How to Be Professional with Someone You Don’t Like

Posted by: Nigel Girling Post Date: 11th February 2016

Within any close knit team, it is inevitable that not everyone will share the same opinions, or have personalities that are easily compatible. This is often highlighted within the workplace, where conflicts can arise between members of a department or team.

As a leader, the way you deal with these conflicts can make or break your team, strengthening ties or severing them completely. In situations where there is no clear right or wrong within the context of company rules, help members of your team to overcome conflict by following these three steps.

Resolving Conflict in a Team

1. Personality incompatibilities

Some personality traits are hard-wired not to get on. A gregarious extrovert and a quiet, contemplative person are unlikely to interact positively at first. Building an effective relationship in such cases requires maturity and a willingness to compromise from both parties.

Neither of your personalities is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, better or worse, it’s just the way you are. Or, to put it more directly, the trick is to ‘get over yourself’. Other people don’t have to be, think or behave like you, and the fact that they don’t is fundamentally necessary for the survival of the species!

Research has shown that the best teams are made up of a blend of very different types, so try thinking of the difference in your personalities or approach as an opportunity. You can help each other by providing a counterpoint, and achieving a healthy balance.

2. Unfortunate events

A relationship can get off on the wrong foot due to an event beyond your control. You may be put at loggerheads by circumstances such as being on opposite sides in an argument. Such is life.

To overcome this, try to boil the situation down to the real facts, and challenge any assumptions or prejudices that could be contributing to your apparent opposition. In most clashes, such factors on both sides are often contributors, and you can both do things to lessen the negative consequences.

A little empathy goes a long way. You need to differentiate between someone’s behavior in a situation, and who they really are. We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t, or said things we’d like to take back; these things aren’t necessarily representative of our character. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt, as you’d hope they would for you.

3. Falsely identified motives

In the heat of the moment, or when looking for someone or something to blame, it’s easy to assign all kinds of motives to another party. You know the sort of thing I mean… “he’s got it in for me”, “I see the sales department has been up to its usual tricks”, “she only does that to wind me up”, and so on.

In almost every case, this is a fantasy. Just about every person comes to work to do good things and wants to be able to get on well with their colleagues. Admittedly, a small minority of personalities are pre-disposed to making trouble or causing conflict; however, remember that it takes two to tango. Someone else doesn’t ‘wind you up’, you do, and conflict requires two parties.

Part of being professional with someone you don’t like is learning to manage your emotional responses to situations. Other people’s actions don’t have to upset you or make you angry, and you don’t have to retaliate; it’s a choice you make, and you can make different choices. If you must respond, do so in a calm and rational manner; it is extremely disarming to someone trying to provoke a reaction if you respond by calmly asking them why they just did or said what they did. Polite enquiry is the target. You just want to understand in case you can do something to make things better in future. If you feel hurt and offended, it’s ok to say so, but politely, calmly and with quiet dignity.

There’s a great quote that says “There’s no-one you can’t learn to love once you know their story”. This holds the essence of dealing with dislike; we’re all just people trying to make our way in the world, the victims of our own personalities and contexts. But there’s one simple little thing we can all do to make things better, and which requires minimal effort: be kind to each other.

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