How To Work With People You Don’t Like

One of the great things about the workplace is that it throws us into a social environment where we are required to work alongside, communicate with, and get along with, people from a broad range of backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, and belief systems.

As a result, you could well be working alongside someone who has very different views about subjects you might feel strongly about, like religion, politics, gender diversity, or even sports teams. They may also have a different way of communicating, and even ways of working.

Often, clients talk to me about the challenges they are facing in working with others and ask me what strategies I can suggest that would help them be more effective in these situations. While I can offer strategies, the first and most important step in working with others is a mindset shift – a shift to apatheia.

Apatheia, not to be confused with Apathy, is a state of being where one cares appropriately about what is going on around you but are not disproportionately impacted or affected by these external events.

In emotional intelligence terms we think of this as an aspect of Independence. We neither want to be too emotionally close to others that they can have too much of an impact (what we call enmeshment), or too far away from them that we become uncaring (dissociation).

When we can find the sweet spot between these two states, we are much better able to separate what happens ‘out there’ from impacting what happens ‘in here’, in your head.

When you are in an enmeshed state, you may care way too much about someone else’s behaviour, actions, or beliefs, even when their actual impact on you is minimal. Dissociation leads to the opposite – you do not care at all about the other person.

Dissociation might seem like a safe option when dealing with someone you don’t like, but two people who are dissociated are unlikely to be collaborative. And, if you are working in a team, some degree of collaboration is likely required.

If you are in a leadership position, dissociation is even less of an option. Its important to treat everyone in your team with the same level of care, irrespective of the degree to which you like them, or not.

So how does this understanding of apatheia and independence help in working effectively with others? The most fundamental benefit is that it provides a platform for the most important rule of workplace collaboration.

You don't have to like the people you work with, but you do have to work with them. Click To Tweet

Sure, hopefully there are some people at work you like. It has been well established that ‘having a best friend at work’ is an important part of workplace engagement. Having someone you can vent and grumble with about workplace woes is a very useful thing indeed.

When I think back over my career, there has almost always been someone in my workplace with whom I could talk about the latest drama, or complain about the latest decision, and they could do the same to me, with no judgment on either side.

Having someone to talk these things through with is a useful outlet, as well as go and grab a coffee, can make a big difference in how you feel about your day to day experience at work.

But what about when you are forced to work with someone who really rubs you the wrong way? That’s the challenge that many people find them in on a daily basis.

Perhaps the first and most important thing is to recognize your dislike of another person boils down to the feelings you have towards them. This is a result of what you know about them, as well as your experiences with them at work.

Looking at it in this cold, factual way is an important step in moving that aforementioned sweet spot. They are just a bundle of characteristics and behaviours, just like you.

Their different views on significant subjects like politics or religion can, and often do impact how you view then. That’s just human nature, and it’s a tough thing to eliminate. However, you can manage your reactions to it.

For example, maybe there is a person who has an opposing political viewpoint to yours, and in the past has said things that go strongly against your belief systems. Does that make them a bad person? No. It simply means they have a different perspective than you.

Just as your perspective is a product of your experience and psychological makeup, so is theirs. If you want to have your views and perspectives respected, you must first respect theirs.

This sounds easy to do, and a great many people would say they do it, but you have likely seen instances where people disrespect other people’s views – it’s a common occurrence.

Now that you respect their views and perspectives, can you see them as a productive, inventive, and creative team member? If they come up with an idea for a new product, or a solution to a problem, can you look at that product or solution objectively, without your feelings about the person coloring your judgment?

Unfortunately, science says that is very difficult indeed. Known as Reactive Devaluation, we tend to place less value, or even a negative value on ideas or proposals from people that we distrust or dislike. The key here is to manage, or suspend, that distrust and dislike.

Here are some tips on working with others who you don’t like:

  1. Respect that their worldview was, like yours, built from experience. It is no less valid than yours. Don’t make fun of, or disrespect their worldview and they are less likely to disrespect yours, but if they do, see #5
  2. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if only THEY respected YOU more, things would be different. Be the better person and go first. Don’t let your ego get in the way.
  3. Recognize that at work, your views (or theirs) are likely not a necessary part of the daily discourse. Focus on the work.
  4. See every interaction as a new event. Try and see things through an objective lens and focus on what is relevant to the situation.
  5. If someone else says something that you find offensive or distasteful, do your best to simply ignore it. Remember Apatheia. What goes on out there, does not need to affect what goes on ‘in-here’.
  6. Keep the big picture in mind. Your goals at work should be positively focused, such as those relationships that bring you joy, completion of the task, and maybe even advancement. Does an interpersonal difference with someone you don’t really like matter?

If you are in a leadership position, here are a couple of additional tips:

  • Where possible, be flexible about how the work gets done. Provided its to required standards and timelines, provide as much space as possible for people to work in their own way.
  • Treat everyone in your team with a similar level of care. Close friendships between a leader and a specific team member can breed discontent among other team members.
  • Don’t push your own personal perspective of viewpoints on non-work topics onto the team. As a leader your opinions or perspectives are magnified, and differences between your views and those of team members can be a source of division between you and your team, and can even lead to fracturing of the team along the lines of these perspectives or viewpoints.

Summing Up

People who can get along, get on. If one of your goals is to move up in your organization, you’ll get to work with more and more people who are likely to have different ideas, different worldviews, and different ways of working. Click To Tweet Being able to collaborate effectively with a broad and diverse range of people is a hallmark of effective leadership, and, fortunately, one that is easy to cultivate.

This article originally appeared on The Enterprisers Project on June 4th – You can see that original post here.

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