We all have our gifts, and I and everyone in my family have always had a natural knack for getting along with folks who many people find difficult to get along with. Every work environment has a person who is difficult to work with. It’s interesting that when you arrive at a new job, folks usually give you fair warning about who that person is, but even if they don’t, it will become very apparent very quickly.
But I’ve always found a way to work well with my coworkers, and I’ve made very good friends with many of these sorts of people over the years. Recently, I began reflecting on how I do this, and I’ve come to a conclusion: it comes down to respect.
A number of years ago, a book was published which became wildly popular: The Five Languages of Love by Gary D. Chapman.
I realized that Respect could fit a similar formula. Just like Love, most of us need to feel respected, and we all have particular ways by which we feel respected. What I’ve found is that people who feel frustrated at work and who may be difficult to work with, feel that they are not getting the respect they deserve.
We’ve all encountered a person who is territorial, defensive, constantly complaining about they way they are treated, or constantly trying to prove that they deserve respect. You try to be respectful, but it just doesn’t seem to help. My assertion is that you have not taken the time to understand that person’s language of respect.
In one particular case, a person’s language is that they wish their competence to be acknowledged. They feel that people, for whatever reason, have not given them credit for being competent at their job. If the person is truly incompetent, then perhaps you’ll have to take another approach in order to form an effective working relationship with them. But if they truly are competent, then say so! Look for opportunities to praise their excellent work.
Once a person knows that you respect them, then much of their prickly behavior may subside with you. And if it doesn’t, because the relationship is built on respect, then a word or two about the behavior can be given without a meltdown.
Other “languages” which come to mind are:
- Territory. Acknowledge the parameters of someone’s assigned duties.
- Opinions being valued and heard. Some people need to be sincerely listened to and acknowledged that their opinions are valued.
- Humor being appreciated. It’s remarkable the effect of giving people a good laugh when they use humor. Everybody wants to feel that they have a good sense of humor. Never let someone’s attempt at humor go unacknowledged.
- Appreciation for service. Some folks are particularly in need of being appreciated. Most of us do not enjoy being taken for granted. Say thank you and say how much you appreciate their service.
These languages can apply to nearly everyone, not just difficult to get along with folks. Getting along with people you work with or members of your family and social groups is an important life skill. You may take the attitude that “people are going to like me or they aren’t. it’s not my problem.” And there’s some truth to that. I’m not saying that you should change who you are in order to get along with them. Or suck up to people in an ingenuous way. I’m saying that respect is a cornerstone of relationships and everybody has a way by which they feel respected.
Then, of course, there are those few people who do not need to feel respected at all in order to manage. People who are exceptionally self-respecting to the point that they can be happy and amiable regardless of how they are treated. I know people like this, but they are a rare breed. But they deserve respect nonetheless!
I’ve yet to meet a person who will not come around eventually. It may take weeks, months, or years, but in the end, respect will win!
POST SCRIPT: In looking for an image to head this post, I found a lot of pictures which assert that Respect is something earned, not something given. Perhaps this is the natural order, but so is violence and territorialism and poverty. In a loving society (a Christian society, if you wish), respect is acknowledged as a basic human need just as love. I don’t have to agree with you in order for you to earn my respect. Do we really have the God given right to judge who deserves our respect? When we respect someone whom we disagree with or someone who’s behavior is abhorrent to us, we open a door by which understanding and perhaps even change can occur. I believe that makes the world a better place.