How to Work with Someone you Don’t Like

Human nature means that at some point, we will meet someone we don’t like very much. Sometimes the feeling is mutual. Sometimes it’s one-sided.  Sometimes we have the choice not to interact with them at all or at least, very infrequently. Sometimes we work with them and see them a lot!

If you have to work with someone you don’t like, you can either stew and complain about, becoming more miserable with each telling of the story, or you can try and overcome it.

The first step is to own your role in the process.  Yup … chances are it’s not just the other person that needs to change.  Ask yourself why you don’t like the person.  What is it specifically you don’t like?  Is your co-worker too chatty, not chatty enough, too loud, too quiet, lazy? Very often when we ask ourselves this question, we end up assigning judgement type words.

Perhaps this person did do something to deserve your dislike, like taking credit for work you completed.  Fair enough. That sucks. Take a step back and ask yourself why someone would behave in such a way.  Insecurity?  Some workplace bullies use aggression to hide uncertainty. Gossip may be a socially awkward person’s attempt at conversation.  This isn’t about condoning bad behaviour.  Those behaviours need to be addressed.  It’s about trying to understand the reason behind the bad behaviour.   It’s easier to address the behaviour when the judgement is gone.

And one more thing …  recognize that sometimes the things we don’t like in person are things we don’t like about ourselves.  It happens!

Second, make sure you’re not contributing the negativity.  Don’t make your feelings of dislike obvious.  Interact professionally and positively.  Include him or her in invitations to group events.   Excluding someone only deepens the levels of hostility and that is not going to make your work situation any better.

Third, try and find something good about that person.  I have yet to meet someone who is entirely evil!   Instead of focusing on what you don’t like, try to find something you do like.  Yes, it may take a little longer to find with some people, but keep looking.  When you find it, focus on that.

Fourth, be proactive.  Somebody has to take the first step.  Why can’t it be you?  Let this person know what you appreciate about him or her.  If the negativity has been going on for awhile, approach your co-worker, acknowledge the tension and ask what you can do to improve the relationship.  Yes, what you can do. Don’t start off by letting him or her know what they need to do.  Remember, own your role.


Are these steps going to work each and every time?  No.  In the end, two people need to want the situation to change. You can only control you and your response to the situation.

If none of this works, keep your interactions with your co-worker as short as possible.  If you can, try to meet with them at your best time of day, when your patience is high.  If you hit a 3 pm energy and patience low on a regular basis, avoid 3 pm interactions as much as possible.  If you can meet with them in their space, even better.  That means you can manage the amount of time spent together, instead of having to wait for or ask the other person to leave.

In the end, it’s about doing what you can to improve your work environment.  Own it, do your best and maybe, just maybe, you’ll find out that you two have more in common that you thought.  If not, at least you will have tried.


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