Andy Hansen

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The virtues of working with difficult people

“How do I work with people I don’t like?” came up during a Lean Coffee, and I was surprised how much I had to say about it. So much to say, that I thought it would be a good idea to write it down! Working with difficult people is inevitable, but there is plenty you can do to learn how to manage the relationship, and use that to grow yourself as a person.

They are brilliant test cases for finding out what a personality trait looks like when it’s dialed up to 11. You can use this information to know if you want to be more or less like them in the future. For example, having a colleague who refuses to do anything outside of their role, can remind you how great a bit of flexibility can be.

A diverse team will have people with different views and experiences, but at times those differences can cause tension. Use this as an opportunity to go away and research your position, you will be much better at explaining it in the future, and you may end up updating your views for the better. Through contrarian people I’ve gotten better at explaining what I think is important, ranging from unit tests, to diversity.

You will realise how much impact a bit of empathy can have. Invite them out for coffee, and ask them a bit about themselves. You’ll get a better insight into who they are as a person, and why they may be acting the way they are. Though it rarely ends up in a complete transformation of the relationship, it can help to make interactions more constructive.

Understand the difference between people you don’t like, and people you don’t work well with. They can be quite different problems to deal with. Someone’s working style may not be to your liking, but could be a great fit for another team. Keep that in mind, as it can work out well for everyone if you are able to identify and suggest a team they can be more productive in. If you find you are the odd one out, then you may be the one better placed in another team.

Negative behaviour isn’t going to change if they aren’t aware it’s a problem. It’s not easy, but learning how to give effective feedback is a tool which will go on to benefit everyone you work with. If you are new to giving feedback, I’d recommend starting with the ASK (actionable, specific, kind) Framework, and checking with someone else to make sure the feedback is valid. If you aren’t comfortable delivering the feedback directly, then I recommend giving it to either your manager, or their manager.

Working with people you don’t like is not ideal, but I find it’s much better to be proactive, rather than just tolerate it. It can take a lot of energy, but it’s generally worth the effort. If you’ve been reading this and realising how much work you have ahead of you, find someone you trust and try to work through it together. Chances are if you are finding someone difficult, then there are others out there who feel the exact same way.

If you have any tips of your own, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.