“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
– poet John Lydgate, later adapted by President Lincoln
Lydgate and Lincoln were so right about human nature but forgot to mention people you can’t please any time. Like it or lump it, from cradle to grave, we are forced into family, social, and employment groups where, from our perspective, one or more people are “playah-haters” – folks with never a kind word or show of support for you or your cause.
Sometimes, you can never learn why a certain individual sees fit to make life miserable for you and perhaps many others as well. At that point, it’s time to take steps to protect your mental health and – in the workforce – your job.
One of the most potent forces to achieve peace of mind and calm turbulent emotions is simply to talk to someone else. But never confide in a sympathetic coworker how much you dislike So-and-So.
For one thing, you’re helping amp up the psychic negativity among everyone else sharing the enclosed space of the office (even a big one). Also, you wouldn’t want your colleague to gossip about your true feelings regarding someone you have to face every day, would you?
Furthermore, use extreme caution talking to a work supervisor about your personal problems with Whosy-Poosy. Couch everything in professional terms and never admit you don’t like someone you must work with. Mention instead that you are concerned with how “communications disconnects” with Whosy-Poosy are impacting team performance and production. Talk to issues a manager would find important and actionable to demonstrate some sort of measurable obstruction.
Another managerial option is to request an internal transfer to another department or area where you are less likely to encounter your nemesis. A friend of mine did this successfully several times in response to a succession of bad supervisors – and actually got salary raises as well.
The best person to talk to about coworker woes is someone far removed from the business who can be objective yet sympathetic. Bounce your feelings and experiences off someone impartial to get a clearer picture of what you are going through: are you over-reacting or well within bounds?
Remember, everybody doesn’t get along and we are all bound to meet people we don’t like. This is normal. Don’t think less of yourself for wanting to shun someone you find obnoxious – but, likewise, avoid devaluing the other person who has the same right not to like you.
So what’s an employee to do?
Self-help pundits will advise, first and foremost, to “depersonalize” the irritating coworker and behave from a mindset of “business as usual.” This can work if you are either very strong-willed or a complete sociopath with no empathy.
The fact is that, quite often, people we don’t like can sense that we don’t like them. This makes the problem worse. Even though the words spoken are professional, the speaker’s body language, tone of voice, and gestures can give away a negative attitude.
This is where the self-work gets hard. First, identify the characteristics do you find irritating about this person. Is s/he pushy, insulting, dismissive, greedy, egocentric, or simply mean-spirited? Then, look within yourself to see if you share those traits.
Often, people we don’t like remind us of things we don’t like about ourselves. What does s/he say or do that is so troubling? It is quite possible that the characteristic or behavior that triggers your annoyance or disgust is something you hate about yourself.
If you think your boss is unfair and controlling, is there any chance that, in certain situations, you are unfair and controlling? Are you responding to internal cues that are under your conscious control? Would you find relief by adjusting your behavior and attitude, embracing compassion for yourself and the irritating other?
If you are the gutsy type, you can try to speak to your coworker about your issues and perhaps hand over a peace offering such as a greeting card or snack. Go to lunch together. In the best of all possible worlds, you spill your guts and your colleague does the same, you hash out your differences, bond, and become besties on the spot.
As social creatures, we humans thrive on acceptance and inclusion. We hate intolerance and rejection. Yet, most workers quit their jobs due to an overbearing manager.
This is no joke. A recent survey revealed that 3 out of 4 (75 percent) of employees considered their direct manager to be the worst part of their job. A staggering 65 percent of employees would rather have a new manager than a pay raise.
Even when the boss is fair-minded, communicative, praiseful, and effective, a coworker can be difficult enough for people to consider brushing up their resumes and shopping for a new gig.
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that but if it does, be professional and give two weeks’ written notice and indicate you are quitting over unreconciled differences with a colleague.
When a prospective employer asks the reason for your recent termination, stay positive about your work experience and say that you want new opportunities for career advancement that were not available at your previous place of employment.
Above all, deal with baneful people at work one way or the other. Suffering in silence can lead to stress-related health problems.