How do I deal with people I dislike?

There are areas of our lives where we can choose to be with the person we would like to be with. We choose people who give support, love, attention, affection, inspiration, and together we create cozy, cushioned places or states of minds to be.

At the same time, we all have people in our lives who we did not choose to be around. A neighbor, a colleague, a teacher, a relative — anyone who we dislike. They can bring the worst out of us, we are left with anger, frustration, even hate after an encounter. We have no way of changing this person, but these negative feelings are here, they stay with us, and in the end, we are the victims of their effects. I believe there are some steps you can take to learn to handle people who you dislike, but first, honestly answer this question:

  • Do I want to change my attitude towards this person? Why?

By naming your motive, you will see your reward in this process. Mine is definitely learning to handle negative emotions. So, if your answer is a firm “yes”, and you identified your intent, please follow on. First, I would like to address some objections that might come up with this topic.

To oppose my ever optimistic approach, you can say that sympathy is a feeling that cannot be guided, it is a gut reaction to someone. Yes, that is true, my greatest challenge as a recruitment consultant was to disregard the first impression of sympathy (or antipathy) and look at the applicant’s potential and fit into the organization in question. Here I am not trying to change feelings of sympathy, but offer you a way to see beyond the binary opinion of like-dislike.

Sharing my own, disagreeing self-talk, I continue to be the devil’s advocate: how is it possible to deal with a great ball of yarn of disharmonic emotions from the past? Well, by taking one end of the thread of this great ball, start to pull it out, and step-by-step uncoiling it. For myself, I like to say that I am in the process of taming the concept of this person that is in my head. (This brilliant notion comes from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: The little prince.) This person is probably not better or worse than myself, but for some reason, I have not been able to like her / him so far. The person herself / himself is okay, not good or bad, and I have the ability to change my concept. How? Here are some questions to help. Choose one and write about it.

  • Can I rephrase my negative talk about this person to being neutral, objective?
  • Can I find one positive attribute of this person per day for a week (a month)? Can I find more?
  • Do we have anything in common? Likes, dislikes, personality aspects, tastes, knowledge, hobbies, etc.?
  • Is it possible that this person reflects something that I do not want to see in myself?
  • What does this experience of being around this person teach me? Can I be grateful for this lesson?
  • Is there an area of her / his life where I feel compassion for her / him?
  • Can I commit not to complain about this person for one day / one week / one month?

By working on any of these questions, many shades of the relationship can come to light that have been blurred by our label of “dislike”. To tell you the truth, I have never got to really like anybody with whom I started to work through these questions, but my dislike turned to either neutrality or sometimes even appreciation. My true reward was my emotional balance.

This post first appeared on my blog.