The easiest and most instinctual thing to do with people who don't like us is nothing. We tend to avoid them at all costs and communicate only when absolutely necessary. That might work in some professional and personal relationships, but it takes a toll.
It is important to learn when it is time to come to the table to talk it out. These conversations are never easy, so the first question is how do you know if you should bother having them. If you answer affirmatively to any of the following five questions, it's time to talk:
1. Do you spend time thinking about the other person and trying to avoid them?
2. Does the relationship (work or personal) force other people to get involved?
3. Do you have to communicate with this person on a weekly or even daily basis?
4. Is anything at risk (job, children, your own well being) by continuing on the way it is going?
5. Do you consider leaving otherwise happy circumstances because of this person?
If you answered "yes" to any of these and you aren't doing anything about it, chances are the situation will get worse. There is nothing to lose by having the conversation and much to be gained. First, ask the person if s/he will meet with you some place quiet and private, and schedule it in advance. That way they are prepared for a talk. Once you are sitting together, follow these three basic steps:
Step 1 - Ask and listen: The key to disarming anyone is to listen to them sincerely and without judgment. Begin by explaining that you feel tension in the relationship and want to improve it. Ask how they see the situation and what major challenges they have with you. It is critical for you not to interrupt, get defensive or provide explanations. Pretend that you are a third party trying to understand what they are saying. When they are done, sum it up in your own words to make sure you understand their points.
Step 2: Explain your point of view: Describe how you see the dynamic and its impact on you. It is very important to choose your language carefully. Instead of saying, "You treat me like I'm stupid," say something like "I get the sense that you don't trust in my competence." It is very useful to sum up the biggest issue and give examples. That way, the person understands clearly what you are saying and cannot deny the behavior.
You will have to repeat steps one and two several times before you are able to move to the next step.
Step 3: Seek solutions: The goal of the conversation is for each of you to ask for a behavior modification. First, ask specifically what the other person needs from you. Don't be afraid to ask for examples if you aren't clear. Then, ask for what you need. The key is to be precise. Instead of saying "I need you to be more civil," try something like, "When you ask me to do something, it would make me more comfortable if you said please and thank you."
After a day or two, check in with the person to make sure things are going better. Also, go out of your way to thank them if you see them trying to make a change. There is nothing more powerful than affirmation and recognition to reinforce a desired behavior.
What if you try this and it doesn't work? First of all, you are no worse off than when you started. More importantly, it will help you strategize. In other words, if you know a direct conversation isn't an option, you can move forward with Plan B. More about that in part IV of this series. Stay tuned.
Eliza Levy conducts seminars on conflict resolution and anger management. For more information, contact her at 305-296-5437 or visit http://www.elisalevy.com.