Career and Enterprising

Strategies on how to cope with someone you dislike at work

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There’s always an Anson, Betty, or Christopher in the workplace. We’re sorry if those are your names, but we have no ill intentions. They are just some named references we will be using for the sake of this article.

Now, back to the topic.

It’s Tuesday, and you’re dragging your feet to work after barely getting over Monday blues. As the elevator door closes, you secretly wish that you won’t meet Delia on the way up to the 13th floor. But… we’re all aware that life’s a bitch and things don’t go our way when we expect it to.

“Oh, hi, Eric!” Delia shrieked. It was only 8.25am.

Delia went on and on about her last evening date with her boyfriend, gossips, and eavesdrops from the passengers she saw on the bus. “Another day with her,” you thought. It’s only the start of the day, but you already hate her so much, and everything just gets on your nerves.

We’ve all met that one colleague at a point in our careers, right? Have you found a way to work around it? If no, see if these tips can help you change your perspective in working with someone you can’t stand at the workplace.

#1: Admit that it’s your problem
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Never thought we would hit a home run by pointing fingers at you right from the start? This is not an attack, peeps.

Carlos Valdes-Dapena, author of Virtual Teams: Holding the Center When You Can’t Meet Face-to-Face, shares this with us. The reason why you’re finding Delia distasteful in some way is due to the judgments and reactions you possess.

Yeah, sounds about right. Feelings of a slight irritation can quickly escalate if not kept in check. He also highlights the need to differentiate between dislike and distrust. “You can work with anybody as long as they aren’t crossing boundaries or violating workplace rules,” says Valdes-Dapena.

#2: Rethink your detestation
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Once you assume responsibility that your emotions are what led you to loathe Anson, then it’s time to rethink your detestation. Maybe it’s a specific behaviour that triggered your dislike? Or the way they treat others? It could also be that he is an excessive bootlicker.

Whatever the reason might be, you want to dig deep into your feelings of disgust. Valdes-Dapena reveals that he used to have a colleague he didn’t like and he later discovered it was because of how the lady tended to boast.

“Once I got underneath it, I realized that part of my feelings (was) jealousy because she had done some pretty impressive stuff,” he commented.

The person you disfavour is likely to be someone who’s on the extreme opposite end if placed on a character spectrum. Polar opposites, some like to call it. But you must learn how to separate your personal feelings from the workplace. If Anson does his work well, then you’ve got to give him the credit where credit’s due.

#3: Craft a purpose statement
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So you just got out of a department meeting, and your team leader has assigned you and Betty a project. What? Working with someone you like the least is not an easy task. That’s why Valdes-Dapena notes that this is where a purpose statement comes useful.

“A purpose statement helps you build an alliance around a shared purpose. It doesn’t mean you have to be friends. It helps you get back to the purpose of the collaboration so you can focus on doing the work.”

Very well said, indeed. Instead of focusing on those negative feelings, having a goal will help put you back on the work treadmill. Here’s your chance to show that you can function as a team player and won’t let personal emotions sabotage your workplace professionalism.

#4: Draw up a plan
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So at this point, can we safely assume that you will craft a purpose statement? If yes, we’re genuinely glad for you! But don’t exit this article just yet. As a small incident can spark negative feelings fairly quickly, you want to draw up a plan to fall back on when it happens.

“Sit down and have (a) conversation,” says Valdes-Dapena. It’s going to be a duo project with Christopher, and you want to make sure that your targets are aligned. It may also help to share your shortcomings and present an invitation for Christopher to share his. The discourse can humanise Christopher and encourage you to refashion any prejudices against him.

If it helps, share your purpose statement and plan with a trusted coworker or your team leader to have accountability for your actions. Every single time you feel the dislike arising, refer to your goals. It also won’t hurt to set aside time for self-reflection if you need space to process your feelings.

It’s a tough challenge but pull through it, and you might surprise yourself with an achievable productive work relationship!

#5: Communicate calmly
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More often than not, unhappiness accelerates due to our communication styles. Putting work relationships aside, this is true in any social situation. Even at home, your parents shouting at you or each another can instantly put you in a bad mood.

What you want to do is to communicate calmly when a conflict presents itself. Instead of saying “Can you stop doing that? It’s irritating!” try using “I” in your confrontations. For example, “I feel annoyed when you do this, so could you please do this instead.” Being specific is also a chance for you to evaluate the underlying reason for your irritation at the other party.

According to psychologist Dr Susan Krauss, it could be wise to have a third-party function as a mediator in such discussions. That’s because as an “outsider”, they can bring some objectivity to your case.

Take a chance

The bottom line is that you don’t have to be friends to work with someone. What you need is a way to communicate your points across without being defensive.

Working with people you find difficult is not easy for sure. But if you manage to leap over the hurdle, you would be oh-so-proud of yourself! Take it as a step to graceful maturity regardless of your age.

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