“I don’t know how to get along with people. When I try to talk to others, the conversation never goes anywhere. I can’t turn superficial interactions into meaningful connections. I’d like to know how to be better with people, but I have no idea where to start.”
Connection with others is essential, but what do we do when we don’t get along with people? It can be hard to know how to get along well with others without feeling like we’re wearing a mask or losing our sense of identity.
When you show people that you like them and are willing to listen, they will be more inclined to like you in return. Take a genuine interest in others and try to see the best in everyone.
You can learn to get along with most people, at least on a superficial level. Sadly, some people will be defensive, disagreeable, or take a dislike to you despite your best efforts.
You may have problems getting along with others if you are defensive, easily offended, or argumentative. Another reason could be that you’re trying to relate to people on a practical or logical level when they’re looking for empathy or vice versa.
Others may struggle to be around you if they feel that you are draining their energy. Being around someone defensive, angry, or who shares about their problems without listening in return can be very challenging.
How can you deal with this if you’re depressed or going through a tough time? Sometimes we have to say something like, “I’m going through a tough time,” and let that be enough. In time, we will learn when it’s appropriate to share. Make sure to have several avenues for support (like support groups, therapy, journaling, exercise, and several people in your life you can talk to) so you don’t end up dumping too much on to one person.
Mental illness and Aspergers can make it hard to get along well with others. Just talking to someone can be a challenge if you have social anxiety, depression, or another mental illness. Aspergers can also make it difficult to pick up on social cues or imagine what other people are going through or thinking.
There’s also a high comorbidity rate with Aspergers, which means that people with Aspergers are more likely to have another kind of psychiatric disorder like depression.
If you have Aspergers, read our dedicated article about Aspergers and making friends. If you’re struggling with social anxiety, read our article on what to do if your social anxiety is getting worse.
We like people who like and respect us. For example, when a coworker frequently takes the last piece of cake without checking that others have eaten or makes us wait when we set a time to meet, we may feel that they are selfish and don’t care about getting along with others.
Being on time, sharing your snacks, and giving compliments can go a long way in getting people to like you. Practice generosity without expecting anything in return. Note that this doesn’t mean being taken advantage of or giving people presents so that they will like you. Being generous doesn’t have to cost anything at all. It can be as simple as opening the door for someone, telling them that you like their shirt, or that they did a good job.
Agreeability is one of the “Big Five” personality traits that are present from birth. Someone high in agreeableness is generally polite, cooperative, kind, and friendly. Someone low in agreeableness may be more selfish and less altruistic.
However, our agreeableness isn’t set in stone. It changes throughout one’s life; for example, teenagers are generally less agreeable than adults. We are less agreeable when we are tired, hungry, or stressed. And most importantly, we can learn to become more agreeable. Reading fiction books, for example, can help improve empathy and Theory of Mind (the ability to understand that others have beliefs and feelings that are different than our own).
Check out our guide on how to be more agreeable.
“Not getting along with people” is a broad phrase that can describe many different underlying issues.
For example, someone who feels they don’t get along with others might:
- Not know how to make small talk or conversation with others
- Come across as passive-aggressive
- Not understand how to use humor appropriately and offends others as a result
- Look down on people and act in an arrogant or superior way
Once you’ve identified your specific issue, you can work on it. For example, if you tend to look down on others, you may need to work on becoming more accepting. Or, if your jokes offend people, you may need to learn how and when to use wit.
Journaling can help you reflect on the social interactions you’ve had. Ask yourself some questions:
- When did you notice that an interaction wasn’t going as well as you hoped?
- What kind of behaviors bother you about other people, and how do you react to them?
- What type of thoughts are going through your mind in those moments? Are you thinking, “I’m such an idiot,” or perhaps, “These people are so shallow, I have nothing in common with them”?
For example, you may find you get overwhelmed when you’re surrounded by a lot of noise. You can ask people to meet one-on-one in quiet locations or not to place loud music around you.
The better you understand your specific challenges, the better you’ll be at overcoming them. It may help to read social skills books for adults to brush up on social interaction basics.
There is a saying that goes, “Would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?”
Sometimes when we’re talking to someone, we catch them saying something that isn’t exactly accurate. We then have a choice: we can correct them or let them continue their story.
Other times, we may be trying to start a discussion or debate. We want to provide the other side of what our conversation partner is saying. But they might find our playing “devil’s advocate” inappropriate.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should betray your ideals or pretend to be someone else to get someone to like you. It’s just about learning the right time and place to share your views.
For example, philosophical discussions may be great when you’re with a group of close friends but perhaps not fitting in the workplace.
Mirroring is when we unconsciously mimic the movements and behaviors of others around us. Studies show that this type of mimicry increases the chances people will like each other when they interact.
For example, the person you’re with may be speaking more slowly than you. Fast-paced speech and jumping from topic to topic may make them feel overwhelmed. Speaking at a similar pace can make them feel more comfortable.
Another good rule: when someone smiles at you, smile back.
If you struggle with body language, read our article on how to look more approachable and friendly.
We would never recommend pretending to be someone else to get someone to like you. But you can naturally increase your positivity, which makes you more pleasant to be around.
A straightforward way to train yourself to be more positive is by writing down three good things that happened each day. Even if you had a terrible day, write down something positive that you did or that happened. It may be that lunch was delicious, the weather was good, or that you did a chore you’ve been struggling with recently. If you do this consistently, you will notice more positive things to remember to write down later.
Learn to take a moment before you react automatically. When someone says something that upsets you, try taking a deep breath for the count of 4, hold it for the count of 4, and then breathe out for the count of 4.
While you breathe, remind yourself that others’ reactions are often not about you. We tend to take things personally, but this can lead us into trouble. Giving yourself some time before responding can help you decide how you want to act.
Speaking negatively about people behind their back can make people wonder if you’re doing the same to them. If another person’s name comes up, try to refrain from saying negative about them.
What should you do if someone is gossiping about others to you? Let’s say that you’re talking to a classmate who is talking negatively about another classmate. For example, “I was doing a group project with Maria, and she did nothing. We were at her house, and her room was a complete mess. She’s such a disgusting slob.”
In this situation, try to focus on the feelings of the person who is speaking. You can say, “it’s so frustrating when the work we do feels so unbalanced. I can relate to that.”
Sometimes, you will come across people who are intent on putting you or others down. Try to cut down interactions with them as much as possible. You will free up your time to find kinder people to have in your life.
A study on the interactions of more than 1,500 pairs found that similarity made them more likely to interact again.
When you find yourself talking to someone, make it a game to see what you have in common. Perhaps you’re studying completely different things in college but like watching the same TV show to unwind. What values do you share? Perhaps you had the same type of upbringing? Focusing on commonalities makes it easier to bond.
Sometimes when we talk to people, we can get caught up trying to think of what we will say next. The problem is we might miss some of what our conversation partner is saying. We become less attuned to their body language because we are so in our heads.
The next time you talk to someone, practice active listening. Focus on what they are saying. You can show that you’re listening by giving positive signals like nodding or saying “Yeah” as they are speaking. Make sure that they are finished talking before you reply.
To stand out as a great listener, follow up on things they’ve shared with you before. For example:
Them: Hey, how are you doing?
You: I’m pretty good. I just got out of class. How did your test go? You mentioned you were pretty nervous about it.
Them: I think it went well. I was worried I wouldn’t have time to study, but I got someone to cover my shift. I think it went well.
You: That’s great. When are you getting your results back?
A therapist, counselor, or coach can help you recognize your specific challenges in getting along well with others. They can help you learn new tools and come up with solutions to problems you may be having.
To find a good therapist, ask people you know for recommendations, or try using an online directory like the one on Psychology Today. In your screening call, let the therapist know which issues you’d like to work on. Pay attention to how you feel about the therapist. Sometimes it can take a while to find an available therapist we connect with.