Try as you might to keep things professional, sometimes the personal intrudes on business. And that’s often in the form of a colleague you simply can’t stand.Maybe he is competent and not so obnoxious as to be actually corrosive to your company culture, so you can’t fire or completely avoid him. But something about him just rubs you the wrong way—big time.
There are all sorts of ways this common situation can throw you off your game. Elevated stress levels, smouldering resentments, and circuitous work-arounds to avoid dealing with your office nemesis are hardly good for productivity or sanity. But experts insist there are plenty of ways to defuse the animosity—or even use it your advantage.
On the American Express Open Forum blog, for example, consultant Mike Michalowicz looks to Abraham Lincoln for inspiration on how to manage someone you simply don’t like. As the much-chattered about book Team of Rivals details, Lincoln made an asset out of personal animosity by inviting his enemies into his cabinet. His presidency was stronger for it, and Michalowisz insists that likewise your company will be stronger for incorporating clashing viewpoints and personal styles.
But how do you manage to keep tempers in check? He offers five tips, including:
Find the bigger enemy. My consulting group was engaged to help grow a business run by two sisters. The problem was finger pointing. Each sister blamed their struggles on the other, and they hated each other. That was until they found out their father was diagnosed with cancer. Immediately they had an enemy (the cancer) much greater than their hatred for each other. Instantly, they start to work together amazingly well. Seek to find a common enemy (perhaps a competitor) that you and the employee you hate can target together. A common enemy makes the best of friends.
Hate your hate, because it hates you. The greater the hate you have for your colleague, the greater the burden is for you to carry the weight. Hating her doesn’t hurt her, it hurts you in the form of stress. Forgiving your sworn enemy does not make what she did all right, but it does release the stress for you. How do you forgive? recognise that she is a result of everything she has experienced in her life, just like you and me…. Then simply say the words out loud, ideally to her. And if you can’t forgive her face-to-face, go look at a mirror and say out loud that you forgive her.
Still seething at your incredibly annoying colleague? HBR Blog Networks’s Peter Bregman suggests a way of thinking about the problem that a therapist would love—perhaps you hate this person so intensely because they remind you of your own flaws. If he’s right, working on your problematic relationship with your colleague amounts to the same thing as working on yourself. He writes:
Consider, for a moment, the reason you don’t like someone. Maybe you think they’re greedy. Or selfish. Or dismissive. Or downright mean. In other words, they have some character flaw or disagreeable trait that bothers you. Like my view of Jeff as self-serving, egocentric, and self-satisfied.
Now—and here’s the hard part—think about whether, in the dark shadowy parts of your psyche, you can detect shards of that disagreeable trait in yourself.
Can you be greedy, selfish, dismissive or downright mean? You really don’t like that part of yourself, right? You wish you could distance yourself from that side of you. Just like you wish you could distance yourself from that disliked person.
In other words, chances are, the reason you can’t stand that person in the first place, is that they remind you of what you can’t stand about yourself.
Suddenly, working with people you don’t like becomes a lot more interesting. Because getting to know them better, and accepting the parts of them you don’t like, is actually getting to know yourself better and accepting the parts of yourself you don’t like.
So the way to overcome your dislike of someone else? Overcome your dislike of yourself.
Check out the complete post for much more on this interesting (if challenging) viewpoint on the problem. Also, Bregman isn’t only offering advice on dealing with unpleasant co-workers. He also has an interesting post on defusing negative people.
What tricks do you use to handle personal dislike in the workplace?
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