Managing people you don’t like

Most of us who manage others at work, come across people we don’t like, but we’re stuck because they report to us. It’s a very real and sticky issue. The challenge is not trivial because it can consume way too much energy all around. Your feelings will be noticed on your team, no matter how hard you try to hide them. The better solution is to find a solution.

The first question to ask yourself is, "Why don’t I like this person?" What’s at the bottom of this? Do they remind you of someone else you don’t like? Did they do something that violated your sense of right and wrong? Is it their personality, their style, or their attitude or some a combination of these?

In the first case, you are going to have to accept that this person is not the other person, and cut them a break. It’s simply not fair to paint someone with a brush they didn’t earn. However, if you have a values dissonance, you may be headed toward a serious conflict you will need to resolve as quickly as possible. Since you are this person’s leader, you have the right and responsibility to be clear about what’s ok and not ok behaviour at work. If the issue bothering you is not work related, you’ll have to remember there are many sides to personal stories, and it is a good idea to keep the work life and personal life of your employees from contaminating one another.

If your issue is their core personality, you haven’t much wiggle room. However, you still have the opportunity to provide constructive feedback about how your employee approaches work and how you’d rather they approach it.

Style and attitude are entirely different and much more possible to influence. It is essential to identify where, when, and how this person aggravates you. What is it in their style or attitude that may feel like fingernails on a chalkboard? Once you identify the specific causes, you can and must provide the person with constructive feedback. As a leader, your job includes developing your people. If a style or attitude is getting in their way, it’s unfair and unkind to keep them in the dark. Their relationship with you is a critical one and you are half of any relationship, so do your part.

Finally, if you don’t like them, it is possible they also may not like you. If you believe this is the case, have a candid and objective conversation about how to reconcile that civilly, and/or where a better fit for them may be. They will have a better chance at success and so will you. This is far better than both of you trying to force fit a day-in, day-out mismatch.

The theme here is conversation. Remember, when the conversation stops, all chances of having a functional relationship stop. As the manager, you need to take the high road and do your best to identify and discuss what’s getting in the way of a successful relationship. Some issues have solutions; others do not. Before you decide, do your homework and do your best to find a positive, win/win outcome.

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