Work Relationships

5 tips for collaborating with people you don’t like

Written by Michael Hoon

You can pick your friends, and you may become friends with some of your co-workers, but you can’t pick your co-workers. In fact, you may find that you do not like some of them at all—they may be unfriendly or outright combative, or simply have personalities that clash with your own. Even so, you don’t have the option to avoid them. It’s a tough fact of work-life that we often have to collaborate with people with whom we do not get along.

So what do you do when you’re thrown together with someone with whom you just can’t seem to see eye-to-eye? Here are a few tips that may make collaborating a bit more bearable.

1. Try to modify your reactions

Look, we’re not blaming the victim (you) here, but sometimes you may be contributing more to a personality conflict than you think. Try to define what it is about your co-worker you don’t like. If you can’t pinpoint it and conclude that they’re simply “unlikable,” maybe it’s time to work more on your reactions to that person than on avoiding them. Don’t allow the little things to grate on you so much.

2. Recognize your differences

Sometimes people don’t get along because they have personalities that differ wildly. A shy person may find a more outgoing individual to be a bit obnoxious. Conversely, an extrovert may label an introvert as a stick in the mud. Keep in mind that everyone is not going to share your personality type. Try to be aware and sympathetic to those differences and modify your own behavior instead of expecting your co-workers to be more like you.

3. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes

Working with an unpleasant individual can make your life miserable, but maybe that co-worker is the way they are because they’re going through something rough. If a co-worker is less than friendly or even hostile, that person may be dealing with troubles you don’t even know about. Try not to make annoyance your default when dealing with someone annoying. Go with empathy first.

4. Communicate

The key to becoming more empathetic is understanding the person who’s rubbing you the wrong way. The only way to do that is to communicate. If a co-worker is being hostile or unhelpful, ask him or her (politely!) what the problem is. Your co-worker may open up to you, effectively unclogging the lines of communication that will make your collaboration much healthier. Just be sure not to press too hard if your co-worker doesn’t want to open up. You don’t want to invade anyone’s privacy.

5. Lead the conversation toward problem-solving

If you manage to open up the conversation lines with your co-worker, follow up those general questions with more specific ones about how you can improve your working relationship. Do so by stating the problem to your co-worker and giving them the opportunity to tackle the problem. Say something like, “What do you think we can do to work more productively together?” Your co-worker will feel as though you respect their opinions and hopefully appreciate the fact that you want to make amends. In the event your co-worker feels just as frustrated as you do, it will also show that you’re both in the same boat.

Remember that you’re not the only one who ever had to get used to a co-worker you wouldn’t exactly hang out with on your off-hours. It’s a common problem and one that can usually be ironed out by dealing with it head-on.

About the author

Michael Hoon