A couple of years ago, I worked with a co-worker who hated me. She talked negatively about me to other team members and challenged me openly on several occasions. The cherry on top? She told my boss she was better suited to be manager than I was.
Just because it stemmed from her frustrations with her own career, it didn’t make my experience any easier. I felt like I had to constantly defend myself, and my work had to compete with all of the negative attention.
Looking back now, though, I can see a silver lining. Her disdain toward me taught me five things about dealing with people who have it in for you:
1. Start With Yourself
It’s too easy to conclude that people don’t like you just because—without taking a look at yourself. Before deciding it has nothing to do with you, take a moment and consider if you’re doing things that could potentially be offensive or insensitive.
It could be something you’re aware of—like if you’re hyper-competitive and willing to step on others to get ahead. But it could also be habits you’re not attuned to, like finishing people’s sentences.
So, ask for feedback from someone you trust. Your boss or co-worker can provide perspective on how you’re coming across to others, and why you may not be received so well. This’ll give you an opportunity to adjust some of those behaviors, and then, revisit the relationships that may’ve gotten off to a rocky start. (I know it’s a tricky conversation to start, so here’s a template that’ll help you ask for honest feedback.
2. Accept Your Differences
Maybe the people you ask says there’s nothing they can identify that would rub others the wrong way. If that’s the case, the next step is to accept that not everyone will like you—and that’s OK.
Your job is not to convince them why they should. Yes, you need to be courteous, but don’t stop being true to who you are.
It’s helpful to remember that people have favorites inside and outside the workplace, I bet you experience it, too: There are probably some people that you click with and others you don’t. While it may seem personal, it’s just human nature, and remembering that can make it sting less.
If it’s still getting to me, I also like to remember that no one’s perfect and embracing imperfections is what make us unique.
3. Refuse to Engage
Of course, accepting doesn’t mean you stoop to their level. There’s an old saying that arguing with fools will just prove there are two.
No matter how strong you think your clap back game is, just don’t do it.
One strategy that has always helped me resist the urge to participate is redirecting the conversation. If I must talk to someone who doesn’t like me and I believe it’s headed in a negative direction, I quickly redirect the conversation back to its origin. For example, “Steve, I’d love to get back to brainstorming the marketing plan, specifically.”
Dealing with such a negative person can be draining, so refocus your energy on the people who believe in you. You’re in your job for a reason—because you can do it, and the people who hired you know that!
What others think of your qualifications is not relevant.
Believe it or not, I often refocus by pretending that I’m on stage in front of a large audience. Lights, camera, action and everyone is watching. It doesn’t matter what happened backstage, in the dressing room, or at last night’s show. What matters most is my performance right here in this moment. That image helps me shake off any negativity and get back to business.
When you’re working with someone who doesn’t like you, you have to (repeatedly) hit reset. You can’t approach each working opportunity thinking about all the reasons why working with this individual’s difficult.
Resetting will minimize your frustration and allow you to get more done.
One way to do this is to “play dumb.” Yes, you’re wise enough to interpret the true meaning of your co-workers so-called compliments and see them for the digs they are. However, you can pretend not to. You can smile and say, “Thanks so much for acknowledging my work. I was pleased to see the positive results as well.”
If you imagine your interaction going fine, it just might—and you want to do all you can to make that possible.
Despite the critics, you must continue to persevere. This was the hardest lesson of them all for me to learn. I stressed about going to work, knowing I’d have to deal with this awful co-worker. But I got through it by remembering it was her problem. I didn’t dislike this associate. She disliked me. That was her burden alone to carry. Acknowledging that this was not my problem helped me remain resilient and continue doing the job I loved.