What to Do When a Coworker Doesn't Like You

When you walk into an area at work, can you count on a specific coworker to engage in side-eyed glances, exaggerated sighs or display other tense body language? Does your presence also generate snide comments or derisive chuckles from this same employee? 

It’s no secret your coworker dislikes you. As you may have noticed, even the air in the room changes when the two of you share the same space. What’s worse, this Debbie Downer or Ned Negativity cannot be avoided.

No one wants to be around consistent pessimistic energy in the workplace, where you spend a good chunk of the day.

A workplace is a microcosm of the world at large. You don’t love everyone out there, and your perfection is somehow lost on everyone else.

A 2012 study of more than 1,000 U.S. workers found nearly half the respondents worked with a “know it all” and 44 percent worked with a “whiner.” Someone, in your workplace, maybe believes you resemble that know-it-all or whiner. Or perhaps they see you as a slacker, an insufferable bore or an incompetent fool.

If their contempt becomes aggressive, you have to ask yourself: am I being bullied? According to a 2014 survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, 27 percent of Americans have suffered abusive conduct at work, another 21 percent have witnessed it, and 72 percent are aware that it happens.

You can’t always control how people view you, but returning fire is not a viable option. You’ve got to find a response that keeps both of you on task, regardless of hostilities.

So what can you do when your very professional presence irks someone you have to see probably more often than your best friend?

Here are six tips on how not to respond when a coworker seems intent on rattling your cage:

1. Seek advice or feedback

This can be difficult if being around the person who despises you makes you feel uneasy. Only you can decide if it’s worth swallowing your pride to see if this approach allows the two of you to be more comfortable being around each other. By asking him or her to share their expertise, you open the door for your relationship to shift toward a more productive and positive direction. Who doesn’t like the opportunity to show off? Some things, such as a better working relationship, are worth “grinning and bearing.”

2. Address the tension

The source of the problem could be professional jealousy or something else. Your mind-reading skills are not foolproof. Stop ignoring the issue, sit down and hash it out, perhaps over lunch if you can stomach it. Just be honest about the friction you sense. Ask what bothers him or her about you? Be prepared for the answer, as it may not be what you expect to hear. Try to stay cool, as the goal is to improve the relationship or at least form one.

3. Praise his or her positive efforts

Who doesn’t enjoy recognition for a job well done? Try showing your appreciation to help improve the relationship. Doing so shows you are a bigger person, too, as you respect their contributions.

4. Set boundaries

If your colleague is engaging in bullying behavior, let him or her know it will not be tolerated. Unacceptable behavior at work should not be an option. If the bullying continues, meet with your manager or Human Resources.

5. Co-exist peacefully

Seriously. Sometimes you meet someone who doesn’t like you from the start and there's no chance of changing the person’s mind. Mutual admiration is not a prerequisite for both of you to treat each other with dignity. As long as the person is not mistreating you, let him or her stew whenever they see you carrying on with your responsibilities. Don’t allow someone’s else problem to become your problem. Is there really a job where everyone likes each other?

6. Stop caring

That’s right; free yourself from worrying about how to make this person see you differently. The day may arrive when you have to embrace the fact that this coworker will always dislike you. Maybe you’re not really crazy about him or her. That’s OK, too.

As sure as day follows night, not everyone will like you. All you can do is try to correct misperceptions and extend an olive branch or two. Apart from that, never lose focus on doing your job well and being the best person you can be in and out of work.

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