Have you ever had a hard time “fitting in” somewhere? Whether it be at school or work, in a new group of friends, or even your own family, we can all relate to feeling unaccepted at one time or another. On the other hand, many of us can think of a time that we had trouble accepting someone else.
Acceptance is the ability to see that others have a right to be their own unique persons. That means having a right to their own feelings, thoughts and opinions. When you accept people for who they are, you let go of your desire to change them. You let them feel the way they want to feel, you let them be different and think differently from you. Everyone is different in one way or another. Once you understand this truth, you can stop trying to change them into the people you want them to be and start accepting them for who they are.
Acceptance of others’ feelings is not easy when people act differently than we do. We all have trouble accepting those who are different. By learning the skill of empathy, we will be better able to understand ourselves and those who are different from us. Here are five strategies for learning to accept others:
1. Don’t try to control the feelings of others. Have you ever tried to help other people with a problem they were having, but you felt like no matter what you said, you couldn’t get through to them? Maybe you tried to get them to “see things your way,” or “think more rationally.” In the end, they just couldn’t come around to your way of thinking. Well, I hate to break it to you, but the problem was not with the people you were trying to help, but rather, with your approach to helping them.
With feelings, there is no right or wrong answer. So instead of trying to control or change other people’s’ feelings, you must accept their feelings. We must allow people to have feelings without telling them how they should feel. Empathetic people understand that feelings are difficult to control and they accept people’s’ feelings for what they are.
2. Allow others to be different. How boring would life be if everyone was exactly the same as everyone else in the world? If everyone looked the same, had the same personality, the same interests and the same experiences, we would lose interest in other people pretty quickly. Luckily, each of us has a unique set of qualities and characteristics that make us different. Even though we know that these differences are for the best, sometimes we feel uncomfortable with these differences. We either try to change people who are different or we avoid, or ignore them.
Being empathetic means having an open mind and accepting these unique differences. The next time you are around someone who appears to be your polar opposite, challenge yourself to get to know that person better. Find out more about him or her and you’ll come out of the conversation feeling that you’re not as different as perhaps you first thought. You’ll feel closer to the person, and as a result, you will be that much better able to empathize with that person.
3. Give thoughtful advice. Once you learn to grant others the right to their own feelings and allow them to be different, you will be better able to give thoughtful, meaningful advice. Have you ever tried to talk to other people about your problems, only to have them give you terrible advice in return? They respond in a way that makes you wonder if they were even listening to anything you said! Those people probably were listening, but they failed to put much thought into their responses. Or, they let their own feelings get in the way of yours. In order to show empathy, you must learn to give advice in a way that is in line with other people’s’ unique feelings, characteristics and personality.
4. Don’t be quick to judge. It’s easy to look at others and point out their flaws. Sometimes we judge and criticize people without even realizing it. The more challenging and empathetic response would be to point out the good in each person. When we accept others as they are, it means that we understand that they are doing the best that they can do at the time. Remember, if they could do any better, they would.
5. Try not to compare. The key to accepting people as they are is learning not to compare. Trying to compare one unique person to another is like trying to compare apples to oranges. Unfortunately, we all do it. We compare ourselves to others, and we compare other people to some standard. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” What he meant by that is we will never be happy if we are constantly comparing ourselves to others, because there is always going to be someone who is better, smarter or richer. Instead, we must accept that each person is on a different path in life.
The next time that you are having trouble accepting someone, remember these five strategies. Using them will help you relate to the person and be more empathetic. When you practice accepting others, you will be able to make it a habit. And when you make acceptance a habit in your life, you will become a more positive, happy person.
If you want to learn more about developing or teaching soft skills, sign up for our free Soft Skills 101 webinar!