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5 Steps to Managing Someone You Dislike

How to walk the line between creative difference and destructive annoyance with an employee that irks you.
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First off, why should you bother?

It’s your company. Why not just hire people you like or, should one unpleasant person slip through the net, simply fire them? If someone is truly obnoxious -- a real, certifiable jerk -- then that is probably the best strategy. But if one of your team members isn’t really a bad person but simply somehow rubs you the wrong way, there are good reasons to find ways to make it work.

Despite all the chatter around cultural fit, working with people that are different from and challenge you pays dividends. As Margaret Heffernan has written here on Inc.com: "The company in which there is no conflict is the one where there's no debate and precious little thinking. The reason you need people not like you is because they will spark argument and dissent."

But even if hiring people who wouldn’t invite over for a beer in a million years makes abstract sense, the day to day of generating creative conflict without generating misery is a fine balance. So how can you get along with an employee you simply don’t like? That’s the question Amy Gallo took up on the HBR Blog Network recently. The in-depth post offers case studies and lots of details and is well worth a read in full, but Gallo’s advice boils down to this five-step plan of action:

Don't assume it's a bad thing. "From a performance standpoint, liking the people you manage too much is a bigger problem than liking them too little," says [management professor Bob] Sutton. The employees you gravitate toward are probably the ones who act nice, don't deliver bad news, and flatter you.

Focus on you. Rather than thinking about how irritating the person is, focus on why you are reacting the way you are. "They didn't create the button, they're just pushing it," says [Organizational psychologist  Ben]  Dattner… "You don't have to go into therapy to figure it out but be honest with yourself about what situations or attributes make you most irritated," Dattner says. Once you've pinpointed the triggers that might be complicating your feelings, you may be able to soften or alter your reaction.

Put on a good face. Whatever your feelings for your employee, he will be highly attuned to your attitude and will presume that any disapproval or distaste has to do with his performance. The onus is on you to remain fair, impartial, and composed.

Keep your bias out of reviews. When someone irks you, you need to be especially vigilant about keeping your bias out of the evaluation and compensation process. Dattner recommends asking yourself: "Am I using the same standards that I use for other people?"

Spend more time together. This might sound like the last thing you want to hear, but it might help to give yourself more exposure to the problem employee. Sometimes strong medicine is the most effective cure.

Check out the complete post for much more on each of these points. If all of this sounds like a lot of work, first remember that the perks of business ownership also come with some burdens, including working nicely with a wide range of people. Then, perhaps management consultant Peter Bregman’s words might offer some comfort.

Thinking about why you dislike people (see step two above) can be incredibly character building, he asserts. “Chances are, the reason you can't stand that person in the first place, is that they remind you of what you can't stand about yourself. Suddenly, working with people you don't like becomes a lot more interesting. Because getting to know them better, and accepting the parts of them you don't like, is actually getting to know yourself better and accepting the parts of yourself you don't like,” Bregman has written. So at least you'll end up a better person if you approach it right. 

What are your best tricks for managing folks you just don’t like very much?

 

Last updated: Sep 2, 2013

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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