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Can I Be Happy at Work if I Don't Like My Teammates?

5 simple tactics to learn to like the people you work with.

Two woman having a coffee at work

Learn to like your teammates

“If you can’t be with the one you love honey, love the one you’re with”

Stephen Stills

You can be productive at work without being happy. You can be engaged, interested, stimulated, rewarded, and promoted at work without being happy. You can spend 40 or 50 or 60 hours a week in your job and get paid without ever needing to be happy. But why in the world would you want to?

If you have to spend the majority of your waking hours and the best years of your life at work, isn’t it worth a little effort to be happy?

Happy workers are those who can connect with and enjoy the people around them. But that doesn’t mean that you have to wait for the stars to align and hope you're placed on the ideal team of people who fit you perfectly right from the start. Just as couples in arranged marriages tend to grow to love each other over time, you can grow to like and enjoy your teammates.

The idea is not far fetched. There are simple things you can do to foster a connection with your teammates—even the ones who drive you nuts. You see, liking your teammates doesn’t require a change in their behavior; it requires a change in your mindset. You control whether you like someone or not…nothing they do will make you like them if you choose not to and nothing they do will make you dislike them if you choose to like them.

In the next week, choose to like one teammate who you have until now disliked. Try these tactics over the next few weeks and see how your relationship changes.

  1. increase the amount of time you spend with the person you think you don’t like. Turns out that we don’t know what we like, we like what we know. Familiarity breeds liking. Unfortunately, we tend to stay away from people we think we don’t like and therefore provide little opportunity to change our minds.
  2. think about one thing that you admire about the person—even if sometimes it’s an “over-strength.” Does the person advocate on their own behalf well (many of us could benefit from a little more self-promotion)? Is she a passionate advocate for cost containment? Does he do really well with your customers? Pay more attention to the positive. Use attentional biases to your advantage!
  3. have empathy. Many (probably most) of the bad behavior on teams is not intentionally destructive. In most cases, it’s self-protective. Figure out what the person is trying to protect. Does he have fragile self-esteem? Is she worried about something? Dig deep. Figure out what’s beneath the behavior. Once you understand this, you’ll be much kinder and your kindness will be reciprocated.
  4. make a connection. Find a time and a way to break down the wall between you. You can be direct about it “I feel like we got off to a bad start and I’d like to change that” or indirect “I’m really struggling with this new project, how’s it going for you?” Somehow you need to signal that you have decided to renew the relationships.
  5. do the little things. Walk up and say goodnight before you leave the office. Offer to grab something for the person when you are going to Starbucks. Make eye contact in meetings. All of these very small actions will signal that you are part of the same tribe—and we’re hardwired to like the people in our tribe.

Some of the people I like most in the world used to rub me the wrong way. Once I decided to like them, I focused much more on the great things about them than on their quirks. Over time, I found lots of evidence for why they are very likeable. Go pick one person who you will choose to like from now on.

For those of you who are just not buying it, maybe you need to stick with my post Why It’s Best if You Don’t Like Your Teammates.