"We build too many walls and not enough bridges." ~Sir Isaac Newton
"Thinking too well of people often allows them to be better than they otherwise would." ~Nelson Mandela
For most of us, it was around some point in Elementary School where we realized for the first time that there were just some people we didn’t like. As time went on and we developed our own sense of self, those numbers slowly expanded. In today’s work world you are going to “bump-heads” with more than a few people. The more people you interact with, the more likely that number is to jump higher. For leaders this can mean suppliers, employees, peers, customers, or their boss.
Your productivity and effectiveness as a leader often requires you to work alongside individuals you don’t particularly care for in the interests of your organizational goals. How you deal with people you don’t care for can tell you a lot about your maturity not just as a person, but as a leader as well. Below are 10 ways that great leaders look past their own dislike of an individual so that the organization can keep moving forward towards its goals.
They accept that they are not going to like everyone – There are as many personalities and competing agendas as there are people in the world. Some of those are going to conflict. Just because you don’t like a person, doesn’t mean that you or they are “bad”. Some people are just “oil and water” to each other, but that doesn’t make the oil or water bad. In fact, both of those things are essential. Accept that you don’t need to be friends with all of your employees.
They bear with (not ignore or dismiss) those they don’t like – When you need to work with someone you don’t like, it’s best to just jump right in and start working. Great leaders focus on the goals, not the people they will be forced to collaborate with to get there. They also realize that dismissing, ignoring or trying to work around that person not only strains the relationship further, but also makes everything harder which is counterproductive to their personal goals.
They treat those they don’t like with civility – “Don’t poke the bear” was something my father would say when wanting to have me exercise caution with someone or something. Showing kindness and remaining positive in the face of someone you dislike allows for you to make the most of the situation, not tear it down further. Giving in to dislike in your interactions with the particular person is a destructive trait and great leaders recognize this.
They check their own expectations – In many cases where you don’t like an individual, your own issues can be a contributing factor to that dislike. Maybe you are expecting an unrealistic level of productivity/contribution or maybe you disagree with an approach they use with their work. Regardless of what the specific reason, our own “baggage” for lack of a better word can make matters worth. The fault never lies solely with one side and you can only change yourself.
Figure out why they bother them – Being able to deal with an individual you don’t care for is made MUCH easier if you can identify what it is that bothers you. When you can identify that, you can identify all of the areas where they don’t. This allows you to better focus on the positive side of the relationship and help you to deal better with those times when they do bother you by focusing your energy on those times when you may need more of it.
They pause and take a deep breath – The 2-3 seconds it takes to take a deep breath can be the difference between further straining a relationship and pushing forward. It gives you time to think instead of react and a chance to calm yourself in the face of frustration. While it is a good habit to get into before making any decision, it becomes especially important when working with someone you don’t particularly care for.
They allow space between them – While you don’t want to ignore an individual you need to work with, you don’t have to pretend you are best buddies and hang out with them all of the time. Establishing boundaries and space is a responsible way to manage the relationship. Maybe some communication is through e-mail that you would usually come visit their cube for, maybe you can take your lunch at separate times or pick a workspace further away. Any of these can be a great way to cope with a situation so that you can be constructive when needed.
Focus on how they benefit your team – Attempting to find a reason to like them may be pushing it in some instances. What great leaders really want is to be able to work effectively with the person they don’t like. By focusing on how the individual benefits the team (and there is almost always a reason that they do) the leader reveals a “like” in a constructive way. This also helps create a respect for the individual where it may have been eroding by recognizing their talent in a particular area.
Observe how others handle them – In many (if not most) cases, you won’t be the only one that has an issue with a person. Noticing how others handle their interactions with this individual will give you an idea of what works, what doesn’t and give support to the idea it isn’t just you.
Help them – Extending the olive branch by helping out an individual you don’t like has enormous benefits. You will feel better about yourself, the person in question will feel better about you, and this action could be the spark that creates a mutual understanding that repairs any rift between the two of you. Relationships go through ups and downs and just because you don’t like someone now doesn’t mean you won’t like them a great deal at another time. Helping them out when they need it can be a great catalyst to this shift.
There will be a whole buffet of situations that come up in your career that are difficult, confusing, uncomfortable and senseless. Great leaders find ways to move past all of these areas to maintain productivity and to reach their personal and professional goals. People they dislike are just one more thing they find ways to work through.