Managing Someone You Don’t Really Like by Victor Lipman


As managers, we tend to like to work with people who agree with us, who are easy to work with, who don’t directly challenge us. While this is natural, it’s not always optimal. The path of least resistance isn’t always the path to most productivity.

This line of thinking was brought to mind recently when I retweeted a brief Harvard Business Review Management Tip on “How to Manage Someone You Don’t Like,” describing concisely the need to keep in check your own frustrations and biases when managing in such circumstances. (It was based on a longer article of the same title from this August by HBR Contributing Editor Amy Gallo.)

I had a quick inkling this was a resonant subject, as within a minute of my HBR tip tweet, I received a tweet back from a manager in Lagos, Nigeria: “this is nice becoz it will improve the quality of our leadership.”

Hard to argue with that… and it made me think about my own experiences in this realm over several decades of management. First off, I’d say there were very few people out of all those I’d managed whom I could really say I didn’t like. Full disclosure: I’m by nature a consensus-builder, tend to get along with people, not seek conflict. I’ve always loved team sports, big believer in the power of teams in business, feel little of substance is accomplished in a large organization without complex collaboration. But that said, notice I still said very few people I didn’t like, not none. Accordingly, my modest contribution to the management topic of liking and disliking and dealing with it.

So if you find yourself in this difficult bind – managing someone who’s a capable employee but you’re genuinely not liking – how should you approach it? (It’s important to say “capable employee,” since if the individual is a weak performer and not liked, odds are his or her stay in the role won’t be a long one.)

My suggestions:

Accept it, it’s just human nature, accept the inevitability of interpersonal conflict – Don’t agonize or beat yourself up over it, but assume in the course of normal human events this is a normal occurrence… and look for constructive openings rather than dwelling on negatives.

Recognize this is business, not pleasure, and drain the emotion out of it – As I used to tell my employees during especially hard and irritating assignments: “Hey, that’s why it’s called work, not play. If it were play, we wouldn’t be getting paid for it!” Remember these are business relationships, not friendships. Even turbulent business relationships can yield business benefits. Compartmentalize.

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