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What should you do when you dislike working with a specific person

Despite everyone’s best intentions, it is inevitable that project professionals will encounter people they don’t like in the workplace. Yet, for any project to succeed, it is fundamental that you are able to build and maintain good relationships. 

What should you do when you have to work with someone you don’t like – be it a client, colleague or superior?

1 - Develop self-awareness
This is an essential aspect of emotional intelligence. Understanding yourself enables you to understand others around you – it is possible that it is you causing the problem.

Sometimes your own experiences can be the cause of dislike towards another person. Unpleasant experiences have a way of influencing present relationships due to the emotional systems in our brain being programmed to pay more attention to the negative.

For example, someone called Joseph who has treated you badly in the past can set up an unconscious bias towards people called Joseph. It is the brain’s way of drawing lessons from the past to protect us from danger – but it can also cause us problems in the present. When you discern what is creating your negative associations, you’ll be able to control your feelings more effectively. 

Learn to keep your cool and self-control. Be selective in what is worth battling about to save your energy and time. Accept that it is okay not to get on with everyone.

2 - Get to know the other person
The ability to empathise is built on self-awareness. Once you view things from another person’s perspective, it creates circumstances for developing a healthy working relationship.

Listen to the other person and be respectful. When you start listening more than speaking, you encourage the other person to open up to you. Remember basic conversational skills like finding common areas of interest. Remember that everybody has ‘off’ days, even tricky clients!

Try to find out (carefully) if the other person is being troubled by something, although understand that they may not wish to discuss private problems. 

Try to use humour (when it’s appropriate) to lighten the mood but, above all, be honest with them and avoid any misinterpretations or misunderstandings.

3 - Learn to be tolerant of different approaches
Particularly in project management, what you might see as being ‘different’ can often be misread as being ‘difficult’. 
Try to recognise when you switch into a defensive position. While jumping to defend your own ideas, you may be missing out on a quicker, better way of doing things. 

People who think differently to you may devise ideas and solutions that are not immediately obvious to you. So try to avoid assuming that you know what the other person is thinking or feeling.

It is completely natural for your brain to jump to conclusions about people based on your own past experiences, but once you suppress these assumptions, you will gain a great deal of knowledge and understanding.

4 - Be intolerant of aggression
If you are in a position of authority, make it completely obvious that there is no tolerance for aggression and be transparent about the consequences.
If you are experiencing an aggressive or abusive work colleague, be assertive in your responses but do not return the aggression. Be calm, clear and safe in your confrontations. Stick to what you know to be true and don’t let your emotions overcome you. Be prepared to walk away if things are getting too heated.

5 - Focus on solutions
Concentrate your attention on what can be done to resolve the situation, and don’t dwell on what has already happened and can’t be changed. Learn from mistakes and use that knowledge to improve in the future. Also try to become a ‘can-do’ person – positive emotions are contagious.

6 As a last resort, seek drastic solutions
If you feel there is no fixing the situation, simply avoid the person in question. Seek allies, particularly your boss, to help deal with difficult people.

Make extensive records of all and any instances of bullying (such as date, time and duration), and raise formal complaints within the company. You could also try to transfer to a different department, if possible. And in the last resort... you could always move to another company.  


Joan is author of The Fear-Free Organization published by Kogan Page. This article first appeared in the 2016 Spring edition of Project Journal. 

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  1. Boyko Boev
    Boyko Boev 01 August 2016, 02:33 PM

    I liked the author's pointers and think that project teams should adopt their own team norms. Some of the author's pointers can be easily considered as project team norms and formally adopted by the team members at the start of the project. 

  2. Matt Hawkins
    Matt Hawkins 15 July 2016, 06:55 PM

    some really good pointers there, for me personally its options 1,3 and 5 that are most effective.  Recognising individuality, capatalising on each others strengths and focusing on the end goal.