How to Share an Office With Someone You Just Don’t Like

We can’t choose our family and, most of the time, we can’t choose our coworkers either. Long ago, we accepted the fact that we won’t necessarily get along with, or even particularly like, each fellow young professional (YP) who crosses our path – and not everyone will like us. So, how do you handle the coworker you love to hate? You know, the one who always seems to find a way under your skin (intentionally or not), the one whose annoying habits are just too much for you to handle, or the one whose energy will simply never mesh with yours? Here are some things to keep in mind…

Is it You?
Before boldly deciding that you hate or can’t stand someone at work, carefully consider the reasons for your distaste. If you dislike a coworker, this could reveal a larger problem: that you feel insecure and/or threatened by what that coworker represents in the workplace. You may be worried that he is she is doing a better job than you (making you look bad in the process), will snag that promotion you’ve been waiting for, or will be granted more favours because everyone seems to fall for their perma-smile. Then, of course, you may just not like them.

Consider the Office Work Environment
If you treat the office as a professional space (as opposed to the likes of a home, high school or after-work watering hole), then the mentalities of co-workers will (hopefully) maintain a similar degree of professional respect and maturity for others in the office. Meaning, everyone is expected to display a degree of composure, emotional restraint and professionalism. Question whether the work environment itself is conducive to poor behaviour or an unprofessional mentality, and if so, do something about it. 

Be Brutally Honest
We’re all adults now, whether we choose to admit it or not. Instead of dancing around issues, or semi-confronting them with passive aggressive jabs and hints, be honest and straightforward. Confront the person with whom you have an issue, telling him or her nicely (i.e. the sandwich approach: blanketing the criticism or grievance with two positives, either a compliment or word of optimism). People may be completely oblivious to how their behaviour is affecting others around them and may in fact need and appreciate a wakeup call.

Learn How to Tune Out
If things like habits, rants and banter of the disliked coworker persist, one way to deal with it (especially things you can’t justifiably address, like how their voice sounds like the most annoying cartoon character on earth) is to learn how to tune it out. This can be something as simple as headphones and music. When at home, take the time to really realize what type of music is most conducive to stimulating productivity while working away at your computer. Earplugs are also an option. Earplugs shouldn’t offend coworkers; we have seen them busted out in even the most lively and colourful of offices. Some people need silence to work. Side note: Classical music has been proven to positively impact studying habits and test scores – perhaps it stimulate productivity at the office too.

Don’t Dwell or Nitpick
If you dwell on the faults of the coworker, then every little thing he or she does “wrong” will be heightened. All that focusing on how horse-like they chew their gum, how attention-breaking his or her laugh is on the phone, or how much of an eyesore his or her messy desk is, wastes your own precious energy in trying to keep your own emotions and reactions in check. Your energy, rather, should be spent on what you’re there to do in the first place – work. Try, if you can, to think about what you do like about him or her, especially things that make them good at their job. Note all these good things and intentionally notice them during the day. 

Spend More Time
The solution to deal with that Debby Downer or perpetually high-strung coworker may actually be to spend more time with him or her, even out of the office. Although seemingly daunting at first, spending time will help you better understand why he or she functions the way that they do and how to handle them. You never know what people are going through and they may simply be misunderstood. Not only will spending more time with the coworker shed insight into particular behaviour, the closeness developed may make it easier to address any work-related grievances with the other as a friend rather than a threat.