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What To Do if You Don’t Like Your Co-Workers (or Employees)*
This is a taboo subject. In fact, you’re not even supposed to say it out loud.
But the fact of the matter is that we’re all human and no amount of communications classes, diversity and inclusion efforts, and company team-building retreats will guarantee that all employees like each other or their supervisors. Or that all supervisors will like their employees.
So, let’s just acknowledge the elephant in the living room: sometimes we don’t like the people we work with. And that’s ok.
But, just because it’s ok, doesn’t relieve anyone of the obligation of the requirement to work well with each other – even co-workers we don’t like.
Now that we’ve admitted (at least to ourselves) that there are some co-workers or employees we don’t like…And we’ve acknowledged that we still have to find a way to be productive and professional with them…what can you do if you don’t like your co-workers? The truth is, you’re not as powerless in this situation as you may think. There are numerous things that are within your power to improve the situation – at the very least for yourself and possibly for the company as a whole.*
Company Diversity Leads to Better Work
There’s a good chance that – if everyone at your company thought just like you and approached work just like you – you might find it easier to like everyone you work with. After all, if they’re just different iterations of yourself, what’s not to like?
Ignoring the fact that we often dislike characteristics in others that remind us of our own faults, companies with employee diversity actually produce better work. “Diverse people bring different values and different assumptions to the table. Their varied histories allow them to see problems through different lenses and draw on different models and examples than others. This can be beneficial even if it feels disruptive,” writes Alice Boyes Ph.D. in her Psychology Today article “How to Get Along With Your Coworkers.”
The trick is how to avoid (or at least survive) interpersonal conflict well enough to benefit from the differences of opinions.
Tips for Getting Along with Co-Workers
Recognize your co-workers’ strengths. Begin by putting your ego on the backburner and be willing to look at characteristics and behaviors that bother you. Then, challenge yourself to see what’s beneficial about these things. The third step is to compliment or thank the employee for these contributions. This is not the same as shallow lip service or flattery. It needs to be sincere. “When you help others identify their strengths, it will give them the confidence to use those strengths more. They'll want to be around you and further show off those strengths to you,” Dr. Boyes writes.
Be a better communicator. Guess what? Being a better communicator is not primarily about sharing your ideas and instructions more clearly, though that’s certainly helpful. The bigger goal is to be a better listener, in particular listening to different perspectives. You may gain valuable new ideas you wouldn’t have considered on your own. And, just as importantly, you’ll establish a company culture of respect and open-mindedness that will, in turn, lead to less conflict.
Respect others. Yes, this should go without saying. However, it can be easy to lose sight of individual contributions or to become overly fixated on negative things about an employee. The truth is, each employee is a necessary component to the overall success of the team. If one person was sufficient to run your company, your payroll would be a whole lot shorter. In fact, each employee has something unique and valuable to contribute to your company.
One way to increase feelings of respect for others is to find common ground. The Indeed Editorial board has some great advice on this: “No matter how different your coworkers might be, you have at least one thing in common. After all, you work for the same company, which means you are contributing to the same overall objectives. Even if you disagree about how to accomplish a task or how to divide responsibilities, remember you have shared goals—use your unity as an advantage.”
Be professional. This can mean a variety of things, from how you converse with co-workers and clients to how you dress. But the simplest understanding of it is to have a clear boundary between work and personal life. That means that, even when we feel close to our co-workers, employees and clients, we need to maintain professional boundaries. Don’t talk about overly personal topics at work, particularly contentious ones, and remember that our relationships are – first and foremost – professional ones, not friendships.
Improve Your Relationships by Improving Yourself
This may seem counterintuitive. In any case, it’s certainly very difficult, but working to improve your own professional skills not only improves you, it encourages others to adopt a self-improvement mindset. Additionally, as a supervisor, your flaws and weaknesses can have a greater impact on the overall efficacy of the company in part because employees look to you for instruction and example. A single employee cutting corners on some paperwork might not cause much of a disturbance but a company full of incomplete paperwork won’t perform well.
Make an effort to understand how you’re perceived, including habits and characteristics that might rub people the wrong way. As supervisors, our most important role is to influence others in a positive way, and we can’t do that without recognizing how we impact others. Even seemingly-innocuous things – like loudly picking our nails or the tendency to read your phone during conversations – can affect how an individual responds to you. And wider-reaching factors like having a pessimistic mindset or a chronic sense of overwhelm and hecticness can alter the entire atmosphere.
Share your tips and experiences with getting along with co-workers!
*This article is based on the assumption that the co-worker or employee we don’t like is competent and is meeting their employment expectations. If they’re falling down on the job, no amount of effort to get along with them will change an inadequate professional performance.