Knowing how to deal with co-workers you don't particularly like is a key job skill.

Share story

We’ve all heard about the co-worker from hell. You know, the cubicle mate who makes loud personal phone calls all day, or the colleague who claims credit for work you’ve done. Fortunately, these types of workplace horrors are exceptions.

But there is a more common, and often more insidious, source of personnel angst—the co-worker you just don’t get along with. He or she is too chatty, for example, or has wildly divergent political views from your own or incessantly complains about, well, everything. These people aren’t evil, and they’re not doing anything that seriously stands in the way of you getting your job done.

You just don’t like them.

For many of us, the workplace may be the first environment in which we’re forced into close contact with people we wouldn’t normally choose to spend time with. Your family is, after all, family, and at school you hung out with your friends. Now you’re in the workforce. It can be an adjustment.

Fortunately, you are not required to be besties with co-workers. It’s nice if you are. But it’s not necessary.

What’s more, you can often ward off behaviors that get on your nerves. Your too-chatty colleague may learn to go chatter to someone else if you consistently redirect the conversation to work-related topics. “Your weekend was busy?” you’ll say. “That reminds me I have a huge project due by Friday.”

Insisting on sticking to the job at hand can save you from all sorts of unwanted interactions. Make a minimum amount of small talk, just to show you are a pleasant person, and then move on to work stuff.

You can also try asking them to not do the things they do. Say so in the most neutral, nonjudgmental way you can manage and give them space to comply. However, if they don’t, don’t be surprised.

And don’t lash out with sarcasm, or defensiveness. It makes you look bad and won’t change your co-worker. This person is (presumably) an adult. Those behaviors are locked in.

Your best bet, always, is to treat everyone with civility. Cultivate a poker face. Be consistently professional and positive. Maximize your time with co-workers you do like. And consider that some people may be annoyed by you, too.

Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at