Working with People You Hate

December 3, 2009 by
Filed under: People, Teamwork 

Quite often, there are situations where a couple of teammates have stepped on each other’s toes too many times. While the easy way out might be to go find another team, this is not always possible. How to continue to work with someone you currently loathe?

First off, remember that those involved don’t need to be best of friends, and won’t need to share Facebook pages now, or certainly after the project has ended. Until then, despite any differences, everyone should share a common goal of getting all the required work done as part of a team, while not continuing to get frustrated with each other.

Next, recognize that it is a rare conflict that has only been fuelled by one of the parties. In almost every case, current unbearable situations started with much smaller irritations, and a cycle of bigger and bigger offences (or apparent offences) changes the situation to the point where it becomes unbearable.

One thing that has helped me deal with these situations over the years is that I don’t own anyone else’s attitude or outlook. If theirs doesn’t mesh with mine, it’s not my job to adjust them. In many ways, anything that anyone else does is just another series of events around us, and while we can’t necessarily control the events, we can always work to control how we react to those events.

Actually, reaction (the ‘fight, flight, or freeze’ approach) isn’t quite right, it is better to thoughtfully respond. This can be tough, particularly if someone is getting on our nerves, but it is something we can always learn to do better. Step back, take a breath, and know that deep down, the things that other people do are congruent with their perspective and outlook. It’s the fact that we have different perspectives, different outlooks, that makes us frustrated with others’ behaviours, as we try to reconcile what they do based on our perspective.

Despite appearances, everyone on this team is trying to do their best, and everyone is interested in working well together. As everyone has different approaches, though, sometimes these clash. If you can look deeper to try to understand the other person’s perspectives (not necessarily agree, just empathize), you will almost always find that they are doing what they believe to be best. From there, it becomes easier to work with them toward a common goal, even if it means they wouldn’t be your first choice as a teammate.

Easy to say, to be sure, but with even a little bit of effort, some of the ice might melt. Once you recognize that even a small adjustment on your side can reap benefits, it becomes easier to take another step, and the toughest parts should be behind you. All that said, I’m probably the most stubborn person I know for trying to make things work long after others would have given up. I’m still an advocate for that approach.

What is done is done, and the past cannot be changed. Mistakes have been made by everyone to make a situation untenable, and we should always look to improve ourselves (as we have control over that), rather than trying to change others. There is no benefit in feeling bad about yourself or others, that simply makes the situation worse. If there have been challenges in the past and you recognize them, celebrate and be proud of the fact that you have recognized these challenges, and work to do things differently.

Always think positively about working better in the future, don’t feel bad about what has happened in the past. It truly does all starts with you. – JB


One Response to “Working with People You Hate”

  1. Heather Regehr on December 3rd, 2009 2:12 pm

    Nice article Jim.
    I agree heartily regarding small differences piling up and the need to empathize with others’ perspectives.

    For me, however, the most difficult challenges arise when goals are not truly shared. Usually team mates are focused on sprint or project goals but where real conflict arises is where someone has, different goals. For example, I have come across people who focus each task, deliverable or issue through the lens of their own career advancement. As long as your shared work contributes to the advancement of these types of individuals there is no problem. When trouble has arisen, the fundamental issue turns out to be a perceived conflict between individual goals and project goals.

    This makes no difference to the advice you give. You are right. We need to breath, think, respond not react and find a way to bring the goals into line and resolve the conflict….. or just punt the dude 🙂

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