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There’s always one by Mahmood Noman

As most of my readers know, I work with diverse groups of people spanning many geographical locations worldwide.  This is of course a great privilege – to be able to engage, share and learn from others is what makes my working day rich and varied.

I read an article in the Harvard Business Review the other day about working with people that you actually don’t like.  How interesting I thought.  I have to say, I’ve not been in that situation very often but it was a very insightful article and I think it may resonate with a few of you.  Therefore, I will take the opportunity to paraphrase below.

Robert Sutton, a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University says that if you work with someone you don’t like, you’re not alone. Apparently, the detested co-worker is a familiar archetype.  “There are always other people — be they relatives, fellow commuters, neighbors, or coworkers — who we are at risk of tangling with,” he says. Avoiding people you don’t like is generally a successful tactic but it’s not always possible in a workplace.

Daniel Goleman, the co-director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University points out “Some people are there, like it or not”.

Therefore, next time you find yourself shooting daggers at the person sat at the desk next to you, consider the following advice:

Manage your reaction

Your response to your dreaded colleague may range from slight discomfort to outright hostility. Goleman says the first step is to manage it. He suggests that if there is someone who is annoying or abrasive, don’t think about how the person acts, think about how you react. It’s far more productive to focus on your own behaviour because you can control it.

Keep your distaste to yourself

While working through your displeasure, avoid the temptation to gripe to colleagues. Complaining about someone in your office can reflect negatively on you.

Consider whether it’s you, not them

Once you have your reactions in check, think about what it is you don’t like about the person. Is there something specific that sets you off? Jealousy and other negative emotions can cause us to wrongly assess and mistreat others.

Spend more time with them

“One of the best ways to get to like someone you don’t like is to work on a project that requires coordination,” says Sutton. This may seem counterintuitive since you likely want to run from the room screaming whenever the person is there. By working together, you can understand them better and perhaps even develop some empathy. “You might feel compassion instead of irritation,” says Goleman.

Consider providing feedback

If none of the above has worked, you may want to consider giving your colleague some feedback. Focus on behaviours that they can control and describe how they impact you and your work together. If shared carefully, you may help them develop greater self-awareness and increase their effectiveness.  “The landmine when giving emotional feedback is that they take it personally and it escalates,” says Goleman. You also need to be open to hearing feedback yourself. If you don’t like them, the chances are good they are not very fond of you either.

Adopt a don’t-care attitude

In situations where you are truly stuck and can’t provide feedback Suttons recommends you “practice the fine art of emotional detachment.” By ignoring the irritating behaviors, you neutralise the affect on you. This type of cognitive reframing can be effective in situations where you have little to no control.

Principles to Remember


  • Do manage your own reaction to their behaviours first
  • Do practice emotional detachment so the person’s behaviours don’t bother you
  • Do spend time trying to get to know the person and better understand what motivates them
  • Don’t assume that it is all about the other person — you may play a part
  • Don’t commiserate with others who could be unfairly influenced by your negativity or may judge you for your complaints
  • Don’t give feedback unless you can focus on work issues and can avoid a personal conflict

Fortunately, with the right tactics, you can still have a productive working relationship with someone you can’t stand.  I do hope you’ve found the above information informative.

Thanks for the feedback, please keep it coming. 

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Mahmood Noman is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and a Member of the Chartered Management Institute.


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