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Can’t stand your co-workers?

The work ‘fam’, the ‘werk wifey’, the best boss in the world...

GOOD FOR THEM you scream internally and scroll on. You are sat in the loo *again* taking five minutes away from sitting next to stinky Pete, being bothered by boring Brenda or jarred by gym bore Janet.

Another day, another dirham with the world’s worst colleagues. To you anyway. Having a terrible boss is one thing, a bit of micromanagement irks, sure – but when you spend the majority of your life with the same group of people, and you really can’t stand them – what gives?

Everyone wants a nice place to go to work, and ping-pong tables and free fruit Thursdays are cool, but, just like family, we have to ‘live’ with other humans and just like family again, we can’t pick our colleagues. How can you work alongside people you just don’t like?

You could just quit and get a new job, but of course that’s easier said than done for many, and why should you have to? If your organisation is otherwise good, there are certainly ways to manage your co-worker relationships in ways that suit you.

Petty, or plain horrible?

Humans can often rub each other up the wrong way. We are all guilty of flippant commentary, difference of opinions and certainly different work styles. Some people are also just plain horrible. Deliberately manipulative, or worse, actually ‘out to get you’. If you genuinely believe this to be the case, it’s time to deal like an adult. Stay calm, but document everything. Keep factual, show maturity, keep pettiness out of the picture and collate your ‘evidence’. As an example, your terrible colleague acts verbally – stop interacting with them. Keep things to email then there are no facts to manipulate or conversations to ‘mis hear’ or share incorrectly – you are taking away any opportunity they may jump on to lie or twist the truth in a work setting, to make you look bad.

It could be you.

Harsh I know, and why I mention it second, but the greatest gift one can have is self-awareness. Consider if there is any chance that your miserable relationships at work may be down to your own communication or attitude. Does the co-worker reflect back your own bad habits? And that’s where the friction lies? Are they really being picky, or nagging too much or is it just that you don’t complete work on time? The only behaviour you have any control over is your own, so you might want to fix that first.

Always have empathy.

Crabby Karen? Maybe she’s up all night with the twins or noisy neighbours, maybe she is going through a divorce or takes medication that leaves her feeling sub-par. No, none of these are your problem, but decide if you have actually taken time to know or understand your colleagues and what might make them behave a certain way. Maybe Bob just really likes Star Wars and has nobody else to discuss it with. He might also have ADHD. When you learn more about people, you might learn to like them better, or at least be able to manage your own interactions with them in a way that avoids conflicts from either side.

Be the grown up.

There isn’t much difference in a group of adults in a workspace and a gang of kids in a playground. When you were at school, it is universally expected that you would all ‘play nicely’ together. No, you do not have to be best friends with everyone you work with, but you are obligated to be civil and professional in a work setting. Professionalism is contagious – people cannot gossip or misbehave if they don’t have a partner in crime or a recipient. Be the adult.

Talk to your manager.

It’s naïve to think that, even with the above, everything gives. Some relationships will just be untenable. To this end, it’s time to do something about it. If it’s actually a line manager you cannot get on with, go higher. HR or senior leaders are there to help and want a happy, pleasant work environment for all. It does not have to cause massive drama, it can be a case of workloads, pods or groups being re-assigned for example, or a chance in another department for you. Any business owner I know will tell you that people management is one of their biggest headaches. They would rather you be fulfilled at work than have to fill your shoes by recruiting.

If it helps, know that you are not alone. I can’t think of anyone who loves every aspect of their role or every one of their co-workers. There are certainly ways to manage it though, and just think – who would you have to talk about if you worked from home (more like living at work) 24/7 ?

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