05/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Negotiations, Utopia and Martians

Life is one big negotiation. Sometimes that involves compromise. Sometimes that involves spending time with people whom you don't like but for various reasons you're stuck with them.

What is it about negotiation that makes people so uncomfortable? Fear of the unknown, and anger that life isn't as comfortable and neat and tidy as one would like. Certainly I feel that way. These days if I can't find my shoes, I have an internal tantrum. Luckily I have a husband and two boys who keep me from killing people in the street. So far.

Earlier in the week I watched a group of employment-seekers squirm and turn purple during a salary negotiation strategy session. It was interesting watching people valiantly try not to turn the class into a diatribe about what was wrong with their last job and how they will never find another one. One guy was a 25 year investment banker with one company - he's never written a resume in his life nor had he ever negotiated anything more than his bonus. Another woman wanted to spell out in her salary negotiation that she wouldn't have to work past a certain hour. Yet another thought that it would be better to hire a middle man to do the negotiation for her. Have we really reached the stage we need to outsource our own salary negotiations? Call me crazy but I don't trust anyone but myself to close a deal.

Part of being a grownup is tolerating people you really, really don't care for. When I was about François' age, my parents told me that it's fine (and frankly more honest) to admit that you don't like someone and think they're idiots. It's not, however, necessary to rub their noses in it. Whether your workplace is a corporate office, a store, a film set or a landfill, you will likely encounter different personalities. Some of these people you may love - that's when going to work every day is easy and joyful. In my last job I either immediately or eventually took to everyone and relationships were mostly smooth, even during the crazy holiday season when retail is on fire. Would that all experiences were like that, but then we'd all be living in Utopia and brushing each others' hair. Sometimes you will work with people who, for one reason or another, irritate the living bejesus out of you. So what do you do when you have to spend time with people who annoy you and won't or can't go away?

1) First off, work to restore, repair or improve the relationship. It really is the best choice. Do your part to be cordial, and try to find out what is bothering them to ascertain whether it's a valid point. If they do have a valid point, make amends. If they do not, proceed step two.

2) Keep annoying people busy and/or happy with whatever it is that makes them tick, in order to keep them out of your hair. If you work together, throw tasks at them, or keep them constantly supplied with your output.

3) Try to minimize time you have to spend with wackos. If you work with them, keep discussions short and business-related. If they are frenemies, simply avoid them. Decline all invitations unless someone puts a gun to your head. If it means you are out and about less, so what?

4) If they try to compete with you, don't engage. Lots of people in this world like to compete. I certainly do. I like to compete when there's an obvious prize (a raise, a tangible benefit, etc.) Some people are easily bored and like to compete for less obvious reasons - popularity contests spring to mind. There's nothing I like less than a group of people falling over themselves to impress a boss. Certainly you need to put yourself out there far enough that the boss can see the quality of your work, but jockeying for respect among equals is a wasted exercise.

When all else fails, find a way of blowing off steam. For some people, that's a therapist. For me, that's my husband or it's simply sitting down with my thoughts and processing. I'm a big believer in either solving your own problems or recognizing that they don't need to be solved. Life is messy. Realize that the insane person in your life was always that way, and if he or she really thinks that you come from Mars, after one or two attempts to change their mind, it's simply not going to happen. Don't turn into a Martian to appease them. If you can't avoid them and are feeling mischievous, entertain yourself by doing things you know will annoy them! Push those buttons merrily and unapologetically! On second thought, that's strictly social - don't try that at work.

This week I had a great couple of job interviews. It's exciting to have a conversation with someone who has a need that lines up with your abilities. Where it goes from here I don't know yet, but talking with people who have passions for work as strong as yours is at the very least, inspiring. At most, it's a potential new beginning.

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