I ran into the original Mr. Shoes the other day, and I didn’t even recognize him.
Weird sentence? Let me back up a bit. I call both of the individuals I consider my personal nemeses at work “Mr. Shoes.” Not to their faces, of course, but suffice it to say I’m not the only person who knows of this nickname.
Harmless, isn’t it? Yet…oddly condescending. My favorite kind of spell to take away someone’s power over my emotions and reactions.
The title of this post suggests I’ve had to do this often. Not really! In fact, I like all the individuals I get to know as a rule; that means those who are the rare exception really stand out for me. If I hate someone, you know I’m not the only one. (Or else I really am the only one and that’s when I know they’ve bewitched everyone else.)
But when I do dislike someone, more often than not, I still have to deal with them on a regular basis. So back to Mr. Shoes: I encountered him outside of my normal work haunts, and when he came bounding out of his office to greet my manager with a weird handshake-hug combo, I didn’t recognize him. Probably because he was wearing a sweatshirt, and the Mr. Shoes I knew would never have dared to come to the office in a sweatshirt. That’s the kind of thing August, the wearer of flip-flops, would do.
I’d so resoundingly forgotten his momentary sway over my feelings that I’d forgotten what he looked like.
Call it a blessing of how my memory works, sure, but I like to think it’s because I was able to apply these tactics that help me not despise someone who rubs me the wrong way and then crosses my path on the regular:
- Give them a harmless nickname in your head. “Mr. Shoes” works so damn well because it’s non-specific to the person. To someone who doesn’t know the context, the nickname is meaningless, meaning it won’t come back to haunt me later in my career.
- Identify their positive traits and build an inverse caricature. This may be something you have to do on a daily basis with some nemeses, like I had to do with a former coworker I’ll call “Ben.” My friend and I had similar frustrations with Ben, on totally different projects, so we regularly let the other vent. Then one day, we found ourselves consoling each other with the sensical things Ben had said to our common enemies, and from then on, we could both handle his nonsense. It’s the little things.
- Look for explanations that humanize, not dehumanize. People have bad days, OK? Bodies hurt, hearts and egos are bruised, or futures are bleak. Look, digestive trouble hits all of us on some days, and some of us on most days. Assume your nemesis is going through the worst, unless you know they’re being an asshole for other reasons.
- Indulge in little rebellions for yourself. By deriding my choice in footwear during a meeting, Mr. Shoes presented me with the perfect tiny rebellion: wearing flip-flops on days I knew I might encounter him. I once had a roommate who hated a particular shirt of mine – so I would wear it on those days when I needed a little extra boost to get past her snark.
Of course, I’m not advocating that you overlook truly abominable behavior. Report that ish through the proper channels. This is for those folks who irritate the heck out of you…but who aren’t really doing anything wrong.