Coworkers are like family — we don't get to choose them. When you said yes to that great gig with flexibility, excellent benefits, and tons of vacation, you didn't know you'd be working beside Snipey Suzy or Condescending Connie. So how do you deal when you have to work with someone you truly can't stand? We've got the goods on how to make your work life bearable again.
Recognize they're not trying to drive you crazy
Here's something key to keep in mind for every relationship, not only a workplace one. Not everyone is like you. Expecting people to think, perform, and react like you isn't only unrealistic — it's a recipe for constant frustration.
In her book, How to Work With and Lead People Not Like You, Kelly McDonald notes it's important to recognize that this person isn't trying to drive you bananas. They're just being themselves. Just that little bit of perspective can help keep your own reactions to their maddening sardine lunch or hour-long personal calls in check.
Manage the only thing you can control
You can't control how your co-worker runs the Monday morning meeting or responds to email. But you can control your reaction. In fact, it's the only thing you can control.
Some experts recommend a daily relaxation method. Instead of letting a behavior trigger a negative reaction, reframe the trigger — say, when your coworker tells a long, unrelated personal anecdote that makes the meeting run overtime — to take ten slow, deep breaths. Or maybe you start listening to a morning meditation on your way into work.
"Cultivating a diplomatic poker face is important," Ben Dattner, an organizational psychologist and author of The Blame Game told LifeHack. "You need to be able to come across as professional and positive."
Why? Research shows the more people like you, the easier, more productive, and more profitable, your life will be. In a way, you're being healthily selfish, and protecting your own reputation and sanity at work.
Take it personally
This can be hard to hear, but might it be that the thing that drives you crazy about your coworker is actually a quality you hate in yourself? Peter Bregman, author of Leading with Emotional Courage, says recognizing this possibility can make working with someone you don't like suddenly a lot more interesting.
"Getting to know them better, and accepting the parts of them you don't like, is actually getting to know yourself better and accepting the parts of yourself you don't like," he wrote for the Harvard Business Review. "Being compassionate with yourself is the key to being compassionate with others. Before you know it, you'll actually begin to like people you never liked before. Maybe you'll even feel like helping them run those meeting more productively."
Recognize the value of a squeaky wheel
While it might make your life more fun to work on a team of people you'd like to spend a week with at the beach, it's not exactly the best strategy for an effective work team.
"You need people who have different points of view and aren't afraid to argue," Robert Sutton, a professor of management science at Stanford University, told LifeHack. "They are the kind of people who stop the organization from doing stupid things."
The coworker who is always negative? Seen another way, they might have a gift for seeing growth opportunities.
Work closer together
Instead of trying to avoid the person, try the opposite tactic. Seek them out. Work together.
"One of the best ways to get to like someone you don't like is to work on a project that requires coordination," Sutton told the Harvard Business Review. Working together will help you understand why this person is the way they are — a teething baby at home or a chronic health issue, say — and that can help you develop empathy.
"You might feel compassion instead of irritation," said Daniel Goleman, the co-director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University, and author of The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights.
Worst case? You see your common human bonds, Jenny Brockis, a medical practitioner and the founder of Brainfit told The Huffington Post Australia, whether that means bonding over rush hour traffic or the latest BBC period piece.
Give zero f*cks
This might be your last recourse, but if you truly can't find a single redeeming quality to this person you feel truly stuck, Sutton recommends you "practice the fine art of emotional detachment or not giving a shit."
This is, put another way, a more pessimistic version of managing the only thing you can control: yourself. Only instead of deep breathing and singing kumbaya under your breath, you're effectively shrugging it off.
"If he's being a pain but you don't feel the pain, then there's no problem," said Goleman.