4 Tips For When You Can’t Stand Your Coworker

By Ryan Morris - Feb. 7, 2021
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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Articles In Life At Work Guide

Offices are a bit like pressure cookers: If you try to heat up leftover fish inside of one, everyone nearby will summarily attempt to take you out of existence.

That is to say that offices are small, enclosed spaces where you’re stuck for long periods of time with the same exact people for months — or even years — on end.

At a certain point, that situation is bound to breed a little animosity. Someone’s going to get mad at you, or you’re going to get mad at someone else.

And then, quite suddenly, you’ve got beef.

While we can’t promise you’ll be best friends with that coworker you can’t stand by the end of this article, we can guarantee that these steps will set you on a path for a healthier workplace relationship.

Determine the Precise Nature of Your Beef

As everyone knows, there are many popular varieties of office beef, including (but not limited to):

  • Sneaky beef. You hate someone else, and they have no idea.

  • Unrequited beef. Someone else appears to hate you — you have no idea why and don’t currently feel the same way, but they constantly work to undermine you or take credit for your work.

  • Mutual beef, or beef squared. You hate someone and they also hate you. This is the stuff that showstopping dance battles are made of.

  • Beef unlimited, aka “The Potluck.” When there’s plenty of beef to go around. You indiscriminately hate everyone in your entire office. Congratulations — you’ve made it.

It’s important that you figure out exactly which kind of beef you’re currently involved in before you can take any steps to squash it.

If you’ve just dealt with an intense situation with a coworker and tempers are flaring, give yourself some time and distance to decompress and understand the circumstances. Throw on some headphones and keep your head down while you get work done for a day or two.

While it’s admirable that you want to handle the situation quickly, some situations require a bit of space to handle professionally.

Some of these situations are easier to identify than others, but the steps for dealing with all of them are all relatively similar.

How to Handle Bad Work Relationships

Let’s assume, for the sake of this article, that your relationship with your coworkers is still in a mostly repairable state.

That’s important to assume because, unless they’re doing something truly heinous/illegal that you could report them for, odds are you’re not going to get anyone fired just because you don’t like them. Problematic or straight-up bad behavior can be relayed to HR, but it’s not against any rules to be annoying.

Likewise, the easiest way to get away from someone who hates you is just to pack your bags and leave — aka quit your job — but given that you’re reading this article, you probably don’t want to use your nuclear option quite yet.

Fortunately, there are quite a few things you can do to mitigate or even totally squash said beef. Things like:

  • Start with some empathy. Think about what might be making your coworker act the way that they do — even if the behavior annoys you, you might find you can stomach it a little better if you understand it more.

  • Confront the problem directly. Some people respond well to people being upfront with them.

  • Connect with them. If you and some coworkers go for beers sometimes, invite this coworker along. Maybe just look for opportunities to ask this person about their day and how they’re feeling.

  • Think about what’s really upsetting you. Even if it hasn’t turned you into a jerk yet, you might find that much of your dislike of this person is in your own head and stems from you associating them with someone or something else that you already hate.

Ultimately, if you’re having a problem, the responsibility to fix it is yours (as unfair as that might seem). Reach out to the coworker that you can’t stand and address the issue. Ask to meet up outside the office and have a chat that has nothing to do with work.

Find out what she likes to do with her free time and what’s going on in her life. This personal connection will go a long way in dispelling animosity. You might find out that there’s a reason for their annoying behavior, and this knowledge can make it easier to cope with and work around.

Handling Rotten Coworkers

There’s always the chance that no matter what you try, someone in the office will continue to hate you. Or, at the very least, they’ll say weird passive-aggressive stuff to you forever.

This person will always seem like they’re trying to square up with you or other coworkers, and no amount of kind words or after-work group beer invitations will persuade them to chill the hell out.

If you’re particularly unlucky, this might even be a whole group of office folks who are being unreasonable or treating you and others unfairly. In this case, it’s not you: it’s your office culture that sucks, and that’s tough to fix.

Unfortunately, if any of this is true for you, you don’t have a lot of options besides quitting your job or asking to be transferred to a different location or division.

But if that’s not an option either, there are a few things you can do that might help make the situation a little more bearable, even if you find you can’t entirely fix things:

  • If it’s just one person, make friends with everyone else. It’s tougher for someone to hate on you when you have the support of the entire office — particularly if you have the support of your hater’s direct superior.

  • Make new work connections. Invite people to take a painting class or learn Zumba. You’ll feel good, and start developing connections outside of the ones that upset you.

  • Wait and see. If it somehow feels like the whole office is against you, well, then it’s more of just a waiting game. What’s the turnover rate like for your work?

  • Make an exit plan. If it’s likely that you’ll be dealing with these workers for your entire tenure at your job, the only real thing to do at that point is to decide how long you’re comfortable staying for.

If you’re having a tough time with one coworker, in particular, try to view this person as a mirror. Identify what behaviors or personality traits you find unbearable. Move away from “he’s a conceited jerk” toward “I don’t like how he disrespects people by talking over them.”

By juxtaposing our annoying coworker’s traits with our own, we can see how not to be at work and gain clarity on how we’d like office relationships to function.

Additionally, you can use these qualities to form “I” statements when you confront the person. For example, you can say “I feel upset when people speak over me at meetings,” rather than “You always speak over me.”

People have a much easier time making adjustments when you don’t attack or accuse them from the start of the conversation.

Of course, there’s another possible reason that people around you may not like you.

Why Do People Hate Me: Signs You’re an Unreasonable Jerk Who Needs to Chill

Look, you know, we get it. People can be annoying.

But just because there are all these jerks out there in the world, putting fish inside of microwaves and eating unlabeled fridge yogurts, that doesn’t mean you have carte blanche to start taking out every perceived slight on everyone around you.

Because then you’re the office jerk. You’re the one starting drama.

But being the office bully can sometimes sneak up on you. Here are a few signs that you might not be as much of a victim as you think you are:

  • For starters, do you actually do your work? If you’re a lazy or unqualified worker, you might be holding up the success of everyone in the office, or at least making them resent you for doing so little and still collecting a paycheck.

  • Do you tend to overshare, or have stories that never end?

  • Is your music always too loud while you obliviously drum your fingers along your desk?

  • Do you always make cynical, snarky comments without ever providing any positive support or feedback to your coworkers?

  • Seriously, are you the one putting fish in the microwave? Stop it. Stop it right now.

Finally, before you put a whole bunch of energy into fixing the problem, ask yourself some important questions:

  1. What’s the power dynamic? How you go about handling the situation changes depending on whether this is a peer, superior, or subordinate you’re dealing with. This is not to suggest that you should just forget about the problem if it’s your boss, but you do have to consider office politics.

  2. Is this relationship important? We all want to have amicable relationships with everyone we work with, but it’s not always necessary. If it’s someone you only have to interact with once a week, consider devoting your energy elsewhere and just accepting that you won’t be BFFs with this person.

    If you won’t be working with them for long or don’t have to work together often, try to minimize your interactions with the troublesome coworker.

  3. What can I do to resolve the situation? Answering this question requires you to know precisely what your problem is with the person. Think about non-confrontational ways to address the issue, but let them know what you’re unhappy with. Also, encourage them to tell you how they’d like the relationship to improve.

    Maybe you’ve contributed to the souring relationship, and it’s important to take responsibility for that. Do some self-reflection and try to be the bigger person moving forward.

    Remember, you can only control your actions. Do everything you can to remedy the situation, and you’ll feel a whole lot better, even if you still can’t stand that coworker.

Final Thoughts

Again, we want to stress that if you’re being harassed or abused at work, you should come forward and tell someone as soon as you feel comfortable doing so. No one should have to deal with that at their place of work, and there ought to be a process in place for handling those kinds of complaints.

But a lot of times, office disagreements are much more mundane than this. It’s petty sibling kind of stuff, like someone taking up too much space or accidentally eating your food a few too many times.

And, as with siblings, the best tactic to take in cases like this is just to let it all go.

If you can find it within yourself to let go of the past and let bygones be whatever the heck bygones are, then you’ll find everything slipping off you like water off a duck’s butt.

And if that’s not enough to keep you calm at the office, just remember that work relationships aren’t everything and you don’t need to be BFFs with everyone at your office.

Anyhow, best of luck with the whole “evil coworker” thing! Remember to keep the lines of communication open and be flexible in addressing workplace issues. As long as both parties make an effort to improve the situation, you should be able to get along just fine with that coworker you can’t stand.

Never miss an opportunity that’s right for you.
Ryan Morris


Ryan Morris

Ryan Morris was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog who tried to make the job process a little more entertaining for all those involved. He obtained his BA and Masters from Appalachian State University.

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