garden in Rome

Managing People You Don’t Like

by Sarah Wilkinson, Class of ’17

In nearly every part of your life that involves interacting with people, there will people you don’t like. And if you become a manager, you’re certainly going to end up managing people you don’t like. Lindsey Pollak sheds some light on how to handle this uncomfortable situation in her book, Becoming the Boss.

Rule 1: Not Every Employee Has To Be Your Friend

Carol Frohlinger of Negotiating Women says:

One of the things that’s really important for strong managers to realize is that not everyone with whom you work has to be your best friend.

If you are hoping or expecting that you’ll be friends with everyone you work with — and everyone you manage — you might need to adjust your expectations. The key is to maintain positive relationships, but not necessarily friendships. Strive to be pleasant with everyone no matter how annoying one or two of your staff or coworkers may be. Also be fair with yourself in understanding that you won’t get along with everyone. You don’t have to like everyone you work with and manage, but you do have to respect them and treat them fairly.

Rule 2: Treat the Annoyer as Your Teacher

It seems simple and maybe worthy of an eye-roll, but one way to cope with managing people you don’t like is to try and learn something from the experience. Maybe an annoying employee who won’t stop asking questions is an opportunity to learn more about patience. Or maybe an employee who tends to break dress code with funky hair colors is an opportunity to rethink your company’s approach to creating a good work environment that is inclusive for everyone.

Christine Hassler, life coach and author of Expectation Hangovers says:

I would bet that the mental energy you are investing in being annoyed by [this person] is far more distracting and time consuming that [their] actual behavior, so stop the trash talk going on in your head.

Holding a grudge or bias against one or more members of your staff is a surefire way to make people feel uncomfortable and create isolating tension that harms productivity and the office environment.

Rule 3: Shift Your Perspective

You actuallyl have a reason to appreciate those employees who annoy you, according to author and Stanford professor Robert Sutton. You’re likely to gravitate towards people who flatter you, act nice, and do their work. But these people aren’t likely to teach you very much about managing — and certainly not about managing people you don’t like. Those who you don’t like are the ones who will challenge you to grow most as a manager. They will give you new insights and possibly even give you the opportunity to step up and really make an impression within the company. Try to shift your perspective from being annoyed to being grateful for the opportunity to grow.

Rule 4: Focus on the Positives

It’s a possibility that the person who annoys you the most is also the top performer. What then? Pollak suggests that you always try to focus on the positives, no matter what kind of performer the annoying person may be (although, if they’re performing really bad, maybe it’s time to talk about their future with the company). What does the person do well? What things about them annoy you and can you shrug it off or tune it out?

Managing people you don’t like will be just one of your major challenges as a manager, but you have to try to find it within yourself to be patient, open-minded, and considerate of those who you manage. You’ll learn the most from the tough situations, so embrace them when they come: they are making you better at your job.

Look out for part twelve of this blog series, which will cover managing people who don’t seem to like you as well as how to confront conflict. Be sure to check out last week’s post about managing people when you’ve never done it before.

Sources: Becoming the Boss by Lindsey Pollak; find more information about Pollak here.