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How to be Friendly with a Colleague You Don't Like

By: Maggie Lonsdale BA (hons) - Updated: 20 Aug 2010 | comments*Discuss
Colleague Problem Issue Friendly

Working in an office involves lots of little dances in order to not offend people, have your point heard and get people to do want you need on a project.

One of the hardest office dances to learn is the 'problem colleague' dance - there are many variations on this dance but some have been proven to be more effective than others.

Why Don't You Like Them?

If you have an issue with a colleague that you feel you would be able to deal with yourself - perhaps they are consistently late and you are tired of covering for them, or you know they are nowhere near finishing their part of a project that you are involved with and the deadline is looming - use the rules of the 'problem colleague' dance to effectively manage the tricky situation.

Rules of the Dance

One of the most popular versions of this dance is the 'compliment sandwich' that, once learnt, will allow you to deal with difficult situations time and time again. The rules are the same regardless of the issue, although you may find that some office problems, such as bullying or sexist behaviour, require a more serious approach, probably with the involvement of your line manager and/or HR department.

The main rule to remember is that you start with a compliment, make your 'negative' point, then close with a compliment. The purpose of the initial compliment enables you to gain the trust and 'good will' of your colleague. Think of something connected to their work (just saying they have a lovely blouse will not cut it) - try "I know you've been putting a lot of research into the Spanish project …" (or whatever). Then, carefully but clearly make your 'negative point' - try "but I think we need to start collating our evidence as the report is due on Monday." Finish up with another 'good point' - try "I'm sure it will be obvious how much you've put into this project when we hand in the presentation."

The 'compliment sandwich' works because it does not embarrass your colleague or make you look like you are telling them off, which usually results in a defensive counter-attack. It lets your colleague know that you are aware of the situation and are not prepared to let it carry on. Try it - it works!

Taking Control - Positively

The compliment sandwich can also work if the issue you have with a colleague is of more of a personal nature - perhaps you feel like they undermine your contributions to team projects or expect you to take notes in meetings simply because you are the only female on the team. The key aim in any of these situations is to make your point heard without being overly sensitive, aggressive or difficult. By using a positive tone and generously allowing the 'problem colleague' to not look like the bad guy, you will be able to hold you head up high in the workplace.

It is worth learning the moves of the office dances in order to move gracefully around situations at work - you can be sure that your most confident, successful colleagues have learnt these dances and you will be at a disadvantage if you don't. It does not mean that you will become some Machiavellian spin-doctor, it simply means that you have equipped yourself to remain calm and professional in a place where you spend eight hours a day, five days a week.

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