Let’s face it, we all know people with whom we find it hard to get along. My general approach has always been to stay away from these kinds of people. When I’m around them, I can’t seem to stop my facial expressions and body language from screaming my distaste. I don’t put forward the positive persona I want to project, so I try to avoid the situation altogether.
Lately I’ve found myself in several circumstances in which I could not politely remove myself from the company of those who make me crazy. It’s been like a little test from the kindness gods. While I still have a lot of room for growth, I definitely showed improvement on these tests over my past performance in similar circumstances.
Here are some tips/truths I’ve learned from focusing on kindness while interacting with folks I find unpleasant:
- Be a good listener. Part of the reason I don’t like being around some people is that I do not trust them. They are competitive people who constantly compare themselves and their children to me and my children. They build themselves up by knocking others down. By listening, I give them no fuel for their competitive fire. Plus, people generally like to feel heard, so it softens them up and makes them friendlier.
- Try to feel real empathy for them. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to live in the skin of someone so unhappy or insecure that he/she purposely puts down other people, but I try to understand the motivation of people like that. When I can see that what is driving someone to be unkind is something far beyond me or the current situation, it’s easier to see past their distasteful words and behaviors.
- People change; give them a chance. Recently I had a very pleasant conversation with a woman I had previously considered to be on my “evade list.” We hadn’t spoken in several years—not because of any rift, but because I was pretty good at circumventing her—and I was surprised at how much more friendly and kind she seemed now.
- Keep it short. Just like when my girls used to have play dates—it’s better to end the play date (conversation) with the children wanting more time together rather than after they’re sick of each other. End conversations while they’re still on a positive note.
- Show appreciation. Often the best way to handle a boastful person or an incessantly bragging parent is to acknowledge their need for approval. What puts me off is not hearing about their accomplishment, but their need to “show off” about it. The sooner you recognize and appreciate their accomplishment, the quicker you can move on to a new topic!
I hope that practicing kindness will eventually lead me to the point where being around upsetting people doesn’t bother me anymore, but realistically I recognize that is a long way off. In the meantime, practicing these tips/truths helps me to maintain a more positive attitude when I’m around difficult people.