Working with Someone You Don’t Like

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You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your co-workers. Here’s my advice for how to make it work, when you don’t like someone you work closely with on a regular basis.

I suggest going with the benefit of the doubt (something I’ve referenced in It’s Not Fair!). Maybe their attitude isn’t sunny and they are a grouch to be around, but you really don’t know if this person is going through a divorce or has a seriously ill relative. Have they always been ill-tempered? Is it just toward you? If the answer is that they used to be positive Polly and they just haven’t been lately, then I suggest waiting it out. If the person is negative only toward you, try to address it.

Sometimes saying, “I know we have to work on project X together for the next few months. I’m excited to combine our talents and eager to get started.” This could help diffuse the situation and reiterate that you trust the person’s ability to help get the project done.

Just because you don’t want to hang out with this person after work and wouldn’t think of going to lunch with them, doesn’t mean you can’t have a working relationship. In a team environment, your success is your partner’s success and your failure is their failure. As long as everyone can remember that, you should be able to make any pairing work.

Focusing on the positive attributes even the most negative co-worker brings to the table can help get you in the right mindset. You could say, yes, she’s brutally blunt, but she’s very detail orientated and great at making a timeline based task list. Or sure, he monopolizes the conversation and asks the same question every single day, but he means well and is just trying to make sure you know he cares.

Obviously, getting a good read on the person is a great way to find that silver lining. Is he a control centered person? Let him be the one to suggest the starting point. Do you see her as scattered? Maybe she’s just able to multi-task extremely well or is very creative. Try to see the bright side.

If it does become a huge issue and you two can’t get past it talk to your supervisor (if you are comfortable). Reiterate that you are excited about the project and want to make it work, but you are having a hard time getting on the same page with Suzy. Just make sure you indicate you want to move past this issue.

Interview Skills: Not Just for Reporters

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Do you feel like getting your questions answered for a project is like pulling teeth? Do you have to talk to clients every day and feel like you aren’t getting any more information than when you called the last time?

You would probably benefit from learning some basic interviewing skills.

The first and most important preparation tool is to do some research. Know as much as you can about the other person or topic and have that background in front of you. It is amazing what five minutes on Google can tell you. Or just looking over the previous information and writing the questions you still are unsure of the answer to. By doing a few minutes of background research, your subject will know you cared enough to spend the time to get to know them.

Now on to the harder part, the questions. As Ryan Knapp so aptly put it, “asking open-ended questions to help prompt discussion/longer answers.” Which is exactly what you want! A discussion that feels like a conversation and less like a one-sided information session. Good places to start are why and how. Not very many people can answer a why or how question with a yes or a no!

Don’t be afraid of the follow-up question. If you didn’t get the answer the first time, try rephrasing the question and asking it again in another way.

Also, don’t just be thinking about what the next question will be and tune out the answer. The answer may lead to a different follow-up question that you wouldn’t have thought to ask if you had not been listening.

Finally, relax. Unlike journalists, you probably aren’t investigating a story. You’re just trying to get the required information to make your project or business relationship better.

Intensity as a bad thing?

I am the first to admit, I am intense. Everything about me is intense. I am fiercely loyal and devoted. I can be amazingly smart and brilliantly stupid. I am genuinely happy and silly.

But this part of my personality is not something I let shine in all environments. I’ve gotten burned for my tenaciousness and optimism. It doesn’t always come across as professional and has made people treat me like a teenager. So I’ve learned to read a situation and work environment before letting tiny pieces of my real personality out. I try to listen more and talk less, something that is difficult for me. Read a situation better before bubbling over.

Do you squelch parts of your personality in certain situations?