How to Manage an Employee You Don’t Like

It’s pretty standard to hear folks complain about their boss, but there’s definitely a flip side to that coin. If you’re a manager, then you’re probably familiar with dealing with reports that you just can’t stand. In many ways, this is more difficult than facing a manager or boss that you dislike because you are considered a mentor to your report. You are the person who is supposed to remove obstacles, resolve conflicts and generally help this person to succeed. So, if you can barely stand being in the same room with a report, it makes your job considerably harder.

What’s Not to Like?

To successfully deal with an employee you don’t like, you need to be honest with yourself about why. This will help you to better deal with your own annoyance because you’ll be able to minimize its source. Also, as a manager, it’s important for you to separate personal dislikes from actual performance issues. In fact, let’s start there:

Performance Issues vs. Personal Dislike

Employees with annoying personal habits, like singing to themselves or playing music too loudly, are very different from folks who are a poor fit for their role and the company at large. For example, if your dislike is sourced in an employee’s history of dishonesty or betrayal, a consistently negative attitude, or behavior that verges on sexual harassment or racist commentary, then this situation is more than just your problem. If you think your dislike of your report goes beyond the personal, follow up with your own manager or HR to discuss your concerns.

Digging Deeper into Personal Dislike

Once you establish that the subject of your ire is a good employee that you just happen to detest for person reasons reflect more deeply on the reasons behind your irritation. Here are some common pretexts.

Do you dislike the employee because he or she:

  • Reminds you of someone who wronged you in the past?
  • Personifies your worst fears about yourself?
  • Makes you jealous?
  • Has interests that are very different form your own?
  • Has different political, religious, or cultural beliefs from your own?
  • Engages in repetitive or annoying habits and behaviors?
  • Has a personality that you find to be selfish, self-aggrandizing, egotistical, fake, or similarly off-putting?

You might be surprised to figure out the real reasons behind your dislike, and it’s common to undergo a change of heart when realizing that your personal distaste of another person actually has very little to do with them. However, if you’re still struggling, here are some tips to help you manage a good employee you’re not particularly fond of.

  • Look for common ground. Even if someone really gets under your skin, there is bound to be something that the two of you have in common. If this person is a report, you mostly likely meet with them regularly. Dedicate some of this time to getting to know him or her a little bit better, asking questions that will help you to get beyond what you dislike. If this person is another employee, plan to take a few minutes each week to learn more, whether it’s through brief conversations at the coffee maker or stopping by their desk. What kind of knick-knacks are by their computer? What does the employee bio say? Your common ground might seem inconsequential, but even shopping at the same grocery store or growing up in the same part of the country can give you enough content to facilitate a new topic of conversation on which to build a more balanced relationship.
  • Reflect on what makes this person a good employee. If this person is good at their job, then they can’t be all bad. At the very least, their good performance is helping the company to succeed, which ultimately puts money in your pocket. That in and of itself can help to take the sting off of your antipathy. But what else? Is this person a manager? Do his or her team members like working with them? Why? Maybe there are sides to this person that you don’t get to see. Spend more time listening and watching them interact with other people and less time sipping your Haterade, and you might learn something new (and likeable!)
  • Be brief and be cordial. At the end of the day, there are no rules stating that you have to love everyone you work with. There are rules, however, barring the harassment of team members and toxic work environments. Therefore, it’s in your best interest to be polite and cordial to all co-workers, even if you would never spend time with them outside of work. Remember: you’re getting paid to do your job, which includes doing things you don’t like with people who aren’t required to be your friend.

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