First and foremost, don’t try to fake it. Trying to act like you appreciate someone when you actually don’t typically doesn’t go well, and perceived inauthenticity will undermine any trust that may exist in the relationship.
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Secondly, don’t try to push through it and “make yourself” appreciate a colleague. (And you don’t have to feel guilty about it, either!) What we have learned over time is that to appreciate someone is both a heart issue and behavior. And, like any feeling we may experience, you can’t force yourself to appreciate someone. However, similar to our other feeling responses, there are ways to make it more likely that we will eventually have a heartfelt appreciation for someone.
The key is valuing that person in some way
The source of appreciation is when we value something about another person: who they are, what they are able to do, what they know, their character qualities. When you don’t or can’t appreciate someone, the solution involves looking and exploring what about them you might value.
You might value the fact that they know how to search for information well on the Internet. Or you may admire the experience and knowledge they have about your industry and competitors. Anything that makes them a better employee is a possibility – some specific skill or unique experience they have.
But, especially with difficult-to-appreciate employees, the characteristic you discover may not be related to work. You may find it helpful that Sarah is really good at finding deals through Craigslist or using Groupon. From getting to know one of your coworkers, you may be amazed at the vast amount on knowledge he has about British rock groups in the ‘90s, or about growing vegetables organically, or whatever the topic may be.
Similarly, you may be impressed with how committed your administrative assistant is to her children and what an amazing mother she is. Or that your IT guy trains for triathlons. You may enjoy and value the cheerful demeanor one of your team members has, and how their laugh brings a smile to your face (I personally prefer to work with cheerful people rather than irritable colleagues!). Look for something positive in their life, whether it is related to work or not, and bring attention to that characteristic or behavior.
The point is: when you are having a hard time finding something to appreciate about another team member, there are two valuable steps that will be helpful:
1) Find out more about what they do (often we think we know what a colleague does, but really don’t)
2) Take some time to get to know them better personally (their past and where they came from, where they have lived, their current life circumstances, hobbies and interests). Frequently, when we find out more about an individual, we discover some “touch stones” between their lives and ours.
Final Thoughts on Dealing with Difficult Colleagues
You may experience an unexpected benefit by trying to find ways to communicate appreciation to difficult colleagues – you may actually begin to truly feel appreciation for them! Research (and many people’s personal experience) has demonstrated that feelings about a person or situation can actually change as a result of behaving and thinking differently. (There is a subtle difference between acting “as if” you value someone with the purpose of developing appreciation in the process, and just trying to fake it, with no real interest in them as a person.)
Finally, don’t forget that you – your actions, reactions, and attitudes – have a major influence on the level of vitality and health of your environment!