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Humans are social animals. This observation was first made by Aristotle more than 2000 years ago but continues to be a central truth about our existence. Cooperation with each other is at the heart of our lives and our societies.
At a fundamental level, we rely on each other for basic survival. For example, we rely on farmers to produce our food, and doctors to protect our health. But beyond survival, our reliance on each other helps us thrive. Social connection is a basic human need.
Having strong bonds with other people has a number of positive effects. It bolsters both our physical and emotional health, provides us with comfort in challenging times, and enriches our lives. When we can get along well with others, we are more comfortable and committed; we feel like we belong.
Making friends and building strong relationships seems to come naturally to some people, but can be more difficult for others. But interpersonal skills can be learned, and consciously working to improve them can have tremendous benefits on your well-being. If you’d like to improve your skills in this area, here are some questions you might explore:
Is it possible to get along with everyone?
The short answer is mostly yes. Certain relationships can just be more inherently challenging than others. Perhaps you have different communication styles, have had conflict in the past, or just don’t see eye-to-eye. Perhaps you feel you have a fundamental difference in values. Any of these factors can make it more difficult to get along.
More difficult, but not impossible.
There may be times when you don’t get along with someone and have the flexibility to choose not to spend time with them. But there are also times we have to find ways to get along with family members, coworkers, neighbors, and other acquaintances because they are going to remain in our lives. In most cases, it is possible to improve these relationships and make them more positive.
Doing so will make your life easier. It might also reveal hidden value: a unique perspective, insight into sources of resistance, greater self-awareness and growth, and possibly a rewarding relationship.
Why is it important to get along with others?
The answer to this question lies in our understanding of how important relationships with others are to each of us. Because we are social animals, a significant part of our lives is based on interactions with others. This is true whether we are in school together, work on the same team, or simply live in the same neighborhood. Our ability to get along with others can help us succeed both personally and professionally.
There are individual differences in the number and types of relationships we seek out for our lives. Some prefer to surround ourselves with fewer people with whom we have deeper connections, while others seek to build a broad network of friends and acquaintances. Either way, it’s still important that we build these relationships and get along with others.
In our professional lives, having one or more friends at work has been shown to have tremendous benefits, to you and to your company. For instance, women with a best friend at work are more likely to have a positive experience during the day, including enjoying what they do and being recognized for success. They are more engaged at work, so they are willing to go above and beyond in their roles, and may take greater risks that lead to innovation. Not to mention, when you spend more of your waking hours at work than you do at home, it’s nice to have a strong connection with someone who understands you personally and professionally.
Why do I have a hard time getting along with others?
The answer to this question can vary for each relationship, or each person. For example, you may not get along with a family member who has a different sense of humor from your own. You may feel resentment against a colleague who passed off one of your ideas as their own. Or you may have a hard time getting along with other parents at your child’s school because you have a different parenting philosophy.
Getting along with others in these cases can feel like compromising yourself. It can help to remember why you need to get along with them in the first place. Maybe you need to get along to make it through Thanksgiving dinner without upsetting your grandmother. Maybe you need to work with a colleague to meet a client deadline. Maybe you need the participation of other parents to create a rich learning community for your children.
You don’t have to accept or even approve of all of the other person’s attitudes or behaviors. But sometimes we lose focus of what we have in common and forget the why of getting along in favor of all the why nots.
Look at each strained relationship individually to get to the root of why you might be having a hard time getting along with others.
- Look at your past. Take the time to reflect on relationships you’ve had in the past. This gives you an opportunity to learn from these relationships. What is your track record when it comes to getting along with others? Have you generally found most people easy to get along with, but occasionally meet people who you’d consider the exception to that rule? Or when you look across your life, do you see that there were a number of relationships that challenged you?
- Look for patterns. When you connect the dots between various relationships, trends can emerge. Identifying those trends can be enlightening. Are there certain types of relationships or characteristics of individuals that you find most challenging? What is it about those relationships that challenges you? What are the similarities among the most difficult relationships in your life, and what can you learn from connecting these dots?
- Look at yourself. As much as we want to look at others when we think about our relationships, it’s important to look at ourselves too. After all, you are the only common denominator across all of your relationships! Examining your own role in how you get along with others gives you an opportunity to identify your strengths and areas of opportunity when it comes to building relationships. When you think about people with whom you have gotten along, how did you show up in these relationships? When you think about people with whom you have not gotten along, how did you show up in these relationships? What can you learn from your own role in relationships with others? Are there things you do that tend to draw people close or push them away?
Understanding why you have a difficult time getting along with others can help you learn more about how to improve your relationships. At the same time, after considering the roots of the strain, be realistic. Not every relationship will be a friend—more positive and productive is the goal.
How can I make friends more easily and get along better with others?
All relationships require work, though it may not always feel like work. That could mean a date night with your spouse, calling a friend, or getting together with your family for the holidays. Professional relationships require work too, whether that means inviting a new colleague to lunch or chatting about your personal lives with colleagues before a meeting.
Here are some tips to improve your relationships and get along better with others in both your personal and your professional lives:
- Listen to others. The most important skill in communication is the ability to listen to others. Rather than doing all the talking, take the time to stop and hear what others have to say. Refrain from interrupting or talking over other people.
- Be polite and positive. When you are the one speaking, do it in a way that considers others’ feelings and leaves a positive impact. Think about what you want to say before you say it, and don’t be afraid to apologize if you say something unintended. If you’re responding to someone, say something positive if you agree and offer an encouraging word. Doing this early in your relationship sets a healthy precedent for future interactions.
- Be honest and sincere. Another critical communication skill is to make sure you speak with honesty and sincerity. You will build relationships with others when you tell them the truth and they can trust the things you’re saying. When we trust people, we know that “they say what they mean, and they mean what they say.”
- Allow yourself to be vulnerable. People want to know who you truly are: the good and the bad. When you present yourself as perfect, people will doubt whether they’re getting to know the real you. Displaying some vulnerability to others tells them that you are willing to open up to them and let them in. For example, share something you’re struggling with or a mistake you’ve made.
- Show interest in others. Showing interest signals that you care to know them. Ask (and really listen to what they say) about their interests, experiences, and the things that are important to them. Building familiarity leads to greater comfort and trust. Reference these details in future interactions. For example, if you know your friend’s daughter recently started a new school, ask how she’s adjusting. Or if you know a colleague recently had a performance review, ask how it went.
- Keep an open mind. Listen with respect for other people’s perspectives and experiences. Look for opportunities to listen to them, even if you disagree with what they are saying. Be open to changing your mind or understanding things in a different way. For instance, if your boss decides to move forward with another colleague’s project, rather than yours, take the time to learn more about that project. You may also want to ask for and receive feedback on your own project. A different perspective provides you with the opportunity to grow and learn.
- Strive to understand. Tune in to what is important to other people and what they value. Ask questions that help you understand them more deeply. If you’re not sure why they said something or acted a particular way, ask them about it. For instance, if you have a colleague that leaves at 4:55 pm, when others may be staying late to finish a project, try to understand why. They may have a child that needs to be picked up from daycare or a parent that needs help to prepare dinner.
- Seek common ground. Look for the interests or experiences that you share. This should come naturally as you show interest in, and listen to, others. You may find you listen to the same kind of music, both enjoy volunteering, or have similar professional goals. Use those common interests as the foundation of your relationship, and you are bound to find more over time.
- Repair small issues. Issues can arise in any relationship. Rather than allowing them to build, address issues while they’re small. This could mean apologizing or spending time talking about how you’ll both try harder in the future.
- Follow the Platinum Rule. As children, a lot of us learn the Golden Rule: treat others as you would want to be treated. But a higher standard to which we can hold ourselves is the Platinum Rule: treating others as they would want to be treated. When we get to know what’s important to other people and then treat them accordingly, we’re letting them know how much they mean to us and how important the relationship is.
BE THE FIRST TO KNOW
Stay up to date with new resources and insights.
Thank you for your interest in BetterUp.
Final thoughts on getting along with others
We know that our relationships with others are important, but that doesn’t always make them easy to build or maintain. Exploring ways to get along with others can help facilitate these relationships and make them healthier and more positive. Making friends and getting along with others enriches our lives and enables us to thrive.
BetterUp Fellow Coach and PhD in Industrial/Organizational Psychology