Working With People You Don't Like
Improving Bad Working Relationships
Your boss has just asked you to work on a new project. But there's a problem: she's paired you with Paula, someone you can't stand.
Paula has expertise that is vital to the project's goals. But she's also sarcastic, she makes negative comments in meetings, and she often doesn't respond to your emails. You find her behavior frustrating and inconsiderate, but you want to work on this project. So, how can you work effectively with her, when you dislike her so much?
In this article, we'll look at why it's important to be able to work with people you don't like. We'll also explore ways that you can overcome this dislike, and work professionally and productively with all members of your team.
The Importance of Overcoming Dislike
No matter who you are or where you work, there will be a time when you have to work with, or do business with, someone you don't like. This person may be a client, a consultant, a colleague, or your boss.
Negative relationships like this can take their toll. It's likely that you'll find it stressful working with these people; they may reduce your productivity by wasting your time and energy, or upset you with unhelpful comments. Working with them could leave you feeling emotionally drained or frustrated; and, longer term, they could even cause you to want to leave your job.
If you can learn how to work effectively with them, you'll reduce your own stress, and enjoy work far more. This ability can also open up projects and roles that you may not have considered before.
Strategies for Working With Someone You Dislike
You might feel guilty for not liking someone you work with. However, it's normal not to get along with everyone: we all have different workplace values and habits, and sometimes these can clash, especially when we spend a lot of our day working with someone.
Use the steps below to build a more productive relationship.
1. Understand the Situation
It's essential to understand the difference between a colleague who is being unhelpful or frustrating, and one who is bullying you, or preventing you from doing your job.
Think about specific situations that you've found upsetting to clarify your thinking. For example, a colleague who makes sarcastic remarks in a meeting may be having a bad day; however, persistent negativity that causes distress or delays is a problem.
Then look at the behavior itself. Use Benne and Sheats' Group Roles to understand how it fits into the dynamics of your team, and note how the behavior affects you, your colleagues, and your organization. Does it affect your ability to do your job? Does it harm an individual in your team? Does it harm your organization's mission? Or does it affect the team's cohesiveness?
These are all valid issues that need to be dealt with. However, be careful in other areas: if you dislike someone because of their lifestyle or politics, then you may need to be more accepting.
2. Analyze Why
Start by thinking about why you don't like this person. What does he or she do, specifically, that irritates you?
It's possible that the negative or annoying behavior reminds you of a specific trait that you have yourself and that you don't like.
For example, you might dislike a colleague because she gossips behind people's backs. This insidious habit is one that you may have engaged in yourself, and you hate it that you're still tempted to gossip. So, this colleague's character flaw is a constant reminder of your own issues.
Alternatively, perhaps this person reminds you of someone you disliked in the past. Or maybe he or she has a very different working style from yours, or an approach to communication or information sharing that clashes with yours.
It can be challenging to look at a dreaded colleague and figure out what it is about him or her that you don't like. However, if you're willing to be honest with yourself, you can become more self-aware by understanding this person.
If you're working with someone whose culture you're not familiar with, it may be worth exploring the idea of cultural intelligence. This can help you understand more about why someone behaves as he or she does.
3. Try to Connect
This person might have several character traits that you dislike. But, chances are, he or she also has many positive attributes. What are they? What behaviors or personality traits do you like or relate to?
Practice empathy: put yourself in this person's shoes. Why might this person act in the way that he or she does? What pressures is this person under that you aren't? Use the Perceptual Positions tool to try to understand this person's perspective.
It can also be helpful to learn more about Transactional Analysis, which is a way of understanding human interactions. The better you understand the different roles that people play and why they play them, the better you can use this understanding to improve a poor relationship.
Spend time with this person – ideally in an informal context such as a team meal – to gain a better understanding of his or her perspective and motivation. This might not seem to be a pleasant prospect, but getting to know them better might be the key you need to overcome your dislike.
Part of connecting with others means suspending judgment and not jumping to conclusions. There could be valid reasons why this person is acting in an unhelpful way – for instance, he or she might have too much going on, or may have health or family problems. Consider this before you judge other people’s behavior.
4. Talk It Out
Choose a time and place where you can talk privately with the other person. Use the following framework to make your case, and to find a solution:
- Acknowledge the tension between you.
- Outline the behavior that is causing tension.
- Cite a number of specific examples.
- Explain how these actions affect you.
- Ask what you can do to build a better relationship.
If you manage this person, you must deal with these issues through calm, measured feedback and coaching. Be careful not to be aggressive or rude – this could damage your relationship further and might be seen as bullying.
5. Manage Your Emotions
Dislike is a powerful emotion, and you may feel tense and upset when dealing with your colleague. This can be distracting as well as unpleasant, especially when the feelings of tension affect other tasks.
You can reduce these feelings by changing the way that you react to tense situations. Learn how to manage your emotions , so that you can respond with assertiveness and dignity in tough situations.
If you have a negative interaction with someone, take immediate steps to calm down: walk away or practice deep breathing exercises. Also, make sure that you don't let your negative mood affect how you treat others.
Relaxation methods such as yoga or meditation can help to reduce stress and encourage self-awareness. Regular physical exercise will also help you handle stress at work, especially if you're able to exercise before you start work.
Occasionally, conflict might erupt between the two of you, especially if the relationship is hostile or tense. Learn good conflict resolution skills to resolve these issues quickly and professionally.
6. Keep Negativity to Yourself
It's tempting to share your dislike of someone with colleagues, and to spend time dissecting this person's personality flaws. However, keep in mind that gossiping can destroy morale. Badmouthing colleagues, no matter how unpopular they are, will also affect your reputation.
If you need to talk about bad working relationships, aim to keep it out of the office: for example, speak to a trusted friend or family member, in confidence.
If the person you're struggling to work with is at a different level from you, it can be harder to talk things through freely. For example, you may fear jeopardizing your chances of progression if the difficult colleague is senior to you, or you may worry about not appearing objective if you manage the colleague in question.
Either way, reputations can be damaged with the wrong words. This makes thorough preparation especially useful. It will help you feel confident in your position and allow you to think about how you can keep the conversation objective.
It's inevitable that, at some point in your career, you'll need to work with someone you don't like. These relationships can drain you emotionally, contribute to stress, and diminish your productivity.
To improve this type of working relationship, focus on it objectively. Start by analyzing the problem, and then think about why you don't like this person. You may need to think about your own personality here – does the person reflect an aspect of yourself that you don't like, or remind you of someone you've found unpleasant in the past?
Learn more about the person, and try to understand why they behave in the way that they do. Then, find an appropriate time to speak to him or her assertively about the situation. Be aware of the power dynamics within the relationship: if you manage this person, you must provide appropriate, fair feedback and coaching to help him or her change the behavior.
If you can manage your emotions and talk the situation through confidently and assertively, you may be able to move a bad working relationship onto a more positive footing.