Making Your Team Work

Practical advice on how you can change your team for the better.

What Do I Do When I Hate My Colleague?

How to turn around a relationship that has soured

Two business people shoving each other

Hate is a strong and powerful emotion. It’s not something you take likely.  But every once in a while you probably find yourself with such animosity and disdain for a colleague, that you feel justified in saying you hate them.

Hatred for a colleague is bad news in many different ways. In no particular order, it prevents you from working effectively together, which is bad for your career and bad for business.  It causes stress and threatens your mental and physical health if it isn’t rectified.  And it probably spills over into your other relationships, souring them because of undue energy focused on your negative relationship with your colleague.

For all those reasons, it’s really important that you move beyond hating your colleague and repair the relationship. Try these steps:

  1. Understand what is triggering such strong feelings in you.  You own your emotions, so be honest with yourself about what’s going on. If you feel so strongly, it probably goes to something very basic and important like your own self-esteem, your feelings of belonging, or your need to be in control.  What is really at the crux of your hatred?
  2. Run yourself through a quick round of 5 Whys?  When you think “She makes me want to strangle her!” Why? “Because I hate when she is always trying to sound so smart!” Why? “Because I think she’s pulling the wool over the boss’ eyes?” Why does that bother you? “Because she gets all the attention!” Why is that a problem? “Because I want some attention too!”  Why? “Because I need to feel like I’m valued by my boss!” Aha!
  3. Try a little empathy. What are some alternate explanations for your teammate’s behavior that don’t lead back to “because he is evil!”  What could I be misinterpreting? How could I see the same behavior as a sign of vulnerability, rather than a sign of strength? How might over-bearing behavior mask a lack of confidence? What if micro-management is just a response to fear of losing control?
  4. Make a connection.  Be the bigger person and offer an olive branch to get the conversation started.  “I am really disappointed in myself for letting our relationship deteriorate.”  “I’m really struggling to connect with you.”  “Can we find a time to talk about where we’re at?"
  5. Share your experience of the relationship. Use really clear and direct feedback techniques (instructions here) to deliver your message in a way that it lands well.  “Let me give you an example. In our team meeting yesterday, when you presented the new product idea we had developed without mentioning my involvement, I felt like all my hard work got ignored. How do you think that played out?”
  6. Listen for your role. When you decided that you hate your colleague, I can almost guarantee that your behavior deteriorated.  Just as you need to share the impact your colleague’s behavior has on you, you need to be willing and open to hear how you are intentionally or inadvertently hurting him/her.
  7. Keep pulling together.  Each time you share how behavior is impacting you; each time you really hear and understand how your behavior is landing, you bring the two of you a little closer together.  Keep doing this and over time, you’ll feel the hate start to fade, replaced by insight and understanding.

If a true fix is impossible, you at least need to reduce the intensity of the emotion to protect against the negative impacts that hatred has on you.  Even after step 1, you’ll be able to take ownership of your reactions to your teammate’s behavior.  That will reduce the control they have over you. 

It’s not healthy to hold on to hate. It’s bad for you, your team, your family, and your organization.  Take steps today to improve a bad relationship, you’ll be glad you did. 

Liane Davey, Ph.D., researches team effectiveness. She is the author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done.

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