We all have someone in our lives with whom we have difficulty relating. Your mother-in-law you always fight with. The sister who always manages to cut you off. A friend who drains your energy by talking about her problems all the time, and never asking you about yours. Obviously, how these people relate to you, and how you relate to them, isn’t working. You can’t expect people to change for you, but you can change how you relate to them, by adopting new methods of communicating that will result in greater harmony.
My stepmother was a very hard person for me to be around. Of course, she’d probably say the same thing about me. We fought so much for so many years, it was hurtful and damaging to both of us. However, I woke up one morning a few years ago feeling this horrible sense of remorse. I reflected on how hard she must have had it when she was a young bride. She was put into a family with two stepdaughters, each with our own set of growing pains. I tried to imagine how she must have felt all those years while I was at home, growing up, and I finally understood.
Now, I am extra careful with her. There’s too much history, pain and damage to erase, but when I see her now, I try my best to be nice. If she says something I don’t agree with or like, I just accept that she isn’t really trying to hurt me. And both our attitudes and reactions have changed for the better. But this is the result of understanding the other person and really trying to put myself in her place—far from easy.
Read Related: Anger Management: The Right Way to Express Yourself
Still, something as profound and simple as changing the way you relate and react to people who are antagonizing you can change the way they relate to you. People are used to getting a reaction from you by pushing your buttons. But if you refuse to bite the bait, they have to change their tactics. They may even start being pleasant to you!
Here are some tips to change how you relate to others and in doing so, change how others relate to you:
- Understand where the person is coming from. Knowing something about her background might help you see why she gets agitated by certain things. This will help you be more forgiving and less reactive, and also avoid touchy subjects.
- Understand your feelings. Try to figure out what this person arouses in you that makes you so angry. Maybe she makes you feel inferior. But if that’s the case, it’s not about her, it’s about how you feel about yourself and how react to what she says.
- Before you react, leave the room or better yet, just don’t respond. Give yourself time to react calmly. Be understanding. If someone is being ugly to you, he or she is likely harboring some deep-seated emotional pain or injury.
- If this person is a screamer, stay calm and speak softly. This might even make her angrier, but the conflict will end a lot sooner, without your blood pressure rising.
- If this person is always putting you down, tell her straight-up, as dispassionately as possible, how she makes you feel, and ask her to stop. Attacking her won’t serve any purpose and will only keep the cycle going.
- Avoid the hot-button topics. You know what they are, so steer clear of them.
- Laugh things off. Taking people and conversations too seriously is a waste. Weigh the situation and be objective. Making a joke relaxes things. Big smiles do, too.
- Be extra nice. When someone is being really difficult, be nice—extra nice. You’ll drive her crazy, but eventually, she’ll soften up and come around!