Our guest post today is by Mary Jane Mapes, author of three books, the most recent of which is You CAN Teach a Pig to Sing – Create Great Relationships … with Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere. You can learn more about Mary Jane below this article.
We all encounter people who are hard to like and difficult to communicate with. The sooner we discover a way to connect with these individuals, the sooner everyone concerned benefits. I learned this years ago while serving on a board with a guy I’ll call Milton.
My dislike for Milton was relentless. I couldn’t find a single redeeming quality in him. Everything about him offended. Even his breath offended. He never met a clove of garlic he didn’t like.
Seven years of serving on the same board-of- directors, putting up with his fanatical attention to detail, his opposition to anything I suggested, and his argumentative disposition tested my character to the breaking point. Finally, the time came when something had to change.
It was my year to be president of the organization, and I needed Milton’s support to accomplish my goals. I knew if I waited for Milton to make the first move, I’d only be more and more frustrated when it didn’t happen. I had to be the catalyst. You’ve heard of taking the bull by the horns? Well, I had to take the pig by the tail.
My mission was to find in Milton those things worthy of appreciation. It took all the imagination I could muster.
I began by challenging myself to assume the best. This was not easy. When tempted to question his motives, I’d consciously shift my thinking to assume something more positive and explore his ideas by asking open-ended questions and listening to him. “What prompts you to say that, Milton? I’d like a better understanding of your thinking on the matter.” Grudgingly, I was surprised to find that once I understood his rationale, it was easier to value his point of view.
Whenever he’d begin to dwell on the negative, I’d resist the temptation to tune him out, and instead, disciplined myself to respond with, “Milton, that doesn’t sound like you; you usually find the best in a situation.” His conversation would shift to more positive aspects of whatever was under discussion.
I learned not only to assume, but to acknowledge Milton’s positive motives. For example, during a meeting at which he strongly opposed an idea I favored, my response was, “Milton, I know that your heart is in doing what’s best for this organization. I’m wondering if you’d chair a committee to explore both sides of this issue and then come back and present a case for each?” He ran with the idea, and as a result, was able to fairly assess both sides of the issue.
If he criticized my idea, rather than react, I learned to say, “Thanks for your input, Milton. Tell me more.” Once I offered no defense, no justification, the matter would be dropped almost immediately. Our relationship was maintained, and both of us could walk away with our heads high.
Over the years, our relationship moved from darkness into light. In place of disgust, there was trust. Desire to do battle was replaced with genuine appreciation for one another. I fully understood this when, in response to an email from me thanking him for the hard work he had done on behalf of our council, he wrote back a simple acknowledgment: I love you, too, Mary Jane.
Milton retired a couple of years ago. I miss him.
© 2011. Mary Jane Mapes. All rights reserved.
Mary Jane Mapes, CSP, is an award-winning professional speaker, executive coach, and author of three books, the newest being, Her mission is to help leaders connect, communicate, and cultivate great relationships – the bedrock of true leadership and business success. She can be reached at 800-851-2270 or through one of her two websites: www.maryjanemapes.com; www.alignedleaderinstitute.com