To Get Along With Difficult People, Try This Research-Backed Approach

There's a real power in putting yourself in someone else's shoes.

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By Nina Zipkin

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Conflict at work isn't always avoidable. But those conflicts could go more easily if you consider how your colleagues see themselves, according to a recent study from the University of Notre Dame.

"What matters is that we're aware of each other's subjective realities," explained the study's author, management professor Brittany Solomon, in a summary of the findings. "I think that sometimes people get along because they mistakenly assume everyone is on the same page. The more insight we have into the discrepancies and views of others makes our interactions legitimate. Ultimately, we don't want to live in a world where we are deluded."

Related: 7 Steps for Keeping Conflict Healthy

To get a better understanding of the extent to which people can go beyond their own views, Solomon asked study participants to share a series of perceptions about the personalities of their peers, from different points of view -- not just their own opinion. Their friends and acquaintances were asked to do the same.

The study discovered that no matter how someone saw another person, they were aware also of how that person saw themselves and others perceived them.

The findings could be incredibly useful to team dynamics, according to Solomon. Putting yourself in another person's shoes can boost cooperation, communication and empathy.

Related: 5 Ways CEOs Can Empower Teams to Develop Collaborative Workplaces

"If I'm a manager or supervisor and I'm trying to motivate an employee, I can assign tasks that will really highlight their strengths or help boost self-esteem in areas of weakness," Solomon explained. "This approach can affirm people's identities, build confidence and help uncover hidden talents."

When coworkers consider how someone is perceived, or how they perceive themselves, they can highlight certain traits to a group that others may or may not be aware of, potentially finding new ways for co-workers to connect and work together.

Crucially, says Solomon, considering perceptions can give you a special edge, especially in negotiations, possibly helping you be more persuasive. "The person who has greater insight into an opponent's identity can, of course, leverage that information in various ways to win."

Nina Zipkin

Entrepreneur Staff

Staff Writer. Covers leadership, media, technology and culture.

Nina Zipkin is a staff writer at Entrepreneur.com. She frequently covers leadership, media, tech, startups, culture and workplace trends.

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