your Legend, a business and international community dedicated to helping you build a career around work that genuinely excites you – and surround yourself with the people who make it possible. Watch his million-view TEDx talk on How to Find & Do Work You Love and download the free Passionate Work Toolkit to join the worldwide revolution.