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Experts in social psychology will tell you it’s possible to get along with team members you despise, but the advice you often get is: Just avoid them, use some soft skills to connect, offer to help, be their friend at work, be an optimist, etc.
Those tips all sound good—on paper, but in the real world working with others you just can’t stand, no matter what the reason, often doesn’t fall into those neat box categories of tips for success. Let’s face it, if you’re a social psychologist, the chances of your working with someone you hate are slim to none.
Instead of following the expert advice, I have some tips I’ve used throughout my career and while they may not be backed by any scientific study or data, they did seem to work for me and, actually, are still working.
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Where Does the Dislike Come From?
Before you learn how to get along better with these challenging folks, do you know why you dislike them? Even in project management where the methodologies dictate how the project will flow, there is still the human element; but people do fall into various categories. First you need to understand why these relationships are full of stress. To do this, it’s best to first categorize those who challenge your patience.
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It’s tough to change these types unless they commit some sort of crime and are hoisted off to jail to get an attitude reality check. You can report them and every project management office (PMO) or company should have a workplace bullying policy, but what if that fails? Bullies aren’t afraid of rules and policies and they certainly aren’t afraid of you.
Most bullies are cowards or are hiding behind their own insecurities. Offering to be their new BFF won’t work, so what you have to do is stand up to them and hold your ground. That doesn’t mean you have to swear, threaten or become them. What it does mean is using sensible words in a calm voice. Try using words and phrases like, “Sorry, I don’t agree with that and I’m not proceeding that way," or “You want to proceed this way, go ahead—you follow your process and I’ll follow mine." Emotional Intelligence (EQ) statements are also effective on bullies. An example would be using lots of “I" statements: “I don’t like the way I feel after that comment" or “This is how I want to proceed and I feel offended by your statements." The premise is that by using “I" statements your words will sink in somewhere and the bully will start using “I" statements too. Long ago I heard one interesting piece of advice offered for dealing with bullies: You should repeat everything they say back to them, but to me, it seems that will make them mad fast and you could end up in real fisticuffs. Above all, you need to ignore the harsh words they may use in retaliation and if your project leader won’t do anything when you report the bully—go higher up.
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These are my absolute worst people to work for or with, and when you’re working on a team project, these people can harm the project by lowering the morale so low people quit. If you’ve never worked for or with a face-eater here’s an example of one. Say you and your fellow team member are assigned to gather focus group data with a reporting deadline in two days. The face-eater wants all the credit but he wants you to do all the work. To achieve his goals, he screams at you, uses vile choices of words and will throw you under the bus in a minute.
You can’t really call face-eaters pessimistic because they are worse than that. Embarrassing you or putting you down in front of the team is their goal in life. Why wouldn’t you despise a coworker like this?
Still, one must find a way to deal with those types. This again requires building up an inner strength on your part along with the reality that what face-eaters do does constitute a hostile working environment under discrimination and harassment laws. Don’t engage a face-eater; instead, speak with someone who has the power to get rid of them or put distance between you and them. The sad part is often face-eaters are project leaders or managers. If you put up with this daily, you will become stressed out and get an ulcer. If this is what you want in life then to you I say, good luck. The only way to get along with these people is to find ways to get rid of them. If you keep complaining, someone has to liste--and they will, because face-eaters don’t just pick on one person—they pick on everyone.
Some may disagree with me here but these types never shed their skins so do what you must, even if that means filing a formal complaint with an official agency to rid your work environment of them.
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Then there are those times when bullying, yelling or name-calling never comes into play but you still can’t stand working with them. They are sloppy and you feel they are ineffective and lack the skill sets needed to complete the tasks assigned, so you’re stuck doing everything.
First off, how much are you contributing to their continued sloppiness? If you keep covering up for them you are actually just as much at fault as they! Instead, defeat these despised coworkers by offering solutions and mentoring them—be a guide. If you must show them how to get the job done, do so. If you continue to fix all the mistakes, you have no one to blame but yourself.
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This category covers a lot of team members. I don’t mean a coworker who uses bad language or gestures. What I do mean is one that dresses so inappropriately it bothers you to the hilt. Or, one that sprays on cologne from head to toe and the smell is so intense you can smell her before she arrives!
Offensive people often don’t realize their dress or other habits and choices are offensive. You can use some EQ skills here as well by telling them you have allergies and can’t wear or be around intense smells—maybe they’ll get the idea. If they don’t, get a small desk fan that blows the smell away from you, toward them. They’ll get the idea.
As far as inappropriate dress, is someone's dress really inappropriate or is it a generational thing? If you are a baby boomer and you’re working with someone from the Gen Y generation, the person may be dressed entirely appropriate based on the likes of his age group. If this is the case, you simply have to stop the dislike and get over it already.
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When You Can’t Change Anything
There will be times, no matter how much you put your foot down, stand your ground or use EQ words and phrases, when the offender just won’t get the message. Here, and I mean this, you need to determine how much the person you dislike is affecting your career. If it’s making you crazy, stressed out and nonproductive you need to think of transferring to a different team or eventually caving in and using your optimistic skills—maybe someday the person will change.
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to getting along with team members you despise. You should use upper management and workplace policy resources for the challenging people, but keep in mind that may not always work.
Finally, at times you may need to take a step back and determine if you are the one being a little over-judgmental or if you’re actually aiding them in their path to annoy you by completing work they’re supposed to do. Sometimes the fix needs to come from you, and that may require an attitude adjustment on your part.
How do you deal with coworkers you really don’t like? Do you just put up with them or have you done something about it? Drop me a comment below because your experiences will help others find real solutions to similar problems. If enough people can offer up some suggestions, perhaps you’ll be able to share this web page link with the offensive coworker—maybe then she will change!