Sometimes it’s puzzling when people don’t get along, even when they should:
- family members, who clearly love each other, yet argue all the time
- work teams, who are enthusiastic about the goals they are pursuing, but don’t work together smoothly
- colleagues, including bosses and their reports, just don’t seem to ‘get’ what others are about
When we are involved in one of these situations ourselves, our natural instinct is to assume that there is something wrong with the other person. We inherently believe that we are right – so that means that other person must automatically be wrong. But that assumption, even when we are not aware of it, tends to make us say and do things to make the relationship worse. The other person, naturally, responds in kind (because they hold the contrary assumption – that we are the problem) and things spiral out of control.
We live in a world of snake oil solutions and attempts to manipulate us, and it’s not surprising that people are suspicious of each other’s motives. So when we attempt to improve things by changing our own behaviour, it’s easy for the other person to assume that our intentions are negative (especially if they are!) and take fright. But the skills will come with practice, and minor errors along the way will be forgiven as long as they are underpinned by positive intentions. The pay-off from a little commitment and diligence can be delightfully surprising, when a difficult relationship begins to blossom into an exciting new level of understanding and co-operation.
Here are a set of tools to improve your difficult relationships – some involve action steps, and some are shifts in your mindset.