Coworker Approved? How to Respond When You Sense a Coworker Doesn’t Like You

Our unconscious mind works much faster than our conscious mind, and according to Dr. Nick Morgan, we are all unconscious experts in reading the intentions of others toward us. Dr. Morgan even suggests that our minds can tell, right away, and with pretty good reliability, if someone is a “friend or foe.” 

To me, this sounds like proof behind the phrase “trust your gut.” Perhaps the phrase should be “trust your unconscious mind,” though. One key approach to bring unconscious awareness to conscious thoughts is to observe body language and subtle cues. However, in this virtual world that we’re in, where body language signs are even harder to read via a screen,  it’s even more important to be able to pick up on verbal, nonverbal, and communicative cues. 

It’s Not Just WHAT You Say But Also HOW You Say It

Obvious signs of being “closed-off” include having arms folded, sitting away purposefully, as well as eye-rolling when speaking, turning the other way, or avoiding contact altogether. These subtleties or nonverbal signifiers can signal disdain. You can tell a lot by the way someone looks at you. We know, for example, if someone makes a sour face that they’re communicating an unfriendly expression but also pay attention to signs like inability to look you in the eyes or individuals who can’t take their eyes off of you — as in they watch your every move — these can both be signs that someone is not your biggest supporter. These are only a few examples. In fact, Business Insider shared there are 22 signs to look out for

Another lens to consider is if your ideas are constantly being questioned, disagreed with, or frowned down upon. Now, this doesn’t mean everyone that disagrees with you doesn’t like you. Criticism is an important component of feedback in the workplace, but it should always be done in a respectful manner. If you feel like you can’t get a word in with others talking over you, or disagreeing with everything you propose, these are sure signs it may be more than just feedback. 

A deeper cue that takes a bit more intuitiveness is when you notice other coworkers being asked about their personal lives or invited to participate in office Happy Hours while you find yourself left out. Like Dr. Morgan implied — our unconscious understands and can feel the impact/interpretation of dismissive body language, disengagement/exclusion from conversations, and professional undermining. So, trust your instincts — if you can’t shake the feeling that someone doesn’t like you, they probably don’t. 

How Can You Fix It? 

The truth is, not everyone will like or agree with you all the time nor should this be your objective. Sometimes personalities just don’t click — and that’s okay! All of us, self-included, have individuals who are not members of our fan club. Regardless, mutual dignity and respect should exist in every relationship. If you’re not on someone’s good side or someone gets under your skin, there are some ways you can work towards the common ground to make interacting with them more tolerable. 

First, you should evaluate the situation as its own independent experience. If a co-worker gets on your nerves, try to figure out how or when this started happening. Is this something you feel can be resolved? If your coworker’s disdain is limited and doesn’t affect your work product or performance, it might be best to accept and let it go. But what if the disgruntled coworker is actually your boss? Harvard Business Review wrote a great article outlining this predicament that I encourage you to read if you find yourself in this situation.

You can only control how YOU think or feel and their expressions say more about their character than yours. However, if the dislike impedes your ability to work— this is where you should take action. 

What to Say

Once you’ve decided that you’re ready to take action, make sure you prepare. Do a bit of research to ensure you’re framing the conversation in a professional manner and read articles, such as this by HR Cloud, for a great blueprint on how to approach workplace conflict. 

Next, ask your co-worker for a quick chat — don’t blindside them or pull them away from work. Instead, ask to set up a planned meeting so that you both can come prepared to talk. Once you’re in the discussion, use radical candor — being sure to remove the personal language from the conversation. I’d suggest saying something along the lines of “I’ve experienced a bit of tension when you and I work together and I want to check-in to see if this is mutual and to share a couple of observations with you. Are you okay with this?” It is critically important to avoid blame statements like “you’re being disrespectful to me,” or “you are hard to work with.” If the other person feels like you’re headed down a path of attack or personal criticism, they will (predictably) get defensive,  especially if they already don’t like you.

After you say what you need to, don’t forget to allow time for them to respond. “What’s on your mind?” or “can you help me understand?” are great segways. Thank them for being open and honest even if you disagree with their perspective. The primary objective is to give voice to what you’re experiencing to ultimately build accountability. After all, it’s not the interpreter of the message but the deliverer who has accountability. And remember, good intentions or ignorant, unintentional actions still hold weight. 

Now, if you talk to the other person yet it doesn’t get you anywhere, or heaven forbid the disdain grows worse, it’s probably time to loop in additional support by way of an objective third party, especially if it is impeding your work. I know, this can be daunting. In that discussion with the three of you, it’s best to bring concrete reasons for why it’s affecting your work  — not just because it hurts your feelings so that you can be sure your issues will be taken seriously. 

After the Conversation

Once you’ve said your peace, reflect and digest it. If the other person gave you feedback, consider what you’re willing to change. This isn’t to suggest that you should change everything so that others will eventually like you, instead, see what you can do to make the relationship work better than it currently is. By at least showing a desire to change, you are doing something to be part of a solution. 

After coming up with a plan of what you can do better, set up another meeting. Remember, this is about your relationship with the person — meaning both parties are responsible for finding a solution.  Find a common goal or common ground by listening, communicating, and brainstorming solutions together. Perhaps changing up your communication workflow on projects (maybe less frequent meetings with each other) can make a difference. Or maybe switching tasks amongst the team. Finally, try to come up with preventative strategies. For instance, establish ground rules for how future feedback would best be received. Maybe having monthly or quarterly check-ins. This way, if the issue resurfaces, each party can feel comfortable addressing it head on. 

Ultimately, you need to remember that you can only change your thoughts and actions. Conversations like this can be awkward and uncomfortable but you’re only accountable for sharing your experience.