07/28/2015 11:39 am ET Updated Jul 28, 2016

Different vs. Better

Michaela Begsteiger via Getty Images

You're doing the dishes. You don't mind doing the dishes. It's kind of a relaxing thing for you. You sort of drift and think about your day, about how you're going to resolve that situation at work tomorrow, remember a funny thing you heard on the radio earlier -- all as you rinse, suds and scrub.

"Why are you doing it that way?" you hear your partner/spouse/friend say. "Huh?" you respond, still in your quasi-meditative, doing-dishes state. "Why are you scrubbing the pot that way?" they ask, more insistent now. "I don't know," you say, staring down at the pot, "I've always scrubbed it this way." "Well that's dumb," they continue, "You should do it this way," and in no time at all, you are in the middle of a "my way is better" argument in which each of you is trying to convince the other of the best way to scrub a pot.

Or... you're at work. Your co-worker is putting together a project. You think "that's a dumb way to do that" and you tell them, "You shouldn't do it that way. Do it this way." And once again, in no time at all, you find yourself in yet another "my way is better than your way" argument, which leaves both of you unhappy and feeling out of sorts for the rest of the day.

What's going on here? What's the problem? Well, let's face it. Each and every one of us thinks our way is better. In fact, each and every one of us thinks it should be obvious to everybody else that our way is better. That wouldn't cause problems if we would keep our opinion to ourselves, but we don't. More often than not, especially with loved ones, friends and co-workers, we take up the cause of "my way is better" and try to force our righteousness onto our fellow man.

If someone asks you for your help or advice, if you are in a teaching position relative to them (instructor, supervisor, boss), or if you are functioning in a professional capacity where advice is what's sought (i.e., accountant, manager, dentist, doctor, counselor), that's fine. It's totally appropriate. But when you're just going about your life, dishing out "my way is better" to those around you regardless of appropriateness, you're setting yourself up for some very poor relationships.

One of the keys to happy, healthy relationships is accepting and appreciating difference, yet, it is one of the hardest things for humans to do. No wonder so many of us find relationships difficult. Accepting differences is doable if you keep the following guidelines in mind.

1. Different is just that -- different. Different is not better or worse. Different is just different.

2. People do things in different ways, go about things differently and approach life differently because these ways work for them. These may not be the most efficient or "smart" or elegant way to go about life from your perspective, just as how you go about life may not be the most efficient, or "smart" or elegant way from someone else's perspective.

3. Observe. Pay attention to how your friends, spouse or partner goes about their life. Ask questions. Learn how and why this particular approach or way of doing things works for them. Seek to understand rather than to criticize.

4. If you want to do something together that the two of you do differently, figure out how your way can fit with their way, not how your way can replace their way. Tell them what you are doing. Enlist their help. "I want to watch TV with you. I enjoy being with you and chatting about the shows. You love to channel surf. I'm more comfortable watching one show. How can we work this out together? What are your ideas?"

5. Listen to what your friend/spouse/partner tells you. Look more for what will work than for what won't. Be willing to change your ways, not in sacrifice, but to explore new possibilities. Be willing to accept that there are many ways of going about the "doing" of life and yours is only one of them.