Isn’t it wonderful when you make friends at your job? You can go out after work, commiserate about your shared experiences, and remain pals long after you’ve departed your company. But for as lovely as that is, there is a darker opposite situation: Sometimes, you absolutely hate a coworker.
You can still be productive at work and get things done in spite of your overwhelming dislike for a colleague, though. Here’s how.
Practice “professional detachment”
First thing’s first: Compartmentalize your feelings. This one is obvious, but you have to maintain it.
“Practice something called professional detachment,” said Laurie Ruettimann, an HR consultant and the author of Betting on You: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career. “Treat that person like a client and not a co-worker. If they’re clients, you get to have a little bit of emotional distance. You also get to set boundaries. Finally, it doesn’t matter if they make you mad, because at the end of the day, they’re just not part of your life. They’re part of your network. You can technically emotionally fire them.”
One worker in the digital space who asked not to be named out of a disinterest in torching professional bridges recalled a time six years ago when he worked with someone whose personality was abrasive and whose unapologetic politics he found downright distasteful. “Honestly, we got on fine,” he said, adding, “I left the company a few weeks later.”
No, you don’t need to quit. That’s an extreme example, although it’s certainly an option—especially if you can get a better job and level up. Focus instead on the, “Honestly, we got on fine” part, which is exactly what professional detachment results in. HRUTech’s Tim Sackett, author of The Talent Fix: A Leader’s Guide to Recruiting Great Talent, added that while quitting—or even just ignoring the person completely—can be tempting, it isn’t a great look: “Running away might make you feel immediately better, but it doesn’t help your career long-term, and it looks like you can’t deal with people you don’t see eye-to-eye with.”
Instead, he said, “kill them with kindness and act like you are totally fine with them, but limit your interactions.” This could even “drive them more crazy” and cause them to leave, he said.
You can dislike someone and still work with them. You can think their opinions are terrible, their actions are inexcusable, and their work is shoddy, but you can still do your part to treat them respectfully and professionally during business hours. Decrease the amount of time you spend around them as much as possible, put on a happy face when you have to see them, and keep it moving like an adult.
Seek conflict resolution by whatever means necessary
Ruettimann said that in her years in human resources, she dealt with employee contact constantly. (“I worked in human resources. I saw this weekly. It’s the story of my life.”)
That conflict needs a resolution, she said, and there are two ways to secure it: Find a healthy compromise or find a productive solution.
If two people come to a healthy compromise, they both agree on what needs to be done, they respect one another, and maybe they don’t both win outright, but they “both win a little bit.” If they come to a productive solution instead, she said, it means they both hate each other, their differences are insurmountable, but they agree to “just get the job done.”
Healthy compromise can be reached by two individuals on their own. To do that, consider working on more projects with the other person, getting to know them better, and putting your job first. If that’s not working out, reorient your goal toward finding that productive solution—but be advised you’ll need a mediator. Ruettimann said that could be another person in the department, a manager, or a human resources representative.
Identify if you’re the problem
Don’t hate us for this one, but have you considered whether you are the problem here? Do you dislike your coworker for valid reasons, or do you hate them because they remind you of your former best friend? Are you just in a bad mood, overall? Do you hate your job, and could you be taking that frustration out on innocent people who work there? If they have the job you want, could you be criticizing them for not doing it how you’d do it, if you were only given the chance?
Coworker spats are nothing new. Back in 2012, Robert Sutton, a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University, told the Harvard Business Review, “When someone is doing better than us, we tend to scorn them.” You should try to identify behaviors, not traits, that annoy you, so you can determine if your dislike is actually rooted in something substantial.
Vent, but only after work
Gossiping with coworkers can be sort of stress-relieving and build a sense of community, sure, but don’t talk shit about your despised colleague to others at work. Do you really know who’s on your side, or could someone you vent to be a secret ally of your enemy, or an impartial observer who just wants to stir up some drama and watch it unfold? Instead, get all of your frustrations out to your friends outside of work.
You need to keep things civil between you and your hated peer, whether that animosity goes both ways or just one. Maintaining a professional demeanor at work is important, as is being able to express yourself in your off hours, getting all your emotions out, and feeling less weighed down by it all.