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EBS41: How To Work With People You Don’t Like

Eric Butterworth Speaks: Essays on Abundant Living #41

Delivered by Eric Butterworth on August 9, 1975

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A well-known industrialist was once asked what he believed to be the most important pre-requisite leading to success in life and business. The man quickly summed up four all-important points:

  1. He must be able to adjust to and work with other people;
  2. He must have common, ordinary intelligence;
  3. He must have the ability to work hard and apply himself;
  4. He must have a technical skill.

The order of this executive’s response may be somewhat surprising, but his thesis is supported in a study done at Harvard University about the need for getting along with people. Four thousand discharged employees were interviewed. It was found that only 34.2% of them were let go for lack of training. The other 65.8% were dismissed because they could not get along with fellow workers. So today I would like to discuss how to work with people you don’t like.

If you’re honest, you’ll admit that you work with many people you don’t especially like, and this is perfectly normal and natural. It is a part of life that we are more attracted to some persons than others. This is how we choose a spouse. But in the workshop of the world, few workers are able to choose who they are going to work with. We’re assigned to jobs because of skills and not because of temper-ment. It is therefore possible to spend almost half of your waking hours working closely with someone you find unattractive, uninteresting, and downright difficult. So what can you do about it?

We could start with the person you don’t like because of his infantile, irrational ways. But there is no way to get rid of him, and you can’t change him overnight, so the logical place to start is with you! We can’t help you by agreeing that he is a holy terror, thus simply giving you the poison of sympathy and self-pity. But we might be able to help you to take a good look at yourself in the mirror of life. As Paul says, “We all with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory.”

Let’s analyze why things get under your skin. Someone has said, “You can always measure the size of the man by the size of the things that make him mad.” All too many of us wear our feelings on our sleeves and go through life with chips on our shoulders. Usually our problem is that we feel insecure and require the constant friendliness of others to make us feel secure and wanted. When someone is nice to us, we like him. But if he simply acts as most do when preoccupied with their own problems, we assume we’re being rejected and thus we don’t like him.

Getting along with others boils down to self-control, self-reverence, self-respect, and, in short, getting along with yourself. You must determine whether you are going to be poised and self-controlled, or whether you are going to give every person and every experience the power to disturb you. Our irritation with people is often a matter of pinning the blame on them for unfortunate situations that are really no-one’s fault. We fall into these traps too easily: “That telephone operator is just being mean”, or the man ahead of you in the bank line is a “thoughtless person” because he happens to have a lot of business to transact while you are waiting behind him; or, the man who gets the promotion ahead of you is obviously guilty of “undercutting behind your back.” These are the times when we need most to control ourselves and remember the great statement by Jimmy Durante: “Dem is de situation dat prevails.” I realize that it isn’t easy to adjust to these challenges, but within you is the unborn possibility of giving birth to limitless poise and equanimity.

Let’s think a little about the person you don’t like. You may say, “I’ve thought about him enough already!” But that isn’t quite true. You have not really thought about him, you have thought about your erroneous concepts of him. You see, one of our great problems in human relationships is that we are too self-centered. People exist around us only to the extent that their lives touch ours, and only in the attitudes we form about them. We don’t have an objective interest in people as people. Behind every person there are frustrations, challenges, disappointments and heartaches.

An individual with whom I talked was beside himself with conflict at work. He had to work with a man who was constantly irritable and curt. One day he made the shocking discovery that the man was a widower who had full care of four children—he was playing both mother and father. He was thus always tired, irritable and preoccupied. He was ashamed that he had to do a woman’s work, and this made him defensive and fearful that people would reject him. The associate realized how wrong he had been. When he began to see behind the window of this other life, he found understanding and ultimate friendship. He and his wife adopted this family and in little ways helped them to meet their crises.

Quite often we find ourselves resisting people because we have never simply accepted them for what they are. We accept the first impression, or the shallow surface view, and form a prejudiced, unfair picture. Sometimes we reject them right out, other times we try to change them over to fit our concept of who they should be. People can change, and we can be an influence to help people change for the better, but only if we first accept them for what they are and then love and understand them. The true friend is he who helps you to be what you can be.

All this is not easy, but it can be done through love. We all have a far greater capacity to love than we use. Let love express through you and you will find amazing things begin to happen in your life. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor... and love your enemy.” Love, not because the other person may be especially deserving of your love, but because you are never fully expressing yourself without it.

You may think, “But that is ridiculous; I can’t love him!” or, “I can’t just start loving someone because I happen to work with him.” Perhaps you can’t love him in the sense that you will suddenly become fond of him. But what you really can do and must do is seek to understand him. The dynamic power of love automatically creates a bridge, or point of contact, that grows out of this consciousness of understanding. It has been said, “If I knew you and you knew me we would love one another.”

It is love that will enable you to humble yourself and make you willing to take the initiative in human relationships. When you love and understand people, it works wonders. Everybody craves recognition. Love and praise enables you to fill this need.

Often the simplest way of working with someone you don’t like is to find some way in which you can let him do something for you. Two things will happen: he will become more friendly toward you and you will change your thoughts about him.

So, in this matter of working with people you don’t like, there is an opportunity to develop control of yourself, to remove the chips from your shoulder. Accept people as people. Resolve to deal with them as you find them, and try not to make them over. Try to be objective in relationships with others. Remember, behind every person there is a story. Try to find the story with the objectivity and persistence of a news reporter. Try to understand the person and in time you will find that you can meet him through love. We all have the capacity to love. Love is the answer, and loving begins with self-control, understanding, and listening.

© 1975, by Eric Butterworth

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