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Tips from author Eric Barker on how to get along

For every 10 friends you make, you make an enemy, notes author Eric Barker in his recent book “Plays Well With Others: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Relationships Is (Mostly) Wrong.”

But in the space between friends and foes are “enemies”.

An enemy can be a person you just don’t like that much. Some people may even have an illness that makes them difficult to befriend—an example Barker cites in his book is someone with narcissistic personality disorder.

An enemy can cause even more stress than an enemy, Barker notes.

“Why are enemies more stressful than enemies?” he writes. “It’s the unpredictability. You know what to expect from enemies and supportive friends – but you’re always nervous with these ambivalent ones.”

You probably have at least one person in your life, like a close family member or co-worker, who falls into one or both of these categories. In fact, Barker writes, “Ambivalent friends make up half of our relationships.”

“Studies show that we see them no less than supportive friends,” he writes of enemies.

The good news is that there are ways to navigate the difficult relationship. Here are three things Barker suggests you do to help you cope and even get the best out of a “bad” person or just someone you wouldn’t normally be attracted to.

emphasize similarity

For Aristotle, “a friend is another self”. There are 56 studies supporting this idea, dubbed the “self-expansion theory.” Self-expansion theory posits that people are motivated to make friends to improve their own self-esteem.

“A series of experiments has shown that the closer you are to a friend, the more blurred the line between the two of you,” Barker wrote in his book. “We actually confuse elements of who they are with who we are. When you’re close with a friend, your brain actually has to work harder to tell the two of you apart.”

So if you’re trying to befriend someone, Barker suggests emphasizing your similarities. Even with a cousin on the other end of the political spectrum, or with a combative colleague, you’ll be happy to find something in common.

The more narcissistic tendencies a person has, the better it works, he finds.

A narcissist loves themselves more than anyone else. So if you emphasize a similarity, it’s harder for him to dislike you.

When you’re close with a friend, your brain actually has to work harder to tell the two of you apart.

Eric Barker

Author of Plays Well With Others

emphasize vulnerability

At work or in your personal life, it can be scary or embarrassing to explicitly state that you didn’t like the way you were spoken to or treated with another person. But it can also soften the person who delivered the punch.

“Two critical points in execution: Express the importance of the relationship with you and reveal your feelings,” writes Barker. “Showing anger will backfire, but disappointment is surprisingly effective. Next time the idiot says something jerky, reply, ‘That hurt my feelings. Is that your intention?’”

If the person has empathy, they will step back and reconsider their actions, Barker writes.

emphasize community

Someone who doesn’t think about what they say or how their actions affect other people may not be used to receiving empathy themselves.

Reminding them that they have a community that cares about them might force them to think about how they treat people.

“Remind them of family, friendship, and your connections,” Barker writes. The default setting for a narcissist isn’t empathy, “so you just have to get that up to speed again,” says Barker.

And if they respond positively, let them know you’ve noticed, Barker writes. “Learn from dog training: positive reinforcement. Reward them for it.”

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