How To Work With People You Hate (And People You Love)

I remember, a few years ago during a family dinner, I complained to my dad about a coworker that I was having trouble getting along with. My dad, nearing retirement after 35 years at his publishing company, responded with something I’ll never forget: he told me that this coworker of mine was only one of only four coworkers at the small company I was at—I only disliked 25% of the people I worked with, which “was pretty good.” Most people, it was heavily implied, disliked far more from 25% of their coworkers. While it may have been an offhand comment made partially in jest, it got me thinking about how to work with people you hate.

From my experience in everything from the service industry to entrepreneurship, I’ve come to realize that there are two types of people that are particularly difficult to work with: people you hate and people you love (which, I know, feels counterintuitive). It’s no fun to work with people you hate, for obvious reasons. But it can also be equally challenging to work with people you’re personally close to, for completely different reasons. It is imperative that both situations are handled correctly, because, if not, relationships can suffer and feelings can get hurt. 

Working With People You Hate

First of all, it’s important to remember that whatever issue there is between you and this coworker, it is still less important than whatever job you two are performing. This will keep you focused on doing your work, rather than on hating your coworker. 

As hard as it may be, it might be beneficial to try to view the situation through the eyes of your coworker. Why do you they dislike you/are upset with you? Attempting to understand their point of view may help keep tensions from escalating, which is the last thing you want to do. 

At a recent job of mine, I discovered that one of my coworkers had been regularly complaining about me to management, voicing frustrations over the quality of my work and my general attitude. My management didn’t see a problem with my work, so none of my coworkers’ complaints were ever relayed to me, resulting in pent-up feelings of resentment that eventually were communicated to me in a dramatic and frankly very public way—she left a note in the middle of the workspace for everyone to see, telling me I wasn’t doing my job correctly and that she was the only one who was. My coworker’s words were initially hurtful, but once I had a chance to think it through, I came to see her side of the situation. Various miscommunications had resulted in my coworker’s impression that I was not doing my job properly (we had been taught differently and had different expectations of “correct”). While I disagreed (strongly) in the way my coworker handled her frustration, being able to understand her frustrations helped me move past my own anger (and not want to cry/yell/run away every time I worked with her in the future).

For the majority of minor workplace disagreements, a simple avoidance or “in their shoes” approach is effective enough. Simply don’t engage, be polite, focus on your own work. Be the bigger person However, not all disagreements are that easily resolved. If this coworker is doing anything to actually threaten you or make you uncomfortable, or if you truly feel the disagreement is too much to handle, bring it up to your supervisor or manager. The vast majority of the time, managers understand that conflicts occur among employees and are willing to listen to your concerns or mediate a discussion for you.

Working With People You Love

On the opposite end of the spectrum, working with people you love is also a challenge. While working with all your BFFs may seem like the dream job, if you are serious about your job (and serious about not getting fired), you may need to set some boundaries first. Not only are friends super distracting, but it’s also much harder to negotiate workplace disagreements or conflicts with friends, and it also runs the risk of harming a close relationship. 

In any job, conflicts inevitably arise. They don’t always have to be major or life-changing, but sometimes coworkers will do things (or fail to do things) that make your job or your life more difficult. In the restaurant industry, this could look like table-stealing. In retail, it could be failing to stock or take inventory. Whatever it may be, when these types of small conflicts occur between friends on a regular basis, it can lead to festering resentment or feelings of annoyance, neither of which are good for friendships.

With that in mind, it may be best in the long run to avoid working side-by-side with your best friend or family member, if at all possible. But sometimes situations like this are unavoidable (like a family business or a job opportunity that’s just too perfect to pass up) or intentional (like me and Ava starting this business). In these cases, it’s probably best to leave most of your friendship at the door when heading into work. I don’t mean act like you’ve never met your friend, but try to keep the inside jokes, laughter, and general messing around to a minimum. If/when disagreements arise, keep the lines of respectful communication open between you and your friend, and try to settle the disagreement as you would with any other coworker or acquaintance (that is, respectfully and politely) rather than as you would with a best friend (through emotions). 

For example, a minor conflict arose between Ava and I regarding this article. As the unseasoned writer that I am, I was having difficulty meeting the publication deadline Ava had set for me, resulting in mixed feelings of pressure and resentment and dissatisfaction with my own abilities. But after a long text conversation between us, I forced myself to take many steps back and view Ava as a coworker and business partner rather than a best friend. Ava was setting deadlines for me because she was trying to do her job, not because she was trying to ruin my lazy day off. Sounds silly, but friendships can often make those kinds of distinctions fuzzy. 

The Most Important Part

The most important part of having to work with people you hate and people you love is keeping a level head and knowing/being willing to stand up for the quality of your work. In the future, we’ll talk about some specific communication techniques you can use to lubricate these iffy workplace settings, as well as well as more information on the workplace disagreements that are more than petty annoyance.

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