You may have to work with someone you don not like. So how can you work with difficult people, overcome any disputes or conflicts, and work collaboratively with one another? This may involve listening, empathy, and leadership on your part. This may involve some self-examination to see if maybe you might be part of the problem. This article explores a number of areas for you to consider so that can work collaboratively with people you do not like.  In the end we all have to sometimes work with people we would really rather not have to work with, but the task has to be completed and you going to have work this with that person. So now what do you do?

As a marketing approach I have been taught to reach out to others so that they like you, trust you, and see value added with what you do.

Actually, you can work with others that do not particularly like you, but they have to trust you and see value added with what you do. What this tells you is that trust is extremely important and that you need to be able to demonstrate value with your collaboration with the other party. Of course, you have to have trust in the other party and see value added with their contribution too. However, if the two of you do like each other so much the better. If you can tolerate each other that may be enough. Let us dig a little deeper.

Trust is all about

  • setting clear expectations,
  • demonstrating compassion by being calm, confident, and competent,
  • demonstrating character by continuously doing the right thing,
  • being committed to your employees and customers as a servant leader,
  • engaging with others sharing your insights, inviting them to share with you, and actively listen, and
  • being consistent with you do with everyone.

If you follow these elements, you will build trust. Check out Trusted Leader by David Horsager and his pillars of trust.


Define the problem


Defining the problem up front is a particularly good place to start.

Focus on what may be the root cause.

People are not jerks, but sometimes people exhibit jerky behavior. Keep this in mind. Maybe you have done something, or the other party has exhibited poor behavior that has resulted in this situation. Explore honestly what is causing this tension. Are you a contributor to the situation? What can you do de-escalate and work towards a more neutral approach? Explore what you can do to help remedy the situation.


Listen actively


Consider exploring with the other party where it is they are coming from. This can be hard. It means suspending judgment. It requires that you have an open mind and that you become curious about the other party and their perspective. Check your assumptions before beginning this exploration. Come with a host of questions to try and understand and gain insight in their perspective. You want find ways to engage and connect with the other person.

Ask questions of them and yourself like:

  • How do they see me?
  • Why are they acting this way?
  • What motivates them?
  • What to they want from me?
  • What am I thinking?
  • How does this make me feel?
  • What are they thinking?
  • How does this make them feel?

Exploring your and their motives might be very eye opening and give you an opportunity to explore alternatives. Paraphrase, summarize, and empathize what the other party has to say and take an active role to listen to them first.


Explore alternatives and the impacts of alternatives


Consider ways to collaborate by exploring the problem together and discuss who might do what. You have a common goal. Who might do what and by when to attack the problem and work towards the goal? Be tough on the problem and be gentle on the person. Engage the other person. Be pleasant. Smile.

Ask engaging questions and let them know you want to work collaboratively. For example, consider:

  • What has been going on with you?
  • What is most important to you that we talk about today?
  • What have you been thinking about lately?
  • What do you think?
  • I am happy that we can work together.
  • I do not think we have been working as collaboratively together as we should.
  • I would like to work more collaboratively with you.
  • Do you have any ideas on how we can work more collaboratively with each other?              

Focus on questioning and not telling the other party the way you want to do it.   These questions should be open ended. Be patient. Try to understand their perspective and where they are coming from. Look for areas associated with common values.


Explore awareness


Explore what you might each like or hope for from each other.

For example, being, respectful of each other and each other’s time, straightforward, honest, open, transparent, accepting, responsible and operating with integrity. If you know your Myers-Briggs type you may want to share it and explore theirs. This can lead to all sorts of insights. For example, I am thinking and judging person. This means I look at questions analytically and that I can make judgments quickly (sometime to quickly). By comparison, my publisher is a perceiving and feeling person. This means he likes to work process more deeply, understand the human ramifications and be sensitive to others. We compliment each other. He forces me to stop, reflect, and consider the human side of things better than I would by myself. This may mean the process may take a little longer, but in the end, we end up with a better solution.


Reach out to others


When in doubt reach out to the other person and consider reaching out to others. When reaching out to the other person consider positive accolades with what you see them bring to this collaboration.

For example when reaching out to the other party consider:

  • With your experience and insight how do you think we should approach this problem?
  • With your tenure you have seen a lot. Given your seniority what do you think?
  • I would love your help with this project, what do you think we should do?
  • How do you see me helping with this process?
  • What skills do you see me bringing to this process?
  • How do you prefer we communicate? Text, email, voicemail
  • How often do you think we should touch base?

When reaching out to others that know you and the other person seek advice as to what might be the best way to reach out to that other person. Ask them similar questions. Keep an open mind. You might be surprised at what you learn about yourself and the other party. This could even turn into a good working relationship going forward over time. Consider asking for advice from another peer, mentor, or other trusted party to help you with this situation.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]