How Can I Deal with a Coworker I Hate?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

Please help me figure out how to keep my sanity around this person I have to encounter every day at work. You know how some personalities just don’t match? Well, I guess this is a case of that—to an extreme. I have an uncontrollable, visceral reaction to this guy who makes me feel angry, sick to my stomach, even violent. The worst part is, he doesn’t even do anything wrong, from a human resources or company policy perspective. He just grates on every last nerve I have, from an annoying whistle to weird touching (again, not anything strictly inappropriate, but an elbow nudge after a joke, for instance). He has to insert himself in every conversation, make interjections, and relate everything back to his kids and family.

Unfortunately, he’s completely beloved by everyone else in our department. Everyone seems charmed by him but me. I can’t get away from him because of our communal office environment, and his antics are starting to affect my work. Even my home life suffers a bit because I end up going home and complaining to my wife so much.

There’s only so much I can do to avoid him or distract myself, and our work policies prevent us from doing much to personalize our environment. I can’t go to our human resources department to complain about things that are clearly just personality differences. I can’t address this guy directly, because it’s unreasonable to say, “Hey, please tone down 90% of who you are and change your (admittedly harmless) habits.” I can’t leave the premises, and I most definitely cannot quit this job altogether. So I’m left gritting my teeth and just taking as many deep breaths as I possibly can.

Since there’s probably no way of addressing this externally, is there any way I can internally deal with this person? Any tips you have are welcome. Thanks. —Uncharmed

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Dear Uncharmed,

It sounds like you have a pretty good handle on the situation in that you understand that even though this person really annoys you, he isn’t actually doing anything “wrong.” It also sounds like you understand you need to look inward in order to better understand what is going on for you and cope with it.

I think one of the first things to do is to look at this person and the feelings he evokes in you and see if anything feels familiar about it. Does he remind you of someone? Do the feelings he evokes remind you of feelings you’ve had in the past? Sometimes when we have a really outsized reaction to someone, it is less about the person and more about what they represent to us. Spend some time trying to reflect on who or what he might represent to you and see what comes up for you.

Sometimes when we have a really outsized reaction to someone, it is less about the person and more about what they represent to us.

It is also possible there is something about him that creates some jealousy for you. You indicate he is “completely beloved” by everyone else in the department. I wonder what that feels like for you. Do you feel like you are not perceived the same way by your colleagues? Do you wish you were as “beloved” as he seems to be? Does he have an ease in connecting with people that you do not have? It can be difficult to consider ways in which you might be jealous of someone who irritates you to your core, but it is certainly something worth considering as you try to figure this out.

Perhaps some reflection on the aforementioned things will help you to gain a deeper understanding of what it is about this man that affects you to such a strong degree. If so, simply having some awareness about what is going on could help in lessening the impact.

If you don’t come up with anything, or if you do but the awareness alone doesn’t offer any relief, you may find it valuable to seek therapy. A therapist could help you to uncover the underlying reasons someone might evoke such strong negative feelings in you, when others seem to like him so much. Beyond uncovering the reasons, a therapist can help you to identify some strategies and coping skills to make you more comfortable in his presence.

Kindly,

Sarah

Sarah Noel
Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
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  • ginger

    ginger

    January 13th, 2017 at 10:34 AM

    Oh mercy haven’t we all been there before? It can be a pretty difficult situation to deal with but sometimes you just have to put your head down and do your work and don’t even let them worry you. I know that is easier said than done but you know what? If you don’t like them then the feeling is probably mutual and neither of you are ever going to get anything out of that.
    You can either try to play nice or you can just learn to avoid each other.

  • Tim

    Tim

    January 16th, 2017 at 2:06 PM

    Could you go to HR and maybe request a transfer?

  • kimberly

    kimberly

    January 17th, 2017 at 11:53 AM

    ear plugs and avoidance works best for me ;)

  • naomi

    naomi

    January 18th, 2017 at 8:15 AM

    It sounds silly to ask can’t we all just get along but aren’t there times when you really just feel that way and feel like, we are all adults here, surely there is something that we can do to make this work smoothly for everyone. That doesn’t mean that we all have to strive to be best friends because that is never going to happen, but at least give it a real effort, especially if there no way to actually avoid a working relationship with this person. There will always be people who rub you the wrong way. Such is life.

  • MarieG

    MarieG

    January 19th, 2017 at 11:16 AM

    Well I have been on both ends of this one. I have despised other people that I have worked with and I am sure that I have been disliked at some point as well.

    I will admit that there have been a few times when words have been exchanged but you kind of have to come to a point like you do with any other relationship. Do you want to be right or do you want there to be peace?

    Although it can be hard to swallow those feelings sometimes for the peace of the office sometimes that really is the best thing to do.

  • mandy

    mandy

    January 30th, 2017 at 2:51 PM

    Short of leaving your job there really isn’t a great solution for this one. You need your job because you have to have money to pay the bills but there are times that having to work with the wrong person day in and day out can really do quite a number on your. I would like to say that I can leave it all behind me when I walk out every day but that is not that realistic. I just think that if you can have a little spot in the office where you can get away each day and have some good people that you can trust and you can vent to then this makes it all a little bit easier.

  • darryl f

    darryl f

    February 27th, 2017 at 12:00 PM

    I’m not a therapist but I am a substance abuse and behavioral disorder specialist so, I have dealt with similar issues from my clients. I believe if there is someone in your workplace that is bothering you and you just cannot seem to escape their presence and forcing yourself to interact with them is making you miserable, you should try to use that anger and fire as a productive energy fuel. I am just suggesting this as an experiment, and I am not sure if this method works but, don’t knock it until you try it!

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