How to handle tough personalities

Photo by  CloudVisual  on  Unsplash

Photo by CloudVisual on Unsplash


We’ve gotten a lot of requests for this one.

They often sound something like: “I’m a good communicator, but it’s just that my coworker/ roommate/ mom/ boyfriend’s second cousin is awful at communication.”

But no matter how horrible of a communicator they are, you can use this tool to work within their limited communication skills and get your point across:

Interact with them as if they were someone you really like.

It’s so simple, but the shift in perspective can make a huge difference. Say that Linda from HR didn’t clean the microwave after her clam chowder exploded for the fifth time this week. You might be tempted to write an e-mail that comes across as passive-aggressive or even just aggressive. This is often where your typical “attempting to be a good communicator office-speak” comes in (think: “Just a gentle reminder to…” and “Let’s all be careful to…”)

But if you write that e-mail imagining it were someone you like, (for example, pretending that it’s another coworker that you get along with), it’s probably going to come across as way more compassionate and genuine, and Linda is likely to respond in kind. You probably wouldn’t tell the coworker you get along with: “Just a gentle reminder to…” You’d probably instead take a moment to try to understand how they’re feeling or what might have led them to take the actions they did.

So, you might dredge up some compassion for Linda by thinking of her as if she were friendly Cathy from marketing, and you may end up writing Linda an e-mail that’s something like, “Hey, it looks like some clam chowder ended up on the microwave. I know you’ve been slammed with work lately-- want a hand cleaning it up?” Or, “Hey, I noticed that soup has been sticking to the microwave a few times this week. Since you just started last Tuesday, you probably haven’t yet been briefed on how our microwave is so powerful that we suspect it’s how the Hulk got his superpowers. Heads up that you can probably get away with less time than you’d use for microwaves intended for mere mortals, and we usually put plates on top of any bowls that have liquids in them because the microwave is so unpredictable.”

This trick seems to be especially helpful for addressing problematic dynamics that have been calcified over time, as might happen with people who interact very regularly over a long period of time (think: coworkers, roommates, romantic partners, etc.), but it can be helpful for interacting with anyone who pushes your buttons.

It’s normal for people to get used to treating each other in specific ways over time. When those patterns stop working for you, taking on a new perspective can be a helpful first step to move your relationship in a different direction. Give it a try and let us know how it goes!