Career progression

How to work with someone you don’t like

by Hudson

How to work with colleagues you don't like

While the dream for most employees is to work with a team that they always get on with, the reality is that’s not always possible and you may end up on a team or project with someone who you simply don’t like.

You don’t have to be best friends with everyone you work with, but you do need to be able to maintain a positive working relationship and put aside personal differences in order to get the job done. Here’s how to get along with coworkers you don’t like to get the job done:

Start by empathising with colleagues you don’t like

There are lots of traits a person can have that might get on your nerves, but it doesn’t mean they are necessarily bad. By labelling someone with a negative descriptors – ‘irritating’, ‘loud’, ‘bossy’ – you prime yourself for negative interactions. Try to reframe them: ‘persistent, ‘extroverted’, ‘forthright’. It will help you to approach these colleagues with more acceptance and lead to less stress and negative emotions.

Take the learning opportunity

While you might prefer not to have to spend time with someone you don’t get on with, it’s a good opportunity to reflect on your own preferences and opinions, or even learn from a different person’s approach. It’s well documented that diversity of opinion and approach is the best way to reach goals and improve outcomes, so note where their working style is different from yours and consider what you might learn from it.

For example, they might be a stickler for details who drills into every aspect of a project and asks a lot of questions about it. You might find this tiring, but ultimately it might result in a better outcome. Even if you don’t follow suit, it can be helpful to learn to make room for different working styles.

It can also be a good opportunity for personal growth, to exercise self-reflection, prioritisation and learning to respond thoughtfully rather than react rashly when someone says or does something you dislike.

Communicate with them and set boundaries

Some common results of dealing with people you don’t like at work are either direct conflict or avoidance and withdrawal, and neither of these is productive. Conflict that’s not managed well can damage to the workplace environment; avoidance means poor communication leading to decisions-making being put off. Both can be detrimental to the shared goals you have. Instead, make a concerted effort to discuss things like preferred learning or working styles.

Clearly communicate your needs – for example: “My preference is to keep emails to a minimum and instead use our project management software to capture any necessary communications – how do you like to communicate about projects?”

Once you’ve agreed a way forward, ideally with a compromise, you can gently but firmly remind them if they stray: “I noticed our email communications have been creeping up. Could we keep it to one daily email update like we agreed, with project-specific messages recorded on the task management app? It really helps me to manage my inbox” This way you can meet your own needs while also showing a willingness to co-operate and put what’s best for the project first.

Keep notes

In a small proportion of circumstances, you may need to escalate a situation to your manager or HR. If this is what’s happening, keep records of any breaches of workplace policy. Ideally, differences can be resolved directly with the person in question, but in instances of bullying or harassment, it may need organisational intervention. Even if it’s not a case for HR, you may find it helpful to track interactions as a self-reflection tool.

Remember your shared goals

If you don’t like people at work, it can be difficult to maintain your motivation to achieve your goals. Working with someone you don’t like doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Try to feed your motivations in a different way: by being proactive in putting your hand up for projects with people you do get along with, and focusing on your own career goals and interests.

Ultimately, you don’t need to get along with someone in order to work well together. If you accept your differences, and are both pursuing the same goal at work, you can get the job done together as long as there is respect and understanding.