Advice from author Eric Barker on how to get along

For every 10 friends you make, you gain one enemy, notes author Eric Barker in his recently published book. “Play Well With Others: The Startling Science That Explains Why Everything You Know About Relationships Is (Mostly) Wrong.”

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

A frenemy can be someone you don’t like that much. Some people may even have a medical condition that makes them hard to befriend – one example Barker gives in his book is someone with narcissistic personality disorder.

A frenemy can cause you 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 with those ambivalent friends, you’re always nervous.”

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

“Studies show that we see them no less often than friends who support us,” he writes of haters.

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

Emphasize similarity

For Aristotle, “a friend is another self”. There are 56 studies that support this idea, which is called the “self-expansion theory”. Self-expansion theory posits that people are motivated to make friends in order to enhance their own sense of self.

“A series of experiments has shown that the closer you are to a friend, the more the boundary between the two of you blurs,” Barker writes in his book. “We actually confuse elements of who they are with who we are. When you’re close to 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 seem to find something you have in common.

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

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

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

Eric Barker

Author of “Play Well With Others”

Focus on vulnerability

At work or in your personal life, explicitly expressing that you don’t like the way another person talks to you or treats you can be scary or embarrassing. But it can also soften the person who delivered the blow.

“Two critical points when performing this: express the importance of the relationship to you and reveal your feelings,” Barker writes. “Showing anger will backfire, but deception is surprisingly effective. The next time the idiot says something, respond jerkily, ‘That hurt me. Is that what you wanted?”

If the person has empathy, they will back off and rethink their actions, Barker writes.

Focus on community

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

If you remind them that they have a community that cares about them, it might force them to think about how they treat people.

“Remind them of the family, friendship and connections you have,” Barker writes. The default setting for a narcissist isn’t empathy, “so you just need to kick it into high gear,” Barker says..

And if they react positively, be sure to let them know you noticed, Barker writes. “Learn a lesson from training dogs: positive reinforcement. Reward them for it.”

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Lola R. McClure