1. Prepare Yourself
Thinking about potential criticisms ahead of time allows you to have an appropriate response on hand should you need it, says communication expert Rick Brinkman, coauthor of Dealing With People You Can’t Stand ($18, amazon.com). So when Aunt Martha says it looks like you gained weight, thank her for being concerned and then change the subject. “If you don’t get engaged in the content of her comment, you push her back into a positive intent,” says Brinkman, “which makes a person think about why she offered a rude comment.”
2. Play Devil’s Advocate
Realize that every single human being has a different way of looking at life, “then make an effort to understand the other person’s point of view,” says John McGrail, Ph.D., author of The Synthesis Effect: Your Direct Path to Personal Power and Transformation ($16, amazon.com). If you try to approach things from his or her perspective, you may find that potentially sticky conversations will go far more smoothly.
3. Slow Down
Take the time to stop and compose yourself after someone says something you don’t like, suggests Craig E. Runde, director of the Center for Conflict Dynamics at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, and coauthor of Developing Your Conflict Competence ($36, amazon.com). Take a few slow, deep breaths, decompress, and then talk out the issue with the other person. “A lot of times you’ll find out that the person’s intent is not to malign you, and once you’ve understood that, things oftentimes clear up.”
4. Cultivate Positivity
“Use the power of charm to create a charmed life for yourself,” offers family and marriage therapist Tina Tessina, Ph.D., author of Money, Sex, and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage ($15, amazon.com). “People who are at ease, polite and socially adept, understanding and considerate are always charming and attractive.” Dress well, work on accepting compliments gracefully—without worrying about whether you deserve them—be pleasant, and smile. Practice these skills long enough, and they will become second-nature.
5. Take Time to Smell the...Lavender?
The next time someone ticks you off, take a whiff of lavender: Its scent can promote a calmer state by increasing alpha waves, which are the brain activity seen in studies when one is both relaxed and alert. “There’s a theory that you can’t have two competing emotions at the same time—so you can’t be both anxious and relaxed, and lavender enhances relaxation,” says Alan Hirsch, M.D., director of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago and a neurologist who studies the effects of smell and taste on emotion. This works to reduce anxiety, and staying calm can help you get along better with others. Keep a little bottle of lavender oil in your purse or your desk.