Career Advice

How to Manage Someone You Don’t Like

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It was bound to happen: There’s that one person at work who, for whatever reason, you just cannot stand. If they’re on another team or are one of your counterparts it’s workable, but what if you actually have to manage that person? If you happen to have a direct report that you’re not particularly fond of, you’re not the first manager to be in this situation. In fact, it’s actually pretty common given company restructuring at many organizations. For those who are struggling with this sensitive situation, we’ve laid out four steps to making the most of being stuck with a team member who just rubs you the wrong way.

Step #1:  Figure out why you don’t like them.

If you really don’t like someone who you’re responsible for managing, it’s important to know your reasons before you do anything about it. “Hopefully it’s because of something work-related, but in some instances, maybe there is just something about a person that for whatever reason grates your nerves,” says Keri Higgins-Bigelow, CEO and President of LivingHR. “Maybe they always bust into your office and chat for too long, they are loud when they are on the phone, they only talk about themselves, or they overshare about their political beliefs.” Higgins-Bigelow says that when she’s coaching managers in these types of situations, it’s typically uncovered that the dislike is more about the individual’s attitude towards work than a genuine personality conflict. Maybe they don’t take an active part in their team, aren’t improving performance, or just have a blatant lack of interest.

On the other hand, sometimes the bad vibes are personal. “Many workplace conflicts are due to a difference in personality style,” says Katy Caselli, organizational psychologist and author of Building Giants: A Proven System to Transform Your Workplace Through Effective Training. “Knowing yourself and explaining your style to others can help soothe growing conflicts,” she notes, but sometimes further escalation is required. Before you get to that point, though, Higgins-Bigelow suggests flipping around your thinking in order to examine the situation: “There are people we love dearly (or like a lot personally) in our lives that we would NEVER want to work with. Who we work with and who like personally are not likely one in the same.” If the rift isn’t super serious, sometimes reframing your thoughts like this can have a majorly helpful effect.

Step #2: Remember your role as a leader.

So now that you know exactly why you don’t like this person, it’s crucial to figure out how you can still do your job in spite of any feelings you have about them. After all, your job is still to be their boss. “Remind yourself that it is not all about you,” suggests Higgins-Bigelow. “Managing and leading a team is not really about what you like and don’t like. It is about how you can grow yourself and your team to be better,” she adds. The best thing you can do is act like a leader, according to Higgins-Bigelow. “We spend a lot of time coaching newly-promoted managers on how create a better experience at work for the people that work for them. Your role as their boss is to help them be successful in their role. You don’t need to like them to give them feedback, make sure they know your expectations, and be there to help them develop and perform.”

There are also very constructive ways to deal with your negative feelings towards someone. In fact, you might even be able to turn them into an asset as a leader. “The trick is to study the interactions and decide what behaviors are due to their personality style and what behaviors are simply poor interpersonal skills or poor conduct,” says Caselli. “Personality differences should be appreciated, as diverse ways of thinking end up creating better long-term solutions for the organization.” Poor conduct, on the other hand, should be addressed through effective feedback. When you think about it that way, it’s actually pretty simple.

Step #3: Confront the situation.

If things are feeling tense even after you’ve re-focused on doing your job as a leader, it might be a good idea to go ahead and bring up the situation with your direct report—because chances are they won’t feel comfortable stepping outside their job role to confront you about it. “It is up to the manager to start a conversation to improve the situation,” explains Caselli. “For example, one of the best remedies is for the boss to sit down in private and start a conversation about the traits in the team member that are most valuable and appreciated. Finish the conversation with a discussion of what they would like out of the working relationship, such as further training or opportunities to try new tasks.” The one thing you shouldn’t do during this meeting? Do not get into a discussion of their negative characteristics. Instead, give feedback about troublesome behavior in the moment as it happens. This strategy allows you to “take opportunities to deepen trust by listening carefully, asking for their opinion and getting feedback,” says Caselli.

Step #4: Adjust and move forward.

If this tactic doesn’t work and it’s clear that the dislike is mutual, Higgins-Bigelow recommends you bite the bullet. As the manager, you need to swallow your pride and ask them first if there is something you could do differently to improve your working relationship. “Then, you listen before sharing your perspective,” she says. It’s always possible that there’s more to the story than you know. “Seek to understand and resolve, not judge and be right,” she adds.

If you’re not able to work things out, there is still one thing can use to optimize outcomes: over-communicate your expectations. Even if you don’t necessarily like each other, you can still set your team up for success, says Higgins-Bigelow. “Share up front what you expect in terms of cultural norms, behavior, and performance. It is amazing what people will do not to disappoint.”

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