How to Act Around People Who Don't Like You if You Don't Like Them

Three Methods:Handling a Disagreeable Co-workerDealing with Obnoxious RelativesMaking Nice with an Ex-friend or Lover

Sometimes people test our patience. Whether in the workplace or in home life, annoying co-workers, obnoxious relatives, ex-friends, and ex-lovers can all test us – we don’t like them and they don’t like us. But getting into constant squabbles is not usually a good option. You don’t need to give in to these people, but you will need to be patient, thoughtful, and calm if you want to manage your relationship civilly.

Method 1
Handling a Disagreeable Co-worker

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    Figure out why he bothers you. We all have co-workers that we dislike. The self-promoter, the know-it-all, the duty-shirker, the gossip, the golden boy.[1] If you feel your ire rising, try to figure out why you dislike the person. Once you pin this down, you will be able to better manage your approach.
    • Is your dislike related to a personal quirk like the way he dresses or communicates? A knee-jerk reaction in this case might not be reasonable or fair.[2]
    • Is your dislike based on his overall personality? Maybe he is aggressive or manipulative? Such a co-worker could be harder to manage.
    • Remember that you cannot change his personality. However, you can alter how you deal with him on a day-to-day basis.[3]
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    Assess whether he returns the feeling. You may think that a co-worker dislikes you when, in reality, you have just misread his behavior or words. He might not have meant to offend you by his words in that last meeting, for example. Mistakes can happen, or we can sometimes be too sensitive.
    • If you are unsure, pay close attention to his words and behavior. Also, note how he interacts with other colleagues. Is there a pattern? Or, do you only see dislike in his interactions with you?
    • Give your colleague the benefit of the doubt if you are unsure of a mutual dislike. Try to by cordial and professional with him.
    • Your boss will expect you to get along with other co-workers, even the very irritating ones.[4] Keep your cool. Provoking conflict could get you into trouble or disrupt company morale.
    • Recognize when it is your issue. If your colleague has not given you any real reason for offense, accept the fact and try to overcome your emotions.[5] Say to yourself: “Bill still bothers me, but I know that he means well and is good with IT. He’s a valuable member of the team and I need to get along with him.”
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    Interact with caution. Sooner or later, you will probably have to work with your nemesis on a project, interact in a meeting, or chat in the lunchroom. Maintain your poise. Stay professional but distant and don’t allow yourself to get entangled.
    • Say that your co-worker is the gossipy-type. Nod your head politely and don’t engage, or just walk away.
    • If your colleague is a duty-shirker, don’t allow him to hoist his work on you. Say something like, “I’d love to help you, Bill, but I’m pretty swamped myself.”
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    Try to avoid contact. The last-ditch solution for a disagreeable and toxic colleague is to avoid contact completely. If you fear getting entangled with the resident narcissist or manipulator, for example, avoid him at all costs. Change your routine to keep your distance.
    • For example, take routes in the workplace that bypass his cubicle. Learn when he eats and avoid the lunchroom at those times.
    • If you accidentally bump into each other, simply give him a brief acknowledgement and go about your day. Start talking to someone else, excuse yourself, or otherwise appear busy.
    • This approach may break down, as there are times when you will have to interact in a workplace. This is especially at small companies. Do your best and don’t engage with his toxic traits.
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    Maintain boundaries. Be clear with a problem colleague that you will not accept behavior that crosses the line. Is your colleague a bully? Be polite but firm with him – let him know that you will not be pushed around.[6]
    • Be mindful that, even if you are in the right, a conflict could land you in hot water. Your boss might see you as the troublemaker or “not a team player.”
    • Send a clear message. Speak up if behavior bothers you. If a sexist colleague calls you “honey,” for example, tell him that you don’t like it: “I don’t like being called that, Bill. Please use my name.”
    • Try to enlist help with peers, if only to build a support network. Talk to these people to see what you can do about particularly problematic behavior.[7]
    • If you feel your co-worker is crossing the line into abuse, consider talking discreetly with either your boss or with Human Resources. Focus in these conversations not on your relationship, but on how his behavior is harmful to the business and workplace atmosphere.[8]

Method 2
Dealing with Obnoxious Relatives

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    Avoid open strife. We all seem to have that aunt, uncle, or cousin whom we can’t stand. The one who drinks too much at Thanksgiving, who drones on about her life problems, or who is an open bigot. Unlike a noisome colleague, however, you can’t get rid of her. She turns up at Thanksgiving and Christmas; maybe you are the godmother to her children. How do you handle her? Rule number one is to avoid open strife.[9]
    • At family gatherings, try to have innocuous topics of conversation in mind and stick to them. If you fight over social views, for instance, steer clear of anything related to politics.
    • Don’t press her buttons. Strife with close family is easy, because we know one another’s weak spots. Be kind and don’t deliberately press your obnoxious relative’s buttons just to get a reaction.
    • As host, you might consider giving her a task. Ask her to help in some way so that she feels needed and useful. Studies show that giving a person a rationale also increases compliance. For instance, “Sharon, could you please help me peel the potatoes so that we can mash them?” might work better than “Sharon, would you please peel the potatoes?”[10]
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    Stop trying to fix her. Whatever it is that you dislike, your obnoxious relative will not change it for you. Stop trying to fix her and try to accept her for who she is, to a point. Part of this is about letting go of how you want the relationship to work, how you envision it, and your ire when it doesn’t live up to the fantasy.[11]
    • Don’t be overly judgmental. You might not get along, in part, because she knows you want to change her, and resents you.
    • Try to be empathetic, instead. Take a deep breath, listen to what she has to say, and don’t interrupt. Show her that you are at least listening.
    • Studies show that recognizing a person’s viewpoint, without necessarily judging it, can make them less combative and defensive.[12] If you disagree with something she says, say something non-committal in reply, like “You seem to feel very strongly about this and I respect that.”
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    Go easy on the alcohol. Our relatives’ obnoxious traits often surface at family gatherings where wine, beer, or booze flows freely. Alcohol lowers inhibitions and loosens the tongue. Don’t overindulge if you are wary of conflict.[13]
    • Alcohol makes some people more belligerent or self-pitying. If you are the host, and if your obnoxious relative is one of these types, consider cutting out booze altogether.
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    Avoid her if at all possible. Avoiding an obnoxious relative is harder than avoiding a co-worker. If you simply can’t get along, however, you may want to stay away as best you can and maintain a respectful distance.
    • Limit your time together to larger family gatherings and prepare yourself ahead of time. Steel yourself and be patient.
    • Give her plenty of space when under the same roof. For example, if she is in the living room, make yourself useful in the kitchen or dining room. If she is in the television room, escape to the living room.
    • Be diplomatic with other relatives. Your well-meaning relations might try to intervene if they see something is amiss. Be upfront but civil. Say something like, “I love Aunt Sharon, but she and I don’t always see eye to eye. I’m just giving her some space.”
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    Keep your cool. Be aware that a clash might take place, whether in person, over the phone, or through third parties. Try to stay calm and polite to avoid an embarrassing scene.
    • Take a personal disagreement to a private place, like an empty room or the bathroom, and talk softly, and don't air your grievances in front of others.
    • Say your part in a respectful tone and either listen to her response or walk away.
    • Feel free to get some fresh air. Stepping outside will allow you to calm down and collect your thoughts in private.

Method 3
Making Nice with an Ex-friend or Lover

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    Develop a script. Dealing with ex-friends and lovers is maybe the hardest relationship to manage, harder than obnoxious relatives and co-workers by far. This is because of the intense bond that you once shared and, in some cases, the bitter end to that bond. One way to deal with seeing him is to develop a script and to stick to it.[14]
    • If you anticipate meeting an ex-friend or lover, know what you want to say ahead of time. Pick out topics of conversation and know which subjects to avoid. Be prepared.
    • Having something in mind will allow you to keep your cool, and also to avoid coming off as aloof or defensive.
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    Avoid sensitive situations or topics. There are a lot of potential flash-points in relationships after a breakup. If you meet your ex, know what topics to avoid with him. Don’t dredge up old arguments or resentments, like his new friends that you blame for growing apart.[15]
    • Try to avoid other obviously tense situations. Meeting your ex-boyfriend in the presence of his new girlfriend is probably a bad idea, for example.
    • Some tense situations can’t be avoided. For instance, you may need to pick up clothes or items that you left at your ex-friend’s apartment. In such a case, prepare yourself beforehand. Be ready to get in, get out, and keep conversation to a necessary minimum.
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    Don’t force others to take sides. Whether friend or lover, a breakup is like a divorce on a small scale. Your life together gets divided and those around you – friends and family members – feel pressured to take sides. Letting these people to stay neutral can go a long way toward maintaining civility between you and your ex, however. [16]
    • Accept the fact that your current friends or family may choose to maintain a relationship with your ex, and don’t resent them for it or make them feel badly.
    • Bad-mouthing your ex-friend or lover will often worsen the situation. If you don’t have anything kind to say about him, keep silent or vent to a friend who is at arm’s length.
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    Make an effort where effort is due. Try to get along with your ex if you can’t cut off the relationship entirely, if, for example, you have a shared business or children together. Keep your feelings secondary to business or family and remember that you need to maintain some civility.[17]
    • Put common ground first. Whether a business, children, or other reason, keep your priorities front and center in your interactions.
    • A little distance is OK. You don’t need to be best buddies with your ex. Putting some space between you and him may actually be a good idea and prevent future conflict.


  • Don't break a life-long friendship over something small.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Managing Conflict and Difficult Interactions