Why Coworkers May Dislike You


Your behavior in the workplace can make coworkers dislike you. Often you are unaware that what you say or do might annoy other people. Managers often avoid discussing these behaviors with you because they find it uncomfortable. Irritating behaviors can be like a bad habit and bad habits are hard to break. However, the first step in breaking bad habits is to be aware of them. So let’s review some bad workplace habits that result in people potentially disliking you.

You’re condescending

As a manager or highly experienced co-worker, you may come across as patronizing to people reporting to you or your less experienced peers. You don’t mean to be patronizing, rather you are trying to help others do a good job. Your colleagues may feel you are denigrating their efforts. There are few things more upsetting to people than some know-it-all implying you or others are stupid.

Arrogance is unattractive. Before you tell someone the work they did isn’t as good as the way you would have done it, make sure you have context. For instance, don’t just say, “When starting this project you should have discussed Factor X with the customer.” Maybe your coworker did discuss Factor X with the customer. Perhaps the customer did not share vital information with your coworker. Maybe you neglected to share vital information with your coworker. Treat your coworker with respect. Offer up something instead, “Did either you or the customer bring up Factor X?” By spending less than a minute to treat your colleague with respect, you are building a relationship rather than tearing one down. You have created a “teachable moment” that will allow your coworker do his/her job better.

You talk before you listen

Outstanding employees are often guilty of this. Bright, creative, passionate people are often brimming with great ideas they can’t wait to share. They talk over the people around them – people who often have some great ideas of their own. By doing so, people may become angry with you as the tactic is counterproductive.

I admit it; I have this bad habit and struggle to control it. I never had this problem until I finished my post-doc and entered the workplace. I became aware of this during employment interviews. I was so eager to impress interviewers that sometimes I would interrupt them before they even finished asking their question.

Everyone’s perspective has value in the workplace. You have to give coworkers and customers a chance to express their perspective on workplace problems and issues. If you don’t give others a chance to express their views or be creative, they won’t want to work with you. Coworkers won’t want to collaborate with you; they’ll want to throw you out the window. Ironically you are less likely to get your ideas accepted if you don’t listen to theirs.

You set coworkers up to fail

You can do this by setting deadlines and standards that are impossible to meet. Another way that managers do this is by not giving coworkers resources they need to do the job. Often as a colleague or supervisor, you may have to make commitments in other people’s names which they must live up to. For example, a team leader or sales representative who accepts a goal or deadline that is impossible for you or your team to meet. There is no excuse for doing this unless you know your coworkers have the resources to meet these requirements.

Customers and managers need to understand the implications of decisions. For example, resources are limited. So accepting a project completion deadline may require diverting resources to this project and accepting delays on completing other projects.

Wasting coworkers’ time

According to the Harvard Business Review, the most important way to keep employees motivated is to create an ongoing sense of progress. Conversely, a sense of minimal progress can be very demotivating. Imagine you work hard on a project and it turns out that all your hard work was a complete waste of time because one of your coworkers or boss did not do their job well by being irresponsible, careless or lazy. You’re going to dislike that individual.

The flip side of the coin is that you have to have your coworkers’ back. This may require you to take some risks. For example, once I developed a new product at a time when my employer sorely needed a new revenue stream. However, my supervisor refused to take the steps needed to manufacture field test quantities of the product and take it to customers for testing. Instead he repeatedly requested additional laboratory testing. However, field engineers had seen my laboratory results in company reports and began complaining to their managers that they couldn’t get the chemical for their customers. Finally they complained to a company division Vice-President. He approved the product was approved for manufacture and released it to the field for a highly successful series of field tests that resulted in a new product when additional sales were sorely needed.

You don’t say please or thank you

People have a sense of dignity and self-worth and want to have this recognized by their managers, coworkers, and customers. Treating coworkers with respect and being polite can go a long way to make people feel respected. The word “please” is one of the strongest words in the business world. Common courtesy also includes explaining why some work results are needed as soon as possible. This often will persuade coworkers and suppliers to provide the information you need on a timely basis. You need to be particularly diplomatic when trying to get customers to share test results.

John Borchardt was a chemist, freelance writer and devoted ACS career consultant for over 15 years, until his sudden passing in January 2013. He was the author of the ACS/Oxford University Press Book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers,” and had more than 1500 articles published in a variety of magazines, newspapers and encyclopedias. As an industrial chemist, he held 30 U.S. and more than 125 international patents, and was the author of more than 130 peer-reviewed papers. John’s advice, insights and articles helped hundreds of scientists improve their professional lives, and he will be truly missed.

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