How to talk to people you don't get along with, according to someone who does it all the time

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagicKanye West jumps onstage as Taylor Swift accepts her award for the Best Female Video award during the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
  • INSIDER spoke to Roger Strecker, a certified behaviorist, about how to talk to people you don’t get along with.
  • Friendly body language and pleasantries help build a positive rapport.
  • It’s usually best to avoid disparaging someone even if you know they’re wrong.

Whether it’s an inconsiderate roommate, an aggravating colleague, or a friend of a friend who always crashes plans, talking to people you don’t get along with is part of life. But when you have no choice but to do so, there are ways to make the experience less painful.

Roger Strecker is a behavioural analysis interrogator with 32 years of experience in law enforcement. He’s currently serving as the CEO of Ternion Risk Mitigation Group, which gives company trainings on anything from sexual harrassment to crisis management. Strecker’s approach to talking to the many people he encounters on the job can also be applied to the all-too-common scenario of dealing with people you’d rather avoid.

When faced with these uncomfortable moments, here are four ways to keep things cordial.

Read more: 5 body language behaviours from a retired FBI agent to help improve your confidence

Avoid negative body language and facial expressions

Small courtesies like smiling and saying “good morning” might not make you best friends with someone, but they can help build a positive rapport and diffuse some existing tension.

“The second you meet another person, people are assessing and analysing you – how are you dressed, your posture, your eye contact,” Strecker told INSIDER. “All of these assessments are being processed very quickly, usually in a matter of seconds. Smiling at a person that you encounter versus having a frown or furrowing your eyebrows and projecting a negative outlook is something you should be aware of.”

Look for a ‘bridge of commonality’

Making small talk with someone who irks you might be the last thing you feel like doing, but Strecker says it’s crucial to finding points of connection.

“It’s really critical in human interactions to project commonality,” said Strecker. “You’re looking for what we call a ‘bridge of commonality’ when you’re interfacing with another human. Whether it’s in the workplace or a social setting, you’re looking for a bridge of positive communication.”

Strecker’s go-to discussion topics include where someone went to school, what extra curriculars they were involved in, and what sports teams they root for.

Share something about yourself

Sharing your interests or facts about yourself can make people feel more comfortable.

“Once you start sharing something from your toolbox and your past,” Strecker said, “that gives the other person some reason to give you some credibility.”

Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots shakes hands with Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins after the game at Gillette Stadium on November 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.Maddie Meyer/Getty ImagesTom Brady of the New England Patriots shakes hands with and smiles at Kirk Cousins of the Washington Redskins after the game at Gillette Stadium on November 8, 2015.

Stay neutral – even if you know they’re wrong

When Strecker knows that a suspect is lying, he refrains from disparaging them.

“The moment you shake your head in a negative when someone denies and tells you a story that you absolutely know to be not true,” he said. “You have disincentivized them to continue talking.”

Similarly, if you’re trying to talk to someone you don’t get along with, shutting them down and telling them how wrong they are won’t be productive. For the sake of maintaining positive rapport, it’s usually best to bite your tongue.


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