Dealing with people who are different to you

It is possible to stay true to being ourselves, but with awareness and some adjustment, we can work better with others, even with those who are very different to us. Every individual who we find challenging gives us an opportunity - an opportunity to learn something important about relationships. As is the case with so many things, those people we find the most challenging also give us the greatest learning.

Perhaps you are a caring person, but this other person is more concerned about getting things done. Perhaps you are creative and don't mind trying new things where the other person is very cautious and reluctant to embrace change. There is no right and wrong here, just difference. And it is the way we deal with difference that makes the difference. Here are some ideas on what helps.

  1. Understand how other people (and yourself) work. If the other person likes their opinions acted upon and values challenge, then we will simply be frustrating that person if we never act on any of their ideas or fail to give them challenge. Some are motivated by challenge, whereas others are motivated by relationships. Some need to be persuaded by logical analysis of the options before them. Others are motivated more by being given a lot of freedom and choice.

    You can use personality profiles if you like, but simply noticing others' personality traits, what they value, how they make decisions, and take in information, will give you some clues as to how they work and what they might need from you. If you can take some time in understanding how you can best work with others, they will be more open to understanding how they can best work with you.

  2. Respect and value difference. If we label peoples viewpoint or way of working as wrong, our effort is put instead into trying to change them, which often produces tension and resistance. I love to see Team Meetings where people respectfully raise contrary viewpoints and the Team Leader says something like, "Isn't this good that we have different viewpoints here." Energy is put more into understanding different viewpoints and finding an agreed way forward rather than denigrating someone's perspective.

    Once you have the right mindset that ‘we are different and that is ok; then everything else tends to fall into place. We need all kinds of people in teams. This enables teams to be comprised of people with complementary strengths who also bring new perspectives and solutions.

  3. Adjust yourself for individuals. Some people might think, ‘Why should I have to change?' But failing to do so limits the development of your people management skills and increases the likelihood of tensions in your relationships. Although my wife, Christy, and I have much in common, there are a few things in which we are different. One of these is the way we make decisions. I am very good at making speedy decisions. Whilst these are not always good decisions, I can at least make them. Whereas Christy often needs days and weeks (sometimes months) before she can gain certainty. I learned the hard way that I am better to give Christy my opinion and also time to think and talk it over, rather than pressure her into a decision.

    We need to adjust ourselves to fit in with others, to speak their language, and see things through their eyes. When we do so, we not only enhance the relationship, but often they want to return the favour and make the effort for you.

  4. Accept difference or search for a compromise. Christy once said to me that she thought that past Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, is a very attractive man. Whilst this caused me to question my belief in my wife's good taste, ultimately, I could accept that we had a different opinion on this. There are some things you can agree to disagree with others about. But other times, effort needs to be put into finding a compromise if one is possible.

    Whilst Christy and I might agree to disagree on Mr Rudd, we do need to be on the same page with how we handle our sons' misbehavior. This is where compromise comes in. Literal Types, like me, might need some help from the Creative Types in realizing that there is more than just a yes and no option. Although compromise is not always possible, relationships are preserved when one is sought.

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