Fri., November 15, 2013 11:21am (EST)

WORKING: 'I Don't Like You'
By Joshua Stewart
Updated: 8 months ago

ATLANTA  —  
Everyone has people they just don’t like. Maybe personalities clash or there’s some long history of disagreements. What do you do when that person is in the cubicle across the hall or the office next door? How do you still work with them, despite the interpersonal issues? Workplace consultant Brandon Smith says the key is to look for the value and skills they bring to the work at hand. (Photo Courtesy of <a href=http://www.flickr.com/photos/lokner/4164251472/>Michael Lokner via Flickr</a>.)
Everyone has people they just don’t like. Maybe personalities clash or there’s some long history of disagreements. What do you do when that person is in the cubicle across the hall or the office next door? How do you still work with them, despite the interpersonal issues? Workplace consultant Brandon Smith says the key is to look for the value and skills they bring to the work at hand. (Photo Courtesy of Michael Lokner via Flickr.)
Everyone has people they don’t like or with whom they don’t get along. When that person is in the cubicle across the hall or the office next door, those personality clashes or disagreements are more complicated, though.

The good news is, it’s not a requirement to like every work colleague, and you don’t have to pretend you do, according to our workplace expert Brandon Smith. But he said, “You do need to keep it about business.

“You don’t have to go up and tell somebody, ‘Hey, you know, I don’t like you.’ You want to be authentic,” said Smith, a leadership coach and professor at Emory University and Georgia State University. “But you always want to try to value what they contribute to the team. Try to be objective enough to say, ‘I might not like this person, but they’re adding real value here.’”

Smith said workplaces are made up of lots of different people, and those differences are valuable in accomplishing an organization’s mission.

It becomes more complicated when a supervisor dislikes some they manage, however. Smith said objectivity becomes even more key in that case.

“The first thing is, [is the employee] delivering on the performance we expect of them? Are they delivering the results?” he said.

If they are, “then we tick down and we say, ‘OK, do other people like them? In fact, do the key stakeholders like this person?’” Smith said those stakeholders may be customers, peers, colleagues—other people who work with this person.

And finally, a manager needs to ask if the disliked employee does what the manager asks.

“There could be a blip there where maybe they’re passive-aggressive and they refuse to follow the boss’ orders,” Smith said.

If the employee is doing all of those things?

“Then it’s not about performance and work, it’s about us,” Smith said. “We need to ask ourselves, are they reminding us of someone we don’t like? Are they reminding us of parts about ourselves we don’t like?”

He said the differences in personality or approach that lead to interpersonal problems like this might highlight better ways to work together for co-workers or managers.

“If you’re the boss, try to line up what they can do with things you don’t want to do,” Smith said. “Sounds like there’s a natural difference in style, a natural difference in approach, so give them other things to do.”

Brandon Smith teaches about leadership, communication, and workplace culture at Emory University's Goizueta Business School. More of his advice is on his blog and at theworkplacetherapist.com. While you’re there, ask him your workplace or career question. We might answer you in a future radio segment.