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Playing Well With Others


I am sure you have already addressed this question in some form or another, but I was wondering if you could give me some insight into a problem I am having with tolerance and acceptance. I have a coworker who I must work with closely every day, and with whom I have had a long term disagreement. I have tried talking with this person several times about the situation and have decided things are not going to change. So I have decided to try to change my attitude about the situation instead.

As I have learned through your website, compassion for others is important. I do my best, but I can’t help but often feel angry and disappointed at times with this person. Feeling these feelings disappoints me as well. Do you have any advice for me? Thanks.


It’s hard to give specifics on this since you don’t tell what the specific disagreement is about, but I’ll give some general thoughts. Maybe others will add their suggestions too.

Your desire to change your own attitude is the right way to go about this. It’s actually the only way to deal with it, since this other person isn’t going to change to suit you. You cannot change others. You can talk to them and try to educate them, but if they don’t want to change or see things your way, there’s not really much you can do about it. Anything more is just an attachment to your idea of what they should be like. Worse, your desire to control them and bend them to your way of thinking (even if that’s not the case, it might look like it to the other party) could damage your relationship even further.

Buddhists are realists. We see the world at it could be, and work toward that end, but we accept things as they are. We see through the illusion of attachment and grasping; this includes expectations towards others. It’s OK to share your thoughts and beliefs with others, but if they won’t accept your way, then you need to accept that.

11 comments to Playing Well With Others

  • Timothy Hilgenberg

    I think you need to let go – just let go: don’t think about this issue or the other person, focus on the job you need to do with the other person, but don’t think about your disagreement. As long as you think about that you will not be able to change yourself.

    If this is too hard try thinking about the disagreement – why is the other person disagreeing with you? Have you looked at the issue from their perspective … even if YOU disagree?

    A key thing to Buddhism is to “be here now” – focus on the job and you’ll soon see that the “issue” will go away, either because you’ve forgotten about it or you’ve actually moved on.

    Good luck!


  • Abe Simpson

    I agree with Brian and Timothy. This is a self-inflicted wounds, as all of them are, because you have chosen to be attached to the belief that you are right and they are wrong. Doesn’t matter if you are or are not right. What matters is the attachment to that perception. Let your mind go and the body will follow.

  • Kris

    Yes, changing your attitude is the right move, but be prepared for the results to be internal only.
    It’s natural to expect sometimes that if you change your attitude that there should then be a change in your circumstances too, the other guy should change his attitude. He won’t though.
    So change your attitude about the situation, your relationship, and your expectations.

    Good luck,

  • Tina

    First, you need to let go of the anger and the disappointment. You are creating suffering for yourself. Don’t you wander why this is an ongoing situation for you. There is a lesson for you to learn from this experience with your co-worker. You just have not learned the lesson at all. You need to start with yourself. Let go of the suffering. Next try some compassion. When you feel those feelings of anger starting to swell up. Remember that at that particular moment this is not want you want for yourself to experience and you don’t want to cause suffering for this other person because of your anger. Next, quietly do a loving kindness metta for yourself and your co-worker. Focus on loving kindness and a warm soft compassionate heart. I think you will see a change in yourself and your co-worker.

  • Jerry

    I can appreciate how difficult it is to change your attitude. I had a co-worker who sat near me – he was loud, smelled, and wasted a lot of time on idle chit-chat. I could never bring myself to discuss any of this with him or to even establish any friendly relations – I just did my best to ignore his presence. He was frequently in my metta meditations as the “enemy”. A few weeks ago he was laid off and my initial reaction was relief, then guilt at my negative feelings, but I still couldn’t manage to say a kind word on his departure. This still bothers me – all my hard work at practicing compassion was blocked by my strong negative reactions to this individual. Now my practice is just to try to let it go, but that remains a challenge.
    Good luck – I hope you do better.

  • Steve

    The human EGO is a most curious thing because in reality it is not real,it is a mind generated sense of self.The Buddhist call this anatta,no self.The EGO lives on a sense of seperation from others,one of the ways that it gets it”s identity is through identification with a mental position,if someone comes along with a different position the EGO feels a need to defend itself or it will die.On a deeper level we are all one as Brian said earlier in his analogy of us being a wave on the ocean but not seperate from the ocean but a part of the ocean.

  • Gambatte

    Its difficult….

    Not so much advice, more anecdotal examples.

    Twice I’ve worked in situations with blatant racism (I’m white, straight, male)

    The first, guys pretended to cock handguns when asian employees walked into the office – thye even had sound effect on the computers so they could pretend to shoot any non caucasians passing.
    There were other things too many to go into.
    I mentioned to the assistant office manager that they were leaving themselves wide open to being sued…. I found my workload immediately ‘changed’ and eventually I was forced out.

    The second. One of the long standing guys was a paid up member of the BNP (British National Party) More vociferous than any of the guys at the previous company. Even boasted about painting pro BNP graffiti on the local mosque. This time I kept a lower profile. People knew what my viewpoint was, but I said nothing in relation to this guy unless the subject was broached first.

    My rational for this was that people knew what this guy was, he wasn’t shy about his views and eventually he would say something to someone who would report him or he get caught doing something. There’s only so many times you can come out with statements like “My mates just got posted to Iraq…. told him to bag me a raghead”.

    It came down to suffering. Causing suffering to him would gain me nothing. However there was potential for an action on my part to backfire and suffering to be caused to myself, my wife, my kids. Again.

    I did consider the quote “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)and still wonder if my decision was right. However, I figured “choose your battles” and “bide your time” was better advice.

  • Patient acceptance. I don’t mean to sound flippant, but that really works for me. Since I have become a Buddhist, and am intentionally exhibiting patient acceptance, I find that I can accept a lot of things that would have made my blood boil in the past. It does take practice though. I think that the longer you practice the easier it will become. Of course, changing the way your co-worker responds to you takes a bit longer, but you will probably find that not responding with hostility will eventually decrease the hostility they exhibit towards you. Good luck. srlasky

  • JJ Simon

    I think its important to address a daily practice of some sort here. It is true that you need to let go but we wouldn’t be studying or practicing Buddhism if we could just “let go”.
    My suggestion is begin to work on a daily meditation practice start with 10-15 minutes of Shamatha (Resting in peace) meditation. Coupled with that some study of some of the basic principles of Ego dismantling is important. Ego is all about Territory and Separation of self and other. The real reason we have compassion for others is because we see them as our selves. We don’t make ourselves have compassion that would aggressive towards ourselves. Instead through consistent practice we discover that Loving-Kindness and compassion are expression of our basic nature. All of this takes real work. You have discovered that you Suffer (First Noble Truth). You are discovering that the cause of suffering is a fundamental misunderstanding of your true nature and attachment to your version of reality (Second Noble Truth). You Have some faith or curiosity about there being an end to that Suffering (Third Noble Truth). Now you have to learn about and engage in a practice that leads to the alleviation of suffering (fourth Noble Truth). Good luck with this; remember one moment and one breath at a time. Be present and have this experience because its the only one you got.

  • Kyle

    I know this is a bit dated now, but I’m playing catchup on posts and I got to here and it struck a heavy chord with me. Just wanted to thank you guys for the advice, as I needed it. First, my disagreement led to suffering that manifested itself in heated arguments with people who were only remotely involved; then, I realized I was causing more suffering instead of solving it, so I turned the other cheek and tried to reconcile. It worked but now I find myself suffering again over attachment to guilt for those who still don’t talk to me. My attempts at detachment have failed, as it only reminds me of the suffering I caused, which produced more suffering and I’m feeling like a mess. I think I’ll try meditation and acceptance of all. Thanks again, guys.

  • Subjectivity9

    One of the biggest mistakes that we can make is to take our own self too seriously. Often we do this by demanding that we reach a state where we never make a mistake within this life, that is totally impossible. If this is not attachment, then I don’t know what is. All that we can do is our best in any one moment and then walk on.

    Each new moment in our life is an opportunity to do things in a more skillful manner. We cannot give this new moment all that it deserves, all of our attention, if we insist upon dragging an anchor of guilt behind us. We must forgive our self for not being perfect and understand that life is an ongoing process. We must start in this way to give our own self the compassion that we need. This is the very foundation of compassion for others. We can only give to others what we have first learned to give to ourselves. In learning to play well with our self, or take things gently, we can also learn to go lightly on those around us.