HR & Management

Six tips for working with people you don’t like

6 min read

20 November 2015

What can you do if you're working with people that you dislike? Here are six ways to cope.

It is vital for organisations to be able to rely on their employees to work together, to cooperate, to encourage and to inspire each other. To maximise productivity and make work as enjoyable as possible, building and maintaining good relationships are fundamental. 

Yet, despite people’s best intentions, it is inevitable that you will encounter people you don’t like in the work place. What should you do?

Here are my six tips for working with people that you don’t like.

(1) Develop self-awareness

This is an essential aspect of emotional intelligence. Understanding yourself enables you to understand others, it is possible that it is you causing the problem!

Sometimes your own experiences can be the cause of dislike towards another person. Unpleasant experiences have a way of influencing present relationships due to the emotional systems in our brain being programmed to pay more attention to the negative.

For example, someone called Joseph who has treated you badly in the past can set up an unconscious bias towards people called Joseph. It is the brain’s way of drawing lessons from the past to protect us from danger; it can,however cause us problems in the present. When you discern what is creating your negative associations you’ll be able to control your feelings more effectively. 

Avoid making the problem worse by keeping your cool and self-control. Be selective in what is worth battling about to save your energy and time. Accept that it is okay not to get on with everyone, manage your expectations.

(2) Get to know the other person

The ability to empathise is built on self-awareness. Once you view things from another’s perspective it creates circumstances for developing a healthy working relationship.

Listen to the other person and be respectful. When you start listening more than speaking you encourage the other person to open up to you. 

Remember basic conversational skills like finding common areas of interest. Remember that everybody has ‘off’ days.

Try to find out (carefully) if the other person is being troubled by something, although understand that they may not wish to discuss private problems. Try to use humour (when appropriate) to lighten the mood. 

Be honest with the other person. Avoid misinterpretation and misunderstanding as much as possible.

(3) Be tolerant of different approaches

What you might see as being “different” can be misread as being “difficult”. Try to recognise when you switch into a defensive position, while jumping to defend your own ideas you may be missing out on a quicker, better way of doing things. 

People who think differently to you may devise ideas and solutions that are not immediately obvious to you.

Try to avoid assuming that you know what the other person is thinking or feeling. It is natural for your brain to jump to conclusions based on your own experiences. Once you suppress these assumptions you’ll gain a great deal of knowledge and understanding; you’ll know what triggers certain emotional responses in the other person.

How should you handle the situation if you are being constantly attacked? What are some of the more drastic solutions available to you when you dislike someone you have to work with? Continue reading on page two.

(4) Be intolerant of aggression

If you are in a position of authority, make it completely apparent that there is no tolerance for aggression and be transparent about the consequences.

If you are experiencing an aggressive, abusive work colleague, be assertive in your responses but do not return the aggression. Be calm, clear and safe in you confrontations

Stick to what you know to be true and don’t let you emotions overcome you. Be prepared to walk away if things are getting too heated.

(5) Focus on solutions

Concentrate attention on what can be done to resolve the situation and don’t dwell on what has already happened and can’t be changed. Learn from mistakes and use that knowledge to improve in the future. 

Also try to become a “can-do” person – positive emotions are contagious!

(6) As a last resort, seek drastic solutions

If you feel there is no fixing the situation, simply avoid the person in question. Seek allies, particularly your boss, to help deal with difficult people.

Make extensive records of all and any instances of bullying (eg date, time, duration etc.), and raise formal complaints within the company.

You could also try to transfer to a different department if possible. And in the last resort… you can always leave your job.

There is much that can be done when having to work alongside somebody you don’t like.

Develop self-awareness, be tolerant but clear when it comes to aggressive behaviour, develop a “can-do” solution-focused attitude, and finally, if all else fails, be prepared to admit defeat and accept that there are some people you are just never going to like.

Joan Kingsley is an organisational psychotherapist and is the author of The Fear-Free Organization: Vital Insights from Neuroscience to Transform your Business Culture (£29.99, Kogan Page).