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How To Work With Someone You Dislike

How To Work With Someone You Dislike

Having to work with someone you dislike can be challenging but maintaining a professional relationship is crucial for your well-being, your team’s performance, and the wider business.

Tips for how to work with someone you dislike include:

  • Remain professional. Don’t let your personal feelings show.
  • Be polite, courteous and constructive when interacting.
  • Focus conversations on work tasks, not personalities.
  • Look for common interests and values.
  • Listen actively to understand their perspective.
  • Communicate issues calmly and suggest solutions.
  • Collaborate productively by clarifying roles and praising their efforts.
  • Address any inappropriate behaviour privately but directly.
  • Model tolerance and respect even if they don’t reciprocate.

With time and effort, the relationship can gradually improve. If problems persist, involve managers, HR or mediation. Maintaining a functioning working relationship is crucial for you, your team and the wider business.

Why Work Relationships Matter

Positive working relationships are the foundation of an effective, collaborative team. When you have to work closely with someone you dislike, it can negatively impact your productivity and enjoyment of your role. Unresolved conflict not only affects you and your colleague, but can also spread through the team, department, or even the whole company.

Managers have a duty of care to create a respectful environment for all employees. If personal differences are disrupting work, it’s important to address the situation professionally. Fostering good relationships should be a priority, regardless of individual likes and dislikes.

Assess The Working Relationship

First, objectively assess the status of your working relationship. Consider the following:

  • What specifically is the issue? Personality differences? Communication problems? Trust issues? Be clear on the nature of the problem.
  • How disruptive is it? Does your dislike affect your ability to collaborate? Or is it something you can put aside to work effectively?
  • How did it originate? Was there a specific incident? Or has it developed over time? Understanding the history can help overcome it.
  • How do you both behave? Are you able to remain civil and professional when interacting? Or has it become toxic?

Once you’ve reflected on these factors, you can take steps to improve the situation.

Adopt A Professional Mindset

You don’t have to be best friends with all your colleagues. However, nurturing mutual understanding and respect should always be the goal.

  • Remain courteous. Greet them, make eye contact, and keep communication polite. Don’t let your personal feelings show.
  • Don’t gossip or complain to other colleagues. This breeding of negativity towards the person will likely get back to them and exacerbate the difficult relationship.
  • Avoid judgement. Don’t negatively label the person. Recognise that you may have different personalities and values.
  • Focus on work. Dwelling on the relationship takes your focus away from your job. Aim to compartmentalise and minimise non-work related interactions.
  • Be a role model. Demonstrate exemplary professional behaviour. Don’t sink to their level if they are acting inappropriately.

Improve Communication

Poor communication is often at the crux of dysfunctional work relationships. Making specific efforts to communicate better can help enormously:

  • Listen. Make sure you properly listen to their ideas and opinions with an open mind. Don’t prejudge everything they say.
  • Find common ground. Look for shared goals, interests and values. There are likely areas you can agree on.
  • Ask questions. If you don’t understand their perspective, ask open non-judgmental questions to clarify. Don’t make assumptions.
  • Manage your reactions. Take some deep breaths if you feel yourself getting irritated. Stay calm, constructive and focused.
  • Discuss issues early. Don’t let problems fester. Raise concerns politely as soon as issues arise.
  • Suggest solutions. If you raise an issue, also propose constructive solutions. Show you want to make progress.

Collaborate Professionally

Being able to work together in a mutually respectful way is essential for an effective working relationship:

  • Establish ground rules. Agree on ways of working that set clear expectations and boundaries for both of you.
  • Clarify work responsibilities. Having clear, defined roles and responsibilities eliminates the potential for ambiguity and disagreement.
  • Request feedback. Ask your colleague for input on your work and ideas. It shows value for their opinion.
  • Offer praise. If your colleague does good work, acknowledge it. Look for opportunities to positively reinforce good behaviour.
  • Share information. Updates, reminders, resources and feedback should be provided to them as you would any other colleague.
  • Solve problems together. Use ‘we’ language to demonstrate you are jointly tackling issues. Present a united front to your team.

Manage Unreasonable Behaviour

If your colleague behaves unprofessionally or inappropriately, promptly address it calmly but firmly:

  • Don’t retaliate. Remain composed. Take time to consider your response.
  • Speak privately. Don’t chastise them publicly. Discuss in a one-on-one conversation.
  • Be specific. Outline exactly what behaviour is unacceptable and why. Don’t make general accusations.
  • Listen to their perspective. Try to understand why they are acting that way. Look for solutions.
  • Suggest consequences. Explain what the repercussions will be if the behaviour continues.
  • Offer support. They may be going through personal difficulties. Dislike for you could be misdirected anger.
  • Invoke disciplinary action if necessary. For extreme or persistent cases, formal procedures may be required.
  • Document incidents. Keep records of events to support claims and provide evidence if needed.

When To Get Help

If improving the relationship seems unlikely, or their conduct continues to be disruptive, extra assistance may be warranted:

  • Talk to your manager. Your boss should know about any conflict severely impacting work. They have a duty to intervene.
  • Request mediation. An impartial third party can facilitate discussion and help resolve deep-seated issues.
  • Consult HR. They can provide guidance, coaching, training and formal procedures if required.
  • File an official complaint. For harassment, discrimination or ongoing unprofessional conduct.

You have a right to a respectful workplace. If all efforts fail to improve relations, don’t suffer in silence. Seek organisational support.

Benefits Of Improving Work Relationships

With concerted effort, even strained relationships can often be improved. Doing so benefits all involved:

  • Higher morale – Less negativity and stress improves job satisfaction and wellbeing.
  • Better teamwork – Collaboration, trust and communication enhances productivity.
  • Fewer conflicts – A respectful climate minimises disagreements and complaints.
  • Increased innovation – Diverse opinions and debate generates better ideas.
  • Enhanced reputation – Management is seen as effective for nurturing a positive culture.

Cultivating good working relationships takes effort but serves the interests of everyone. Learn to work constructively with those you dislike for a better workplace.

Strategies For Different Levels Of Seniority

How you handle working with someone you dislike may need to be adapted depending on your respective seniority levels.

When Your Disliked Colleague Is Junior To You

If the difficult individual is your subordinate, you have greater responsibility to manage the relationship:

  • Set clear expectations for conduct and performance. Don’t let personal feelings cloud your judgement.
  • Provide coaching and feedback focused on objective work behaviour rather than personality.
  • Be aware that subordinates may mimic your negativity. Model tolerance and inclusion.
  • Schedule regular one-on-ones to understand their perspective and build rapport.
  • If you manage other team members too, avoid showing favouritism.
  • Be fair when evaluating their performance. Don’t let your dislike influence ratings.
  • If needed, point out the repercussions of ongoing unprofessional behaviour.

When Your Disliked Colleague Is Your Peer

For a colleague at the same level, you have less authority but shared responsibility:

  • Agree on team norms around respectful collaboration. Hold each other accountable.
  • Clarify roles to avoid territory disputes. Be willing to compromise and collaborate.
  • Don’t undermine or sabotage their work. Make sure you pull your weight on joint projects.
  • Resolve differences through discussion, not escalation. Find solutions instead of winning arguments.
  • Don’t let venting sessions with other peers poison attitudes towards them.
  • If tensions continue, arrange mediation through your shared manager or HR.

When Your Disliked Colleague Is Your Senior

Handling a strained dynamic with a superior requires diplomacy and discretion:

  • Remain polite, professional and responsive to their requests. Don’t let your feelings show through your behaviour.
  • Prepare thoroughly for meetings and be receptive to feedback. Don’t give them reasons to criticise you.
  • Avoid putting them on the spot in group settings. Raise concerns calmly in private.
  • Pick your battles carefully. Challenge respectfully on important issues, not trivial preferences.
  • Seek mentoring from other seniors you have a better rapport with.
  • Document problems just in case, but avoid filing complaints unless necessary.

Adjusting your approach based on seniority can help manage tensions appropriately. But regardless of position, maintaining mutual respect remains essential.

Signs The Relationship Is Improving

With dedicated effort, even difficult workplace relationships can gradually improve. Noticeable signs progress is being made include:

  • Having more positive interactions and less destructive conflicts.
  • Feeling less anxious about interacting with them.
  • Improved collaboration on work projects.
  • Them making an effort to be more friendly and cooperative.
  • Other colleagues commented that the situation seems better.
  • Being able to have constructive discussions and comfortably provide feedback.
  • Seeing them demonstrate kindness, praise or support for you.
  • Finding some common personal interests or values.
  • Occasionally spending informal social time together.
  • Sharing jokes or amusing anecdotes.

Don’t expect overnight miracles given longstanding differences. But if you notice small steps forward it indicates you’re moving in a positive direction. Maintain the effort and further progress should follow.

When Amicable Relations Are Unlikely

Unfortunately, in some cases, establishing a truly positive working relationship may seem impossible, despite your best efforts. This is more likely if your colleague:

  • Has a fundamentally incompatible personality or different values.
  • Is completely closed off to feedback, insight or mediation.
  • Has deep-seated biases or prejudices towards certain groups.
  • Displays hostility, passive-aggression, manipulation or other toxic behaviours.
  • Is prone to irrational mood swings and outbursts.
  • Talks negatively about you to other colleagues.
  • Undermines, sabotages or takes credit for your work.
  • Is emotionally volatile or has had HR complaints filed against them.

If repeated attempts to connect on a personal level and build trust fail, maintaining basic civility may be the best you can achieve. Focus on these principles:

  • Keep communication task-focused, calm and brief.
  • Establish clear boundaries around your working relationship.
  • Limit one-on-one interactions to essential work matters only.
  • Avoid oversharing personal information or opinions.
  • Work collaboratively but minimise interdependence.
  • Document disputes thoroughly in case needed for future reference.
  • If issues escalate, quickly involve your manager or HR.

Having to perpetually tiptoe around someone you dislike will remain challenging but establishing mutual tolerance and firmly separating the personal from the professional is key.

When To Let Go And Move On

In limited cases, an extremely unhealthy or unsalvageable dynamic may convince you the healthiest option is leaving:

  • If the environment has become toxic or abusive.
  • When you dread work and it’s impacting your mental health.
  • After raising issues repeatedly without resolution.
  • If colleagues or management are enabling their behaviour.
  • When you have filed formal complaints that were dismissed.
  • If attempts at mediation or transfers repeatedly fail.

Don’t decide to leave lightly. First, be certain you have made every effort and exhausted all options. Ensure you have robust evidence to justify your choice if challenged.

Moving jobs due to personality clashes should be an absolute last resort. But occasionally it is the only way to regain your happiness and resume performing at your best.

Cultivating Positive Work Relationships

While this article has focused on managing difficult relationships, ideally you want to build constructive relationships with all colleagues.

Here are some habits for nurturing positivity:

  • Take a genuine interest in co-workers as people. Discover shared interests and values.
  • Take time to have informal social conversations, not just task-driven interactions.
  • Actively listen when others are speaking. Don’t interject or dominate discussions.
  • Offer sincere praise when you see colleagues do good work. People crave recognition.
  • Follow up if you hear of someone having a bad day or going through tough times.
  • Avoid taking credit for others’ ideas or accomplishments. Generously acknowledge contributions.
  • Don’t participate in workplace gossip or cliques. Steer conversations to positive topics.
  • Speak directly to colleagues if you have a concern, not just to managers or HR.
  • Apologise promptly for any work disputes where you were in the wrong or overreacted.
  • Consider personal preferences e.g. communication style, feedback delivery, and time management when collaborating.
  • Suggest team-building activities to nurture trust and bonding.

Mutual understanding and inclusive behaviours don’t just help you get along with people you dislike. They build team cohesion, enhance morale, and make the workplace somewhere you look forward to being.

In Summary

Having to work closely with someone you dislike can be an inevitable work challenge but maintaining professionalism and making continued efforts to improve relations will reap rewards for you, your nemesis and the wider team.

Key takeaways include:

  • Understand specifically what your issues are with this person. Try to minimise judgement and see their positive attributes too.
  • Adopt behaviours yourself that model tolerance, respect and maturity regardless of if they reciprocate.
  • Look for ways to establish common ground. Find areas where you can agree and build outwards from there.
  • Communicate clearly and calmly. Listen to understand their perspective, not just to counter it.
  • Collaborate constructively on work projects. Praise their contributions and thank them for their efforts.
  • If tensions persist, get help via management, mediation or formal procedures when necessary. But aim for resolution, not escalation.

With dedication and patience, even strained relationships often improve over time. The mutual understanding and team cohesion gained are worth the persistence it takes.


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