How to Work with People You Don’t Like
Do you find it hard to deal with someone you don’t like?
I know I do.
The great thing about life is that most of the time we can simply avoid these people.
But we can’t always choose the people we work with, especially stakeholders who have a big say in how or whether we advance. It could be a client, a colleague, or even your boss.
That’s why knowing how to build relationships with people you don’t like is an important skill.
5 Ways to get along with colleagues you don’t like
If there’s someone you don’t like but still have to get along with, here are five things you can do.
1. Get to know them better
It’s easy to make assumptions about other people, and sometimes those assumptions can be wrong.
I once had a colleague who had no qualms about criticizing another team member’s idea in front of the entire department. Most of us assumed he was a jerk and avoided him if we could.
It wasn’t until I was paired with him at a team bonding event that I got to know him. When others were bending the rules, he insisted on playing by them. And when others sprinted ahead, he made sure I didn’t get left behind. In the end, I discovered that he was a good person beneath that gruff exterior and we ended up becoming allies at work.
“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”
— Abraham Lincoln
What assumptions are you making and how could they be holding you back from developing a constructive working relationship?
2. Look for something you like
I believe we can always find something to like about someone else, even if it’s the style of their shoes or the coffee mug they use every day. It could also be finding something you have in common, whether that’s liking the same music, coming from the same region, or sharing a hobby.
You might have to do a little sleuthing. Next time you’re around the person or their desk or office, keep your eyes and ears open for clues that may lead you to find things you like about them.
Finding that thing gives you something positive to focus on so you can build a relationship from there. It reminds me of the song “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” where the fact that both people like that movie is enough to form the basis for their relationship.
Challenge yourself to find at least one thing you like about the person, no matter how small, and build from there.
3. Show some empathy
Sometimes when people are hard to get along with, it’s because they’ve had a difficult past or are dealing with tough issues that have nothing to do with you.
So instead of having a negative reaction or taking things personally, think about what might be causing their behavior. It doesn’t necessarily excuse their behavior, but it can explain it.
What experiences might they have had as a child? What pressures and stresses are they operating under? Are there problems with their health or their family situation?
While you may not know the specifics, considering their situation and circumstances can make a big difference to your own attitude toward them.
Showing some empathy is the first step toward shifting your perspective. And that makes it possible to build a constructive working relationship.
How could you start to show greater empathy?
4. Focus on a common goal
When you don’t like another team member, it’s easy to focus on your differences. But that only puts more distance between you and reduces your ability to work together.
Instead, focus on a common goal, like helping the team win or getting the project completed. Something that is a positive for everyone involved.
For a real-life example of three individuals who were forced to work together on a risky mission, check out Adam Grant’s WorkLife Podcast on “How to Trust People You Don’t Like”. (Spoiler alert: the common goal was what saved the day.)
And when you’re the team leader, getting your team to focus on a common goal is a great strategy for helping people build constructive working relationships.
What’s the common goal you can all get behind?
5. Be glad you’re not married to them
When I’ve tried all the other strategies and still struggle to get along with a colleague or client, I can always count on this strategy: I simply tell myself, “just be glad you’re not married to him (or her)!”
I’ve also shared that with my team members when they’re the ones suffering from these difficult people. If nothing else, it reminds us to laugh. Then realize just how lucky we are that we’re only exposed to the misery from time to time!
So, when you find yourself having to work with someone you don’t particularly like, no problem. Pick a strategy and start taking steps toward building a better working relationship.
Now, I’d love to hear from you:
Which of these strategies would work best for you?
Leave a comment and let me know.