Coexisting With A Coworker You Dislike

Sometimes, having the right coworkers can make a job you dislike more tolerable. But the opposite is also true; a coworker you dislike can make your job unpleasant.

While many workers are able to work remotely, limiting direct face-to-face interactions with these workplace nemeses, those in the office don’t have that luxury. Even remotely, you’ll still have some interactions with these disdained coworkers. Regardless, you need to learn to work with others you may not enjoy.

We’ve previously covered how to successfully navigate workplace conflict and why a positive team culture is so important. We’ll build on that foundation, with assistance from the experts, with strategies on how to coexist with your least favorite coworkers. You likely won’t become best friends, but you’ll find common ground and be able to work together in spite of your differences.

Could it be you?

The first step in finding common ground is asking yourself why this individual irks you. With some soul-searching, you may realize that both of you are at fault.

Forbes’ Nicole Lipkin discusses affirmation bias, the tendency to blame your own shortcomings on external factors while blaming the shortcomings of others on their personal character.

“[L]et’s say you’re late to work. The attribution bias would have you exonerate your own lateness by claiming there was heavy traffic. But if someone else is late to work though, they’re obviously lazy.” –Nicole Lipkin

You may be projecting this bias on your workplace antagonist solely because you dislike them. By always thinking the worst of this person, you build them up as a bigger villain in your mind. You may also be projecting attributes you dislike about yourself onto this person, writes Lolly Daskal. Analyzing your mindset and figuring out why you dislike this person is the first step towards understanding.

Try to get to know them

Easier said than done, right? But finding common ground with someone is the key to resolving conflict. Iris Dorbian spoke to various actors, who must project chemistry with one another to the audience even when they dislike each other, and found multiple strategies you can use to co-exist with your foe.

Start by asking your coworker simple questions to get to know them. It doesn’t have to be deep; small talk about hobbies, interests, and daily routine is enough.

“I’m trying to give this person the impression that I actually give a damn about their day-to-day existence. The funny thing is, you’ll usually find that eventually, you do form chemistry because the person on the receiving end is amazed that anyone asked them questions about their life, work, or hobbies.” -actor Gino Dilorio

“Fake it til you make it” is a popular strategy in many of life’s facets, and it applies here, as well. Be enthusiastic about what your coworker tells you, even if you don’t feel it on the inside. Keeping a positive attitude will not only be good for your relationship with this person but it can be wondrous for your mental health.

Understand their point of view

Once you know this person a little better, it will be easier to understand their perspective and get to the root of why you don’t get along. Take your emotions out of the equation and try to view the person objectively.

Are some of their unpleasant traits a result of outside factors? There may be things doing on in their personal life you aren’t privy to. Are they trying to get along with you but struggling to do so? Or do you just have incompatible values or personalities? These questions are much easier to answer after you’ve made an attempt to get to know the person.

Set boundaries

Maybe you’ve put in the time to get to know your antagonist but still can’t find common ground. It happens. Not all people will get along. But to better coexist, you need to set boundaries with this person.

If the person keeps exhibiting disrespectful behaviors in your direction, sit down with the person and explain these behaviors are unacceptable. Ivy Exec reminds us not to let anger build up and color the interaction. Calmly tell them their behavior is unacceptable and they need to work with you in a professional manner.

Meanwhile, set boundaries on your own behavior. Don’t behave antagonistically towards them, and don’t engage in gossip regarding the other person. Stay professional.

Acknowledge your dislike and minimize contact

If all else fails, up upfront with the person. Lipkin says to have a simple conversation with your coworker: “We’re not getting along that great, what can we do? Let’s try to brainstorm what’s getting in our way.”

If you can find a way to work together, great. If not, you did your part. Continue to work within the boundaries you set, and reduce contact as much as possible. Don’t do anything to fan the flames, and do your best to remain professional. You don’t have to like your colleague, but you do need to work together.

“If volcanoes erupt every time you meet, then it might be best to, instead, keep things professional at a distance.” –Andy Charters

Wrap up

You won’t get along with everyone you meet, but if you’re working with someone you dislike, it’s important to at least make an effort to coexist. Try to find common ground and settle your differences in a professional matter. If all else fails, consider coexistence and acceptance a victory, and do your best to at least work together when needed.

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