We worked on the same project for a few years. We went to the same meetings, we interacted professionally. She is brilliant – I always respected that. I out-ranked her in the project pecking order, and she never challenged that. I don’t remember any blow up, or any particularly heated words or exchanges. I just remember that we always saw things differently.
And that for some reason, we didn’t get along.
I was reminded of that antipathy not too long ago, when we both happened to attend the same work-related meeting. As I was leaving the meeting with another colleague, she walked toward us. Our eyes met. I figured I had to say something.
“Hi, Karen,” I said.
I won’t lie. It was the coldest, most impersonal “hi” I’ve ever said in my life. But she one-upped me with her response: she looked away and said nothing as she hurried by.
“Wow,” my colleague, Scott, said as we walked across the lobby and out the door. “What was THAT about?”
I walked a few steps in silence, then replied: “I honestly don’t know.”
It happens, I guess. With so many different people in the world – some of us, admittedly, VERY different – we’re bound to run into one now and then with whom we don’t get along. But what are we supposed to do about it when we do?
I was recently bound, gagged and forced at knife-point to attend one of those interpersonal, interactive, “who moved my meatloaf?” training seminars (whatever gave you the impression that I was reluctant to attend?), during which this very subject came up. The instructor/trainer/guru identified different character types, and it was pretty easy to see both my type (“amiable”) and Karen’s type (“driver”) in the profiles he presented. Then he talked about how difficult it is for my type and Karen’s type to get along.
“No wonder,” I thought to myself. “It’s almost unavoidable. Our types are oil and vinegar. We just don’t mix.”
I liked that thought. It was liberating to think that it wasn’t my fault, nor was it her fault. It was fait accompli – our inability to get along was determined long before either one of us had a chance to act upon it. So there was no point in worrying about it, because there was nothing we could do about it. It was iron clad. Set in stone. Signed, sealed and peevishly delivered.
The seminar guru, however, had other ideas. He had the audacity to suggest that there was no reason that people from any of the various character types he presented to us couldn’t get along with each other. In fact, he indicated that often people from vastly disparate types actually get along better BECAUSE of their differences. I immediately thought of Bethany, another colleague who is also a “driver” type – and with whom I get along splendidly.
“The reason people can’t get along,” he continued, “is because somebody chooses to be a knucklehead.”
So there it was, in plain and simple words. Karen and I don’t get along because one or both of us chooses to be knuckle headed about it. As I look back on it, I can see knuckle headed behavior on my part – nothing outrageous, but certainly annoying – that probably contributed to the ill will. My guess is, she can too. Rather than try to fix it, we’ve both allowed it to simmer and fester until we’ve reached the point of aloof greetings and discourteous silence.
Which, when you stop and think about it, is pretty knuckle headed in and of itself.
So I’m going to choose not to be a knucklehead – especially in other relationships that are far more significant in my life. I’m not going to assume that a relationship can’t be fixed. I’m going to find ways to improve, adjust and do better. I’m not going to buy into “that’s just the way we are” because . . . well, iron clad seals can be broken. Stone settings can be chipped away. And even oil and vinegar combine for a delicious salad dressing – if you shake them up enough.
Even a knucklehead knows that.