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Communicating with people you don’t like

Posted by Jennifer Spencer  August 28, 2012 08:30 AM

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I just bought a new car. My salesman was pleasant, I was happy with the deal I negotiated, and the new car smell still has me a little giddy; in fact there was only one problem, the dealership’s sales manager. Within two minutes of sitting down with him I instantly disliked him. I consider myself a ‘people’ person so this doesn’t happen to me very often. I can’t exactly put my finger on what it was though smug and condescending are the words that come to mind. To be fair, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t his favorite customer either. The incident has been on my mind and I recognize that it is inevitable we all will meet people that we just don’t click with, but there are things we can do to avoid a communications failure:

Don’t mimic their behavior
One of the things that annoyed me about the experience is I came down to his level. I was short and probably a bit condescending back. This of course led me to spend the next 48 hours feeling guilty. Remember you have to live with your own behavior; theirs will certainly become a distant memory. Communicate with them the way you would like them to communicate with you. Not only does this prevent a guilty conscious it might just inspire them to change their own communication style.

Be open to a change
One of my good friends always jokes I had “bad blink” the day he met me. Apparently he took an instant dislike. He thinks it was the dress I was wearing; I think it might have been the babbling to fill in a bit of awkward silence. We’ve agreed to disagree over the source of this dislike but both our opinions changed over the next few weeks. It’s fine to not like somebody; you don’t even have to have a specific reason but be open to that changing and always communicate with them in a way that just might facilitate that change.

It’s not personal
My mother does not like the word hate. She strongly prefers me to use “dislike” but with all due respect, she’s not right. Lots of people have perfectly legitimate reasons to feel this most negative of personal emotions. That said, by definition there is no way someone you barely know can hate you; they just don’t have enough of a personal connection. So, if you get caught in a trap of “this person hates me” tell the little voice in your head to “shut up” (coincidentally my mother’s other two least favorite words) and remember it’s not about the “real” you.

Skip the jokes/irony/anecdotes
These are the trickiest forms of communication and the most likely to be misinterpreted. If you aren’t clicking with someone chances are you have different values, cultures, and senses of humor. It’s unlikely that hilarious story about the company Christmas party or your favorite golf joke are going to work and there is a lot of potential for making things worse.

Maintain an even tone and neutral body language
I’m quite possibly the worst poker player in the world. Everything I am thinking and feeling is always written right across my face, so I always have to be careful when I’m dealing with people I have strong opinions about. It’s very important to remember it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. When you’re annoyed or angry, your body language will show it, even if your record at the poker table is better than mine. Bottom line: always make an effort not to raise your voice or cross your arms. These actions are giveaways you aren't happy.

Practice active listening
If you’ve already made a decision you don’t like this person, don’t replay that negativity in your head. Concentrate on the substance of what he or she is saying and engage in the topic or task rather than the messenger. By focusing on the other person you may find more direct ways to share information which in turn means you can get away from them sooner.

Watch the clock
One of the things that annoyed me the most about the sales manager, he made me wait and wait and wait with no explanation. Time is the one thing everyone has a finite amount of which is why we all want it valued and respected. Wasting someone’s time won’t make them value you more or think you’re smarter; it will simply annoy them.

Remember what you have control over
Yourself and your own behavior: that’s it. I just scheduled my first oil change: perfect opportunity to practice what I preach.

Kellyanne Dignan designs and leads the media, public speaking and presentation training programs for Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications clients. Prior to joining Rasky Baerlein, Dignan worked in broadcast and digital communications producing content for major media outlets. She can be reached at or on twitter @kellyannedignan

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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