No work environment is perfect. Inevitably, you’ll have to deal with a co-worker, boss, or subordinate who you just don’t like. Sometimes, it can be as simple as having different personalities that don’t mesh well, while other times it’s someone who you just can’t stand for one reason or another.
Dealing with difficult working relationships is part of life. You can’t get away from them no matter how many companies you work for or positions you take. There will always be a colleague who you dread coming into contact with.
And while ignoring or avoiding the person might seem like the easiest route, that path isn’t always an option. Occasionally, you’ll find yourself in a situation where you have to find your way past your differences and work together.
To help you not just survive but thrive, below are seven strategies to work with someone you don’t like.
1. Get to Know Them
We’re all human. None of us are perfect and we’re not made to get along with everyone. The reality is that we’re all made to like people who are more like us, but being around someone who is different than you doesn’t have to keep you from building a working relationship.
Force yourself out of your comfort zone and get to know the person you despise. If you’re going to have to work with someone you don’t like, you might as well make the situation better by trying to bring down barriers. Look for similarities between you—things you both like or dislike. You might be surprised how much more likable the person is than you originally thought.
2. Don’t Take Their Behavior Personally
If the reason you dislike the person is because of how they behave, the situation can be more complicated. It’s difficult to work with someone who is always rude, causes suffering, or enjoys attacking you. The key is to not take their behavior personally.
Typically, the way people behave isn’t a direct attack on you; instead, it’s a response to someone or something in their own life. As Miguel Ruiz writes in The Four Agreements, their behavior could stem from “childhood issues, poor role models in the workplace, or a lack of self-confidence.”
It’s often more about the other person than it is about you. So, try and let their behavior roll off your shoulders like so much water.
Also read: How to Deal with an Unapproachable Boss
3. Set Solid Boundaries
Just because you have to work within someone you don’t like doesn’t mean you have to let them walk all over you. You can set boundaries for behavior and interaction that help you distance yourself. The key is to be very clear and communicative about the boundaries you set.
For example, if your colleague constantly calls you with rush requests or sends berating emails, sit down and confront them about what they’re doing. Don’t just let your anger build up. Instead of reacting in a temper, be clear that you won’t respond to those types of communications and that if they want to contact you professionally, only then will you take their call or email.
Check out, A Simple Formula to Set Boundaries.
4. Try Little Things to Get Along
You don’t have to make grand gestures to build a working relationship. Little gifts, actions, and sayings can change how well you get along. For example, something as simple as saying, “Good morning” to the person can start you off in a more positive direction.
Remember, the goal is to make it easier to work with someone you don’t like. So, don’t worry so much about changing the other person. That’s impossible. Worry about changing what you do. Smile at them. Give them a nod in a meeting. Offer to grab a cup of coffee or go out to lunch. Small gestures can help the person respond completely differently.
5. Control the Situation
Not everything is worth your time or attention. When a noxious person throws a tantrum or behaves like a toddler, you don’t have to give them your energy. You can pick your battles and control the argument by taking charge of the situation.
Instead of letting the person go off on a tirade, take a few breaths, and avoid responding in a gut reaction. Then, start asking questions to gain specific facts. You want to get to the heart of their message and find out what you can do to mitigate the situation.
6. Take Breaks from Working with Them
According to research, the more people like you, the more productive, profitable, and easier your life will be. So, grinning and bearing the situation isn’t always your best bet. Instead, you need to learn to give yourself space.
Set limits on how much time and energy your willing to give to work with someone you don’t like. Then, once you reach your limit, disconnect from them emotionally and physically. If they work in the cubical next to you, walk away for a little bit or put on headphones and tell them you’re going to be “in the zone” for a bit. The goal is to give yourself a chance to breathe deep and calm your mind.
7. Neutralize Your Body Language
Our words are only a quarter of the conversation we have with others. Body language can demonstrate power, raise testosterone, indicate you’re lying, or give clear signals that you don’t like someone. If you want to have a better working relationship with someone you don’t like, you have to learn to neutralize your body language.
Pay attention to how you interact with the person. Force yourself to smile even when all you want to do is scowl. Maintain eye contact and avoid typical defensive (hunched shoulders) or aggressive (leaning forward) posturing. You want the other person to feel comfortable and not threatened.
We all have to work with someone we don’t like at one point or another. But if you learn to take specific steps to develop a working relationship even with those people you can’t stand, you’ll find much more success and support in your workplace.