How To Tolerate A Coworker That You Can’t Stand

In life, you’re not going to get along with everyone you meet, and that is especially true when it comes to work. But how are you supposed to work with someone you can’t stand?

By Ella Carroll-Smith3 min read
pexels-vlada-karpovich-8367781 (1)
Pexels/Vlada Karpovich

A few years ago, I was on the phone with my mom complaining about a coworker I really didn’t like. At the time, it seemed like a big issue. I had to deal with this person every single day! How was I supposed to do it? My mom wasn’t very sympathetic though. She sighed and told me, “There is going to be someone you don’t like at every job you ever have. You just have to learn to deal with it.”

Now that I have a few more years of professional experience under my belt and have worked in different places, I realize that my mom was right (she usually is – but don’t tell her I said that). No matter where you work or how much you love your job, you will inevitably work with someone you don’t like. Maybe it’s different communication styles or politics or senses of humor. It doesn't matter why you don’t like this person. You still have to work with them and maintain a sense of professionalism and cordiality.

This is easier said than done, of course, but here are a few tips to help you remain calm and productive when dealing with a coworker you just can’t stand.

Create Boundaries

You might loathe your coworker, but you still have a job to do and you want to do it well. When you have to work with this person, try not to let it affect you to the extent that it impairs your ability to do a good job. It’s okay to be frustrated, but try to detach yourself from the situation and focus on what you can control: your work. 

Did your coworker say something annoying in a meeting? Ignore it. Did they show up late again? Not your problem. Everyone knows you should separate your work life from your home life, but it’s important to create healthy boundaries even when you’re at work. The only time you need to get involved is if this person is affecting your ability to do your job well. If that’s the case, then it's time to move on to my next piece of advice.

Confront Them (Kindly)

If compartmentalization isn’t working and this coworker is impacting your job performance, then it’s time to take matters into your own hands and confront them. I know confrontation sounds scary. I hate conflict too, but confronting someone doesn’t have to be a negative thing. The trick is to do it from a place of kindness and goodwill. 

Don’t call your coworker out in a meeting or in front of other people. Instead, invite them to lunch or coffee – somewhere neutral and away from the office where you can talk privately. Every situation will be different, but you could say something like, “I feel like we got off on the wrong foot. Since we’re going to be working closely on this project, I really want us to be able to communicate better.” 

Make it clear that you want to strengthen your relationship with them and move forward in a productive manner. If you’re genuine and kind about it, your coworker is far less likely to get defensive. Ideally, they’ll be receptive, and the two of you can work toward having a better professional relationship. If that doesn’t work, however, and you’re worried about your ability to do your job going forward, then it’s time to appeal to a higher power: HR. 

Appeal to a Higher Power (HR)

Going to HR with a problem is never fun, but sometimes it’s necessary. This is especially true when you find yourself working in a toxic environment or your coworker is harassing you. Your company’s Human Resources department is there for exactly this reason, so don’t be afraid to use it! 

If you’re going to schedule an appointment with HR to speak with someone about your problematic coworker, try to bring some concrete evidence. Obviously, that’s not always possible, but it will be easier for HR to help if you do. Remember that the intent of this meeting is to try and find a solution; it's not just a chance for you to rant about your coworker. Speaking of which…

Don’t Vent to Coworkers

It’s natural to want to vent to others about your toxic coworker. That’s how you decompress and process the situation. Plus, it’s nice to have someone confirm that you’re not being irrational and this person really is a pain. You can vent, but don’t do it with your coworkers. Venting to your coworkers is really just gossiping. 

I know it’s tempting. Who doesn’t love a little workplace gossip? But gossiping to your coworkers is never a good idea. No matter how much you trust your confidante, there’s a high likelihood that whatever you say is going to spread – possibly even back to the person you’re complaining about. 

That’s going to make the situation much worse, which could easily backfire and make you seem like the problematic one. When you need to vent, make sure you do it with a third party who has no connection to your workplace. If you confide in a neutral friend or significant other or family member, there’s no chance it could make it back to the person you’re talking about.

Ask Yourself: Am I the Problem?

I know it seems like your coworker is the one creating all the problems here, and maybe that’s true. However, you should still ask yourself if there’s any possibility you could be contributing to the issue. This is especially true if the things you don’t like about your coworker are purely superficial, like an annoying laugh or a strange habit they have.

Maybe you’ve been a little impatient or too quick to judge and haven’t given your coworker a fair shot. If that’s the case, you need to rise above and force yourself to get along. I know it’s hard, but it will only benefit you in the long run. You’ll do better work, you’ll grow as a person, and maybe you’ll realize this coworker isn’t quite as bad as you thought!

Closing Thoughts

Whatever the reason for disliking a coworker, there’s a way to navigate the situation while remaining classy and professional. Just remember: when it comes to conflict, no one ever regrets taking the high road

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