It never fails: there’s always one coworker you can’t get along with. Here are five tips for dealing with difficult people you just don’t want to be around.
There are two groups of people in life you don’t get to choose: your family and your coworkers.
The main difference? You only see your family on nights, weekends, or maybe even just holidays. But you spend almost your entire day, day after day, for the majority of the week (47 hours on average!), with your coworkers.
When you interview for a job, you likely assess how much you click with each of the interviewers, from a professional standpoint but also a personal one. These are the people, after all, with whom you’ll be grabbing lunch, catching up on Better Call Saul episodes, and hustling in the trenches.
But no matter how awesome most of your coworkers are, there will be at least one that just totally annoys you, rubs you the wrong way, offends you, provokes you, or is just so different from you in every possible way that you feel like you can’t possibly get along. Ever.
Maybe he has strong political beliefs and insists on expounding on them at length throughout the work day. Maybe she’s aggressively ambitious, constantly challenging your authority. Maybe he’s so self-righteous that he thinks everyone else’s tastes and opinions are of no worth whatsoever.
The problem is compounded when this person is someone you’re charged with directly managing.
What to do? Here are a few suggestions for dealing with difficult people.
1. Focus on performance, not personality
You already know this, but it’s worth the reminder: you’re not at work to make new BFFs. You’re there to deliver strong product, earn stripes, and advance. The same goes for those you manage, whether you jibe with them or not.
Every time you feel aggravated by an interaction with an employee you don’t get along with, drag your thoughts back to that truth. If what they’re doing is not interfering with their professional performance, and not affecting the performance of those around them, it’s not your concern.
2. Manage missteps gracefully
Might you at some point, exacerbated by your tension with this person, snap at them or otherwise act in a way you wish you hadn’t? Possibly.
The key is to admit fault, apologize sincerely but succinctly at your next one-on-one, and move on. If your relationship with this person isn’t ideal to begin with, you don’t want them building a case against you.
3. Consider where frustrating behavior originates
Is the person you’re managing several (or more) years younger than you, and therefore perhaps a little immature? Did they grow up with a completely different background than you, exposed to role models that shaped their actions in such a way that they have no idea there’s anything wrong?
When someone’s behavior irks you, no matter the circumstances, it helps to think about what might be driving that conduct. It won’t make it less annoying, but it’ll help you understand its source.
4. Put yourself in their position
It’s totally possible that your direct report who ruffles your feathers feels the same way about you. Maybe you two used to be on the same level in the company hierarchy, and you were promoted over them. Maybe they disagree with your strategy on a certain project. Your laugh annoys them, or they don’t like your taste in clothing, or they wish you’d give them a raise.
Don’t forget: it takes two. When you feel frustrated, remember that there may be frustration coming your way as well. Every so often, do a self-check to adjust any behavior on your own part that could be obnoxious, disrespectful, or just annoying.
5. Appreciate the opportunity for self-improvement
Whenever you have the chance in life to work on yourself, savor it. (Click here to tweet this bit of career advice.) It’s easiest to improve qualities like patience, empathy, and self-control when you’re directly faced with a situation or person that challenges those ideas. Ironically, the employee that’s giving you internal grief is also giving you a gift in facilitating an opportunity for you to grow as a person and as a manager.
Above all, remember that the manager-employee relationship consists of two individuals just trying to do their best work. Outside of a work utopia, there’s no way you’re always going to get along with everyone you work with — whether it’s a fellow manager, your own boss, or someone who reports to you.
What you can do in these frustrating situations is do your best to make the most of a troublesome relationship. By doing so, you’ll learn about yourself, your coworker, and about good management.
Allison Stadd is a New York-based marketer and freelance blogger. She has produced content, crafted social media strategy, and built online and offline communities for everything from small women-owned businesses to global brands. Say hi on Twitter: @AllisonStadd.