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I hate you

Working with someone you despise can be a negative and dispiriting experience. Some whining idiot, who always knows best and pours scorn on others’ ideas, can destroy your positivity and productiveness. Rather than focusing on what you are meant to be doing, you waste time reining in, or giving vent to, your heightened emotions. But there is hope.

Robert Sutton teaches management science at Stanford University and has written the books, Good Boss, Bad Boss and The No Asshole Rule. He says annoying colleagues are part of the human condition; “There are always other people, relatives, fellow commuters, neighbours or co-workers, who we are at risk of tangling with.”

The best tactic is to simply avoid people you don’t like, but that is not always feasible at work, so it is best to consider some coping mechanisms.

1. Manage your reaction

Daniel Goleman, co-director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organisations, at Rutgers University, says:”Your response to your dreaded co-worker may range from slight discomfort to outright hostility.” If there is someone annoying you, don’t think about how that person acts, think about how you react. It is more productive to focus on your behaviour, because you can control it. Coleman advises you practise a daily relaxation method to handle your triggers. He says: “This will enhance your ability to handle stress, which means the annoying person isn’t that annoying anymore.”

2. Keep your distaste to yourself

Avoid the temptation to slag off an annoying colleague with other workmates; we all have a tendency to seek validation of our own opinions, but in this instance, we should try not to. Sutton says: “Because emotions are so contagious, you can bring everyone down; besides, complaining about someone in your office can reflect negatively on you. If you have to vent, choose people outside the office.”

3. Consider whether it might be you, not them

Think about what it is you don’t like about this person. Is there something specific, or just that they are different from you? Maybe you are jealous of their position within the firm. Sutton says: “When someone is doing better than us, we tend to scorn them. The more different someone is from us, the more likely we are to have a negative reaction to them.”

Focus on actual behaviours, not the traits, that annoy you. Sutton says: “Start with the hypothesis that the person is doing things that you don’t like, but is, in fact, a good person. By better understanding what is bothering you, you may be able to see your role in it. It is reasonable to assume that you are part of the problem. Be honest with yourself about your share of the issue and be on the lookout for patterns. If everywhere you go, there’s someone you hate, it’s a bad sign.”

4. Spend more time with them

Tough one this. Counterintuitively, one of the best ways to get to like someone you don’t like, is to work on a project that requires co-ordination. Goleman says: “You might feel compassion instead of irritation. You may discover the reasons for someone’s annoying actions, maybe there’s trouble at home, pressure from the boss, or a sense of failure.” Spending more time with someone you think you hate, may help build up empathy and will definitely give you the opportunity for some more positive experiences.

5. Consider giving them some feedback

The nuclear option, as this may well earn you a punch in the mouth. “Don’t assume the person knows how they are coming across,” says Sutton. “You should definitely not launch into a list of everything your colleague does to annoy you, but maybe focus on aspects of behaviour that can be controlled and that impact on you and your work together.”

Goleman advises proceeding with caution; “Whether you give feedback depends on how artful you are as a communicator and how receptive they are as a person. The landmine when giving emotional feedback is that they take it personally and it escalates. You also need to be open to hearing feedback yourself. If you you don’t like someone, the chances are, they aren’t very fond of you either.”

6. Adopt a don’t care attitude

This is my personal favourite. When you are totally stuck and can’t provide feedback, Sutton recommends you, “practise the fine art of emotional detachment, or not giving a shit.” By ignoring the irritating behaviours, you neutralise their affect on you. If someone’s being a pain, but you don’t feel the pain, then there’s no problem. This type of cognitive reframing can be effective in situations where you have little to no control.

Finally, if all else fails, I recommend you challenge your nemesis to a duel.

Nigel Phillips

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