When You Can't Stand Your Coworkers, and You're the Boss

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How do you motivate your staff when you can't stand them?

When you're the boss, your worst enemies at work might end up on your team. You're in charge of making the office bully feel good about work (and less mean) or pointing out the strengths of the workplace slobs (even if you're a neat freak).

Motivating the people who make you crazy is Liane Davey's specialty. As President of Team Solutions at Knightsbridge Human Capital, her book You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done and the Harvard Business Review article "How to Motivate Someone You Don't Like" provide specific strategies for how to be a good boss to employees with difficult personalities.

First, Davey says, you have to understand why they rub you the wrong way. It comes down to three root reasons: 

  1. Interpersonal Rub: They're different from you on a personal level and you have a hard time relating to them.
  2. Off-putting Habits: Their quirks annoy you. You're the highly organized and they're the distracted and messy. You're an extrovert and they won't opine on a single thing.
  3. Disrespect: They're gruff or blasé about your authority. Their behavior make you feel undermined as a boss.

When your employees get under your skin on a personal level, Davey says the key is to change your mindset. 

  1. Teambuilding: Remind yourself you're on a team: Surround yourself with people who have different strengths from you. 
  2. Spin Weaknesses as Strengths: Think about those quirks as complementary strengths. They're not messy, they're creative. Compliment people on their best traits, and make that a positive place from which to give feedback. 
  3. Empathize: An unhappy boss's instinct is to reprimand; empathize instead. When someone's unsavory or a bully, this is coming from somewhere. We tend to think that the bully is nasty and strong. but most often, they're very weak and overcompensating. 

"We don't know what we like," Davey said. "We like what we know." She suggests that to warm up to the people you can't stand, you need to do the opposite of what you might think. Get to know them better; ask them to open up; cling to them. If they tell their story, you'll better relate to them on a human level. 

Then remember that on a professional level, people different from you often bring different strengths. It's in your best interests to warm up to the ones who complement your own weaknesses. If you're meticulous and they're a mess, you're can both stronger when you work together.

But you can't force anyone to like you.

"It's a two way street," said Davey.

If you understand where your employees or coworkers behaviors are coming from, that'll be enough to work with them better. You don't need to like people for the sake of liking them.

And for those office bullies, she says, the best solution is to kill 'em with kindness (and keep giving constructive feedback).