How to work with people you don’t like
Working can feel impossible when you have to collaborate with someone you don’t like. Here’s how to do it.
Michelle* had recently taken on the role of CPO at a large manufacturing organisation. It was a job she’d been planning, and pining for, for years, so she was heavily invested in making it a success. To do so, she’d carefully mapped her stakeholders, investing in understanding each of their unique needs and situations. But two months in, there was a problem. And the name of that problem was Mark. Unfortunately, Mark was also the CFO.
Michelle had done what she could to get Mark onside. And worse, she could see from his relationships with others in the business that Mark wasn’t particularly difficult – in fact, he seemed to be generally competent and well-liked. But she just didn’t like him, and he didn’t like her either.
As many of us in procurement would know, though, not getting along with the finance department can be particularly troublesome. And so it was with Michelle. Mark was going to be integral to her success – so what should she do?
If we’re all being honest, we’ve all come across a Mark – or a Michelle – in our working lives. Someone who, despite others not seeing it, just makes our blood boil with frustration and our mind explode with confusion. Someone we simply don’t like.
But nowadays, with procurement intimately connected to all corners of organisations and stakeholder management more important than ever, we can’t simply ignore the fact that we don’t like someone. We need to do something about it.
But what? Here’s how to navigate the frustrating waters of a colleague that has you hot under the collar:
Step 1: Accept and reflect
No matter how likeable or nice we think we are, we have to accept that it’s not possible to get along with everyone. The first step to improving relationships with someone you don’t like is simply this: accepting that not everyone will be your best friend (or even ally) and that it isn’t a personal reflection on you.
Beyond acceptance, another important first step is to reflect on the positive you can garner from the relationship, even if it is a difficult one. What can you learn? How can you grow? Difficult relationships are, usually, much rarer than positive ones, so if you flip your frustration on its head, you’re bound to learn something.
2. Understand their perspective
When you decide that someone frustrates you, you naturally recoil. Then, when you do need to deal with them, you discount and/or/get annoyed by everything they say and do. In other words, once trust and respect are gone, it’s difficult to get them back.
But in the situation where you have to work with someone you don’t like, it’s important to try and be the bigger person, no matter how challenging this might seem. Ask yourself: Why is this person acting in this particular way? What do they want/need differently from me? How might I be frustrating them? Reflecting on their motivations will help you appreciate their goals, behaviours and different points of view. In turn, this will help you have empathy for their situation.
3. Increase your self-awareness
The term ‘it takes two to tango’ is true of all relationships, and a large part of working with people you don’t like is to understand how you contribute to that relationship. Understanding your own personal style can be a big part of this.
In the example above, Michelle knew that she was a strong extrovert, and that she always preferred face to face meetings and lots of social time with her colleagues. She was also a little disorganised, and never understood why past colleagues got frustrated when she was late to meetings or moved them at the last minute. After all, she got the job done.
Mark, on the other hand, was a strong introvert and preferred the comfort of everything via email. He was precise, particular and enjoyed routines and certainty. He mistook Michelle’s carefree attitude for incompetence.
By increasing her awareness of her personal style, Michelle could learn a lot about why she might frustrate Mark – and vice versa. Understanding this is a critical part of repairing poor relationships.
4. Be collaborative – not competitive
The hierarchical nature of organisations can lead many of us to feel we need to compete with each other. Yet that attitude alone is responsible for many poor relationships. If you want to get along, it’s better to focus on collaborating.
It can take some courage to do this, but one way of encouraging better collaboration with someone you don’t like is to simply ask them how to do this, instead of constantly trying to find workarounds to make them happy. Asking something along the lines of ‘I don’t feel we’re working together in the best possible way – do you have any ideas on how to fix this?’ can go a long way in ensuring a better partnership.
If you don’t like someone, the last thing you’re going to want to do is flatter them, as it can seem ingenuine. But doing so in a more subtle way can help repair a relationship, especially if you essentially ‘shift the problem’ of the relationship over to them by simply asking for their help.
In Michelle’s situation, one way to repair her relationship with Mark might be to take him for a coffee and seek his expertise on how to best connect with people in the organisation and succeed. The question will have the effect of making Mark think that Michelle believes he is an organisational success story, and he might be more willing to open up. This will ‘humanise’ the relationship and help both Michelle and Mark feel more comfortable with each other.
Most importantly – start working on your frustrations early
For so many of us, our colleagues and stakeholders can make or break our experience at work. Inevitably though, we’ll come across people we don’t like.
When we do, it’s important to work on those relationships, often and early. There’s nothing worse than being frustrated on a daily basis, when we could have seen the incredible human our colleague was long ago.
What techniques do you use to better work with people you don’t like? Tell us in the comments below.
*Names changed to protect privacy.
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