Let’s talk about that space cadet friend of yours. The one who’s always losing their wallet, showing up late, cancelling plans – and generally driving everyone crazy. Are they selfish? Or just a free spirit who needs a little leeway? Brent Roberts is a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois. And he says scatterbrains like your friend are usually lacking in conscientiousness – a trait that includes being organized, thoughtful, in control and responsible.
By contrast, people who are highly conscientious do well for themselves. They get better grades, they’re seen as more honest, they do better at their jobs and are less likely to get divorced. They even tend to live longer, since they smoke less, drink less and eat better than the average person. And even though space cadets are spontaneous and fun to be around, they can be frustrating to deal with. So, here’s how to handle the flake in your midst:
Realize that each of us is a package deal. And your friend or partner’s flakiness could be part of why you liked them in the first place. For example, you may have been attracted to their laid back and impulsive attitude. Unfortunately, those same personality traits can be grating later on down the line. So, ask yourself whether you’re demanding perfection from someone whose nature is simply different from your own.
Get specific. If you have to confront the space cadet, make a clear request and not a general complaint such as “get it together!” Instead, say something like, “It would be great if you could do the laundry on Tuesdays.”
Don’t compensate. If you always drive when you go out with your friend, then the duty is yours. But if you stop doing this, then they’ll have to start pulling their weight if they want to hang out with you. So don’t pick up their slack.
Give them kudos. The best way to modify someone’s behavior is to catch them in the act of getting it right – and compliment them. It makes them feel good about what they’re doing, which is the biggest motivation to do it again.