Do you have people in your life who drive you absolutely nuts? Who no matter how hard you try seem like they’ve arrived from a different planet? Me too!
Isn’t is funny how we’re all so very different – In NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) there’s a saying that we’re all as different on the inside as we look on the outside. Think of all the variations – hair colour, eye colour, height, weight, nose shape, freckles, skin colour – the differences are literally billions.
And if we’re all just as different on the inside, then just think of all the variations– bubbly, introverted, quick to anger, mellow, racing fan, dancer, writer, engineer, vegetarian – the list can go on and on. It’s no wonder that we can sometimes struggle to make connections with all our wonderful variations!
But before you get too despondent, there are ways that you can help the process along, and even learn to get along with even the most different of folks.
The key is sometimes called ‘rapport’, but I think a simpler way to look at it is simply having a good-natured curiosity about people.
My client Jenny was recently having trouble with one of her colleagues. It had got so bad that they were barely speaking to one another.
Jenny would come in of a morning, make a cup of tea and her colleague would be, in her words, “boring everyone about his bloody caravan.”
Jenny would roll her eyes as he talked, wondering why he didn’t have more insight into himself to realise that his in-depth tales of chemical toilets and the best caravan sites in the North East were tedious and uninteresting.
Their relationship was tense to say the least. Her colleague regularly took issue with the way Jenny did her work and disagreed with pretty much every idea she would suggest at team meetings. He pulled her up on (what seemed to her anyway) trivial matters and whenever she asked him to do something for her had so many questions and objections that often Jenny wished she hadn’t bothered in the first place. Over a period of time the conflict between them grew until Jenny avoided being in the same room as him if she could help it.
They managed to rub along like this for a while, with the odd snapped word here and there until their boss assigned them an important project to work on together.
Jenny spent a sleepless weekend dreading the following Monday.
She was all ready for an awful week ahead when she entered the office that day. Her career was important to her, how was she ever going to pull this project off working with this man who she had such a dreadful working relationship with?
Perhaps it was the lack of sleep or the general anxiety she was feeling but whatever the reason, Jenny surprised herself that morning by doing something she’d never thought before. She heard herself say:
“You’re really into caravans aren’t you? My parents are thinking of buying one, what would you recommend?”
Whilst it was true that her parents were considering getting a caravan, it hadn’t been her intention to ask her colleague about it. Far from it, most of the conversations she’d run through in her head that morning had involved far more work-focused topics. But here she was, asking about caravans.
She braced herself for the onslaught…
But her colleague simply asked:
“Touring or static?”
And just like that, a conversation was struck up.
It lasted no more than a few minutes. But that day relations between them were a bit easier.
The next day her colleague greeted Jenny warmly.
“I’ve left some stuff on your desk” he said, gesturing to the stack of practical caravan magazines as she took her coat off.
Touched by the gesture, Jenny decided to ask him a bit more about his own caravan, where he liked to go and so on.
She wasn’t massively interested, but it was worth a try. And besides, talking about caravans for a few minutes wasn’t that bad, and she might even learn something.
From such a simple gesture, Jenny was amazed at how their relationship has turned around. Just by spending a few minutes taking an interest in something that was obviously important to him, the friction between them has lessened dramatically.
Sure, they still have very different working styles (He has an acute attention to detail, likes precision and dislikes change, Jenny’s more creative, responsive and sees the bigger picture.) But instead of them clashing all the time as they have in the past, they are now able to see how their differences compliment one another.
It’s several months on now and Jenny says she can’t believe the difference in their relationship. And all it took was showing a genuine interest in her colleague.
So many times we can go through life expecting other people to meet us where we’re at rather than us trying to understand what the world looks like from their point of view. It’s a bit like going to another country and instead of attempting a few words of the native language, we carry on speaking in our own – only in a louder and slower voice!
And it doesn’t take very much effort on our part either. Just having a sense of curiosity, suspending our judgement and criticisms, and taking the time to step into someone else’s world and experience a tiny bit of the world from their point of view. And the benefits are enormous.