It doesn’t take much looking to find a person or group we would rather not interact with. However, most of us are at points in our lives where avoiding, hiding, and pretending a specific person does not exist can only last for so long.
Sending people emails or texting has made many of us allergic to natural communication — after all, we were born with the ability to communicate for a reason. Unfortunately, there are people we could live without ever speaking to again.
Here’s how to communicate well with people you just can’t stand.
1. Keep it simple.
If there is someone you can’t stand speaking to, the last thing you probably want to do is trust that person with the innermost details of your recent breakup or the latest argument with your best friend.
Keep your conversation superficial. Possible neutral topics include anything from the weather, what you ate for breakfast, traffic, where you got your latest accessory, to an interesting detail of the environment. Whatever you decide to talk about, keep things simple and move on when you can.
2. Compliment them.
Finding the best in the “worst” people can alleviate their defense mechanisms and catch them off guard so things aren’t so weird.
The best salespeople know how to do this … on our last trip to Las Vegas, I almost considered spending the top price in a store of garments I already had simply because the salespeople were buttering me up and complimenting me on everything from my makeup to my sandals. It’s hard to have a bad conversation when you appeal to their sense of pride.
3. Maintain the boundary.
Many times, challenging tasks (like speaking to someone who makes your skin crawl or your blood boil) are easier if you cap the time you’re engaged in the conversation. Precluding an interaction with the following statements may save you time, headache, and embarrassment: “I know we’re/you’re busy, but …” or “I only have a few minutes, so I wanted to talk to you about _____”.
Keeping things short and sweet will make things way more tolerable.
As a therapist, I help others put the reality of their issues “on the table,” tackle them and deal with them. Many relationship problems we have as a culture are due to choosing short-term alleviation and avoiding confrontations with people we can’t stand.
When these strategies get you through conversations you would rather avoid, it proves how strong you are. It also improves your relationship, so it’s even easier the next time you have to deal with that person you can’t stand.
Photo: pathdoc via Shutterstock
Maxine Langdon Starr, Ph.D., LMFT is a marriage and family therapist specializing in adolescents and young adults, partner/owner of Sunflower Therapies, professor of psychology at Brandman University, and motivational speaker on self-esteem.