Ask Knightley: How to work with people you don’t like


Emma asked me to write today’s blog, and suggested I talk about this subject in particular. According to Emma, I’ve been “lecturing” about it a lot lately and should “make myself useful” by writing it down since I seem to know so much about it.  Which wasn’t the worst suggestion in the world, no matter how she meant it, so here goes.

This is a conversation that comes up a lot and with good reason, given the many different ways it can apply. Some weeks you end up spending more time with coworkers than with your friends and family.  In order to build a team atmosphere, offices often arrange extracurricular activities to encourage employees to socialize.  And if any part of your job includes customer interaction, it’s always nicer helping people you genuinely like, isn’t it?

It’s easier if you care about your job and the business is of personal interest to you – then at least you have something in common with those you work with and for.  Or if you’re newer to the workplace and your job right now is really all about just paying the bills, you might bond over your desire to achieve more.  But the sad truth is that at some point on the job, you will be forced to deal with people you don’t like, and how you handle them can have a direct effect on your career.  Still, there are ways to get through it without being miserable.

Step one – Remember you’re there to work

Easy enough.  Just focus on the job.  While others around you might constantly distract themselves with personal conversations, you don’t have to feel pressured to join in unless you want to.  That doesn’t mean you should try and stop them.  Reminding others to focus on the job, unless you’re in charge, might start an argument that becomes even more distracting.  Simply do what you’re there to do and don’t worry about what others think.

Step two – Play nice

It never hurts to be polite.  Just because you personally don’t like someone doesn’t mean they’re a bad person.  Maybe they don’t like you either.  Don’t be so focused on avoiding them that you forget to be friendly in general.  Asking someone how their day is going or offering to grab them a coffee when you get one for yourself can go a long way towards building bridges instead of burning them.  It also helps create a better working atmosphere for everyone.  Remember, the two of you are not the only people there.

Step three – Find common ground

Maybe you think they’re annoying, immature, loud, obnoxious, conceited, or just plain mean.  That’s not easy to get past, but then again, that may not be all there is to them.  If you dig a little deeper, you may find out that you have areas of overlap. Maybe you’re both older siblings who worry about your family, or love dogs, or even just like the same television show. Every individual is made up of a lot of layers and has plenty of interests, so all you need to do is find one.  One subject you can talk about and maybe (hopefully) agree on.  It may not be enough to build a relationship, but it might be enough to break the ice and fill uncomfortable silences. Or at least get you through a shared elevator ride.

Step four – It’s a numbers game

If it’s really that bad, if everything about this person is unbearable, don’t let that keep you from participating in work events or conversations.  That’s being unfair to yourself, your future, and all the other coworkers who might appreciate having you there.  Just make sure you always hang out in a group so that any animosity between the two of you can be diluted by the crowd.

Step five – Be real

That’s it.  Be real.  It’s one thing to pick and choose your topics, or be considerate, or keep harsh thoughts to yourself.  But don’t make a habit of being insincere and pretending to like people you don’t.  That’s the first step down a long road that can affect everything about who you are and what you stand for.  Professionally, I respect those that can put personal feelings aside to get the job done. But personally, I don’t believe in hiding who you are and what you feel.  Honesty can be intense and inconvenient, but it can also be refreshing.  And you can never trust someone who only tells you what you want to hear.  That’s where I’ve been so fortunate in my job.  I’m constantly surrounded by people who are true to themselves, and there is no one I trust more.

Hope that helps.