Tips for having a conversation with someone you can’t stand
It’s impossible to like everyone in the world, so it’s very likely that at some point you’re going to have a conversation with someone you can’t tolerate, can’t even paint a picture of, and who makes you angry at their very existence. But there are some techniques you can use to avoid losing control, your head and your style, and ending up looking like a bigoted madman who doesn’t know how to behave like a decent human being.
It’s going to happen to you, at some point in your life you’re going to see someone you dislike from the start. Their attitude, non-verbal language, their clothes and even their hairstyle are going to bother you and you’re going to decide from that first moment that you hate them and don’t want anything to do with that person, but, for your bad luck, that person is going to turn out to be your friend’s friend, his brother or even his BFF that you were going to meet for drinks or a movie. After talking to him, you’ll realize that it’s worse than you thought and, like it or not, you’ll have to keep talking to him several times, even if it’s just to avoid making your friend uncomfortable and making things very strange every time they’re all in the same place (and you can’t ask him to stop inviting that person you can’t stand with).
Avoiding eye contact is not going to save you, neither can you pretend that it doesn’t exist or that you can respond to everything with emojis (you’re not Facebook Messenger), you’re going to have to talk at some point and invent some excuse to be able to escape (without having to accept that you dislike someone) it’s only going to work a certain number of times, after that everyone is going to know that there is something wrong and that, for some strange reason, you are avoiding having a conversation with someone in particular.
In life you’re going to run into thousands of people who are going to get on your nerves, they’re going to test your patience and arouse your inner rage, but going around thundering your fingers like Thanos to make them disappear isn’t going to work for you, and you’re going to have a conversation with a lot of those people. Especially since they won’t all be strangers, some will be your office mates, your boss, friends of your friends or acquaintances that you can’t avoid.
Most of us can’t hide our emotions very well, especially when having a conversation with someone you can’t tolerate, thanks to our nature (and because our emotions are reflected in our faces and behavior), but all is not lost. Jay Heinrichs, author, speaker and expert in the art of persuasion, wrote a whole book with strategies (by Aristotle, Lincoln and even Homer Simpson) that can help you “argue” successfully and have a good conversation with anyone, even those you can’t stand.
The Heinrichs is part of Harvard’s must-read curriculum and is a New York Times bestseller, so you can say he’s an expert on these subjects, and the best part is that he has four concrete tips that will help you the next time you run into someone you can’t stand and you have to talk to them.
Set a goal
Heinrich says the biggest mistake we make when we start an argument is not having a plan. The first thing you should do when talking to someone you hate is ask yourself what you want to accomplish, like improving the relationship or learning something, and everything that comes out of your mouth should respond to that goal. Just remember that the goal of driving them crazy can backfire and make the problem bigger.
Consider the audience
Whenever you want to yell at him, consider who might be listening. Sometimes the way to win an argument is to win over the audience by being the best person. You’re not gonna accomplish anything if you look like the crazy guy in the story.
Focus on the details
Ask questions, get to the bottom of the problem and get to the root of the madness/intolerance/intensity of the person you are talking to, sometimes even they are not sure what they are saying and you can change their mind, or control them a little, if you can use their own words to make them see their mistake. Also, Heinrichs says that’s a good way to get them to get tired of you and stop talking to you.
It’s always good to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, that can help you understand why they behave the way they do (what they think and feel) and to feel a little less angry when they do or say something that bothers you.