They say we don’t choose our family. Well we certainly don’t choose our colleagues either. In some (most?) cases, we get along with them. They might not be perfect, but we aren’t either so there’s that mutual understanding that we all have to tolerate each other. But what happens when we really don’t like a colleague and we have to see them every day? What can be done?

1 | Explore why you dislike this person, and if it is reciprocal

The first step is to understand why you don’t like this person, and if the feeling is reciprocal. What has the person done that made you dislike them? Is there a pattern of behaviour that keeps repeating itself? What’s the context, when does it occur the most? Are you the only one feeling this way or do you see other people being annoyed or frustrated with this person? Can you tell that this person doesn’t like you either?

It’s important to have clarity on what actually happens, and not to stay stuck on your feelings. Focus on facts, they will help you understand if the source of the problem is this person’s behaviour, or if it is you who has a problem with it.

Because let’s be honest, it could be that you are the only one in this situation that feels this way. You might not be able to let go of a thing that happened, or that person triggered something that is personal.

2 | Keep your calm at all times with mindful breathing

This is where you see how mindfulness can help control your emotions. When you find yourself feeling frustrated or angry with this person, shift your focus inwardly. Stop your internal negative talk about all the things you dislike, and think instead about what’s happening in your body:

  1. Where do you feel that anger or frustration? Is it in your chest, your belly, your shoulders, your neck?
  2. Once you’ve identified where the feeling is located, start taking deep breaths (silent ones if you are in a meeting) while focusing on the tense area.
  3. Don’t think about this person at all. Just repeat the mindful breathing until you’ve calmed the sensation in your body and you’ve lowered your heart rate.

3 | Be the bigger person

This is one of the most difficult things to do, I know. Why should you always be beyond reproach when someone else gets away with bad behaviour? Why can’t you be as petty or aggressive? I personally haven’t always been the bigger person in situations where I had a conflict with someone at work, and let me tell you: it always backfired at me. Always. It shifted the conversation to my own behaviour, which felt so unfair and disproportionate that it left me even more frustrated and angry. Results: I got blamed for taking an active part in the conflict and not trying to solve it.

So, even though it’s hard, it’s crucial you stay irreproachable, because if the conflict comes to the point where managers are involved (see #6), they will look at both of you and will try to share the blame. Don’t lower your standards.

4 | Let go of the small stuff

No one is perfect. People have certain behaviours that make you roll your eyes or that frustrate you, but guess what? Some people roll their eyes too when you do things that annoy them. You can’t be compatible with 100% of the people we meet or work with, that’s a fact. And you can’t always tell people what annoys you: you’d be quite unbearable to work with. So you have to let go of the small stuff.

When I get annoyed, I always ask myself : in the grand scheme of things, does it matter? It rarely does.

5 | Talk to the person

If mindfulness and letting go haven’t helped you solve the situation yourself, it might be because there are some things that need to be addressed. Once you’ve explored what the problem is (facts) and how it makes you feel (those are two very different things), talk to this person about it. It’s not going to be easy, but you need to address it face-to-face. Remember to breathe mindfully to control your emotions while you speak to them. Find a good time and be genuine. Have the conversation off the record. Avoid putting blame and listen to what the person has to say. There are always two sides to the story and you might find out how this makes them feel.

6 | Talk to your manager

Whether the outcome of this conversation is positive or negative, talk to your manager about it to keep them in the loop. Be transparent about what you did and be clear as to what you expect of them: should they get involved? Is it just a FYI? Explaining what you went through, the work you’ve first done on yourself, and how you addressed it with the person will show a lot of maturity. They’ll be able to advise you on what to do next.