How to Work Better with People You Don’t Like


Nothing in common

In higher ed. even more than other industries, being able to work with others is critical. No matter what position you hold on campus, you have to deal with people who don’t think like you do, and you can’t dismiss their opinions. You need to become less critical of them and open your mind to new ideas.

One basic strategy for people who wish to build rapport with someone is to look for what they have in common and bond over similar values, preferences, or any other characteristics. But what do you do when you have nothing in common? Or even worse, how do you even begin to build rapport when you have a disagreement and you are convinced that you are 100% right and they are 100% wrong? 

You don’t need to agree

People with opposite perspectives often get stuck on the fact that they disagree, and the other person is wrong. They want the other person to agree with them, and when they don’t, they get defensive. But here’s the good news; in order to work well with someone, you don’t need to agree on everything. For the other person to stop being defensive and become more collaborative, you only have to show them respect, take the time to listen with an open mind to what they have to say, and consider learning something new.

Ideally, if you could shift from criticism and frustration to empathy and team spirit, that would be fantastic. But in most cases, it’s too big of a change to do in one step. I encourage you to have a more realistic goal and challenge yourself to develop curiosity. Curiosity allows you to stop telling people they are wrong because you now have a genuine desire to understand their reasoning. When you suspend judgement and show you are interested, people will feel more comfortable with you and stop being defensive.

Discover their values and goals

When you listen to someone’s perspective, you discover what is important to them, what motivates them, what they seek to accomplish, and what they fear. This is gold! You can’t convince someone to change their mind by telling them they should think what you think, believe what you believe, and care about what you care about. You have to step into their world.

Imagine that you suggested a new process that you are certain would save time, but others are resistant because they don’t want to upset the person who created the current process. It makes no sense to present data on efficiency if their concern is hurting someone’s feelings. If you are a highly rational thinker and others around you worry about being liked, pleasing others, avoiding discomfort, keeping the peace, or valuing friendships over improvements, you can’t expect them to be motivated by facts. In order to have influence, you must understand their perspective.

Open your mind

If you think “I shouldn’t have to deal with all that nonsense. Facts are facts. I am right.” then you absolutely must open your mind. The fact that you prioritize facts and accuracy doesn’t make you right. It simply reflects your values. If someone else puts comfort, predictability, or friendship above all else, please understand that in their mind, they are right too! What we see as a priority is not a universal truth but a highly subjective preference. 

I see terrible conflict and defensiveness among people who insist on being right, blaming other people, and justifying their actions and decisions. Nothing good ever comes from that. In higher ed. leaders must have more emotional intelligence and not let their egos be triggered so easily. While I wish many would meditate daily, be more in control of their emotions, and develop more empathy, I understand how that can seem like too much to ask. That is why I really want to insist on curiosity. Open your mind to new ideas. You don’t have to like what people say or even agree. Simply be open and curious. Ask questions. Show them respect by giving them a chance to talk and be understood.

How to do it

In order to work better with people you don’t like because they don’t think like you do, try the following:

  1. Suspend judgment

  2. Seek to understand

  3. Learn something you can use

For some people, suspending judgment is the hardest part but it’s an excellent exercise. Don’t skip this step. If you appear critical, step 2 and 3 won’t work because you’ll appear dishonest or even condescending. So, make sure to drop all attachment to being right before you show healthy curiosity.

Here are some questions you can use (adapt them to your conversation) to show someone that you genuinely seek to understand their perspective. Let’s use the previous example of someone being resistant to implementing a new process that would save time.

  • What potential problems do you see with the implementation of a new process?

  • Who might be upset and why?

  • What is good about keeping the current process?

  • What makes this particularly important?

These types of questions will help you uncover what that person values and seeks. Once you have that information, you can ask different questions to help the person connect the dots between the new process and their own values.

You can guide their reasoning to start being open to your ideas when you link them to their preferences. It’s actually easier than it sounds but it takes practice to become good at it without sounding phony.

It’s one of my favorite things to teach my clients. If you’d like to speak with me about how I can help you foster collaboration and trust, even with the people you don’t like, click here to schedule a complimentary call with me. Talk to you soon.

 About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, and online courses. Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.

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