Working with the enemy

Just as it's impossible to be liked by everybody, so, inevitably, you will find yourself having to work with someone you just don't like.

Written by Catriona MacLeod
Published 20 October 2015
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Working with the enemy

Whether it's a personality clash, their inconsideration for others, or annoying personal habits that drive you mad, it's important to try to remain professional at all times. These top tips will hopefully help you do this.

1. Do some self reflection

Much as it might pain us to admit it, sometimes the problem with people we don't like is actually us. Envy is something we may accuse others of, but find it harder to see in ourselves. Ask yourself, what's really at the heart of your feelings for this person? Could it be you're jealous of their popularity or success? The problem with negative emotions is that they are mentally draining. So consider what you could do to take a more positive view.

2. Humanise, don't demonise

If you find someone really annoying, it can be all too easy to criticise pretty much everything they say and do. Try to step back from this, and see things more objectively. If they put forward an idea in a meeting, for example, try to think how you would view it if someone you like better had made the same suggestion.

Getting to know your colleague outside of work may also help you to see 'the whole person' and even establish some common ground. The next time you have a work social event, instead of ignoring them, try to make an effort to speak to them. You might be surprised how well you get on, and may even understand more about why they are the way they are, particularly at work.

Bear in mind too, that there may be work or personal issues that you know nothing about, that may cause a person to behave in a certain way. So try to avoid jumping to conclusions if you can.

3. Keep your cool

No matter how annoying or difficult somebody is (and it may be they are being deliberately so) try not to blow your top. If you are dealing with a wind-up merchant, a reaction is exactly what they want - and the more public the better. Try to think before you speak - taking a deep breath or counting to ten can help. And if you're really struggling to keep calm, sometimes the best approach is simply to walk away.

4. Try avoidance tactics

If someone you work with really presses your buttons, one option is to simply do what you can to avoid them. If you don't need to be together in the same place, then don't be. You might choose to work from home on an alternative day from them, if that's a practical and permissible option. Or if they take an early lunch then try taking yours late. Obviously this won't work for everyone, and probably isn't the best long-term solution. But it could certainly help to reduce your irritation levels in the short term.

5. ...or address the issues upfront

On the other hand, if you feel your colleague would benefit from some carefully considered feedback, then this is worth thinking about. It may be particularly helpful if the person's behaviour is disruptive for you and others, or if it is proving detrimental to their career.

This does come with a caveat though. If diplomacy is not your strong point, or you suspect the recipient of your feedback is going to react badly, then talking to them may not be the best idea. And remember, no one wants to hear the words 'I don't like you' even if it's true, and even if it's qualified, e.g. 'I didn't like you when I first met you.' Just don't go there!

6. Consider your reputation

No matter how much you dislike a work colleague, it's important to remain professional, and avoid gossip at all costs. It's natural for people to want others to back up their opinions. But talking behind someone's back may leave others wondering what you say about them when they're not in the room. If you really can't avoid venting about someone you dislike, try to wait until you get home.

7. Challenge unacceptable behavior

When all is said and done, there is a very real line between mutual difference and behaviour which is unacceptable in the workplace. If you feel that you are being threatened, bullied or harassed, then it's important to address this directly with the person in question, or with your line manager or HR department

About the author

Catriona MacLeod

Catriona MacLeod

Editorial Manager
Catriona has over 19 years of experience in editorial management. She works with clients across a wide range of sectors to deliver relevant and practical resources to meet the learning needs of leaders and managers. Catriona loves the variety of her role, from writing and editing content to conducting video interviews with industry experts.

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