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Colleagues don’t have to like each other, but they have to get along

Q: Two of my employees simply don’t like each other. Neither one can give me a specific reason, so I assume it must be a personality difference. Unfortunately, their jobs require them to work together on a regular basis.

“Sara” has made an effort to remain professional and communicate in a businesslike manner. However, “Kristen” can’t seem to put her negative feelings aside. Her obvious irritability creates tension in the office and makes everyone uncomfortable. What should I do about this?

A: These touchy employees need to learn that their personal reactions are completely irrelevant. At work, people must get along whether they like each other or not. So your first step is to meet with them together, explain this reality and establish expectations.

For example: “Both of you have indicated that you aren’t particularly compatible, so I want you to understand that you don’t have to like each other. People seldom like all their co-workers because they don’t get to select them. However, I do expect you to be consistently pleasant, helpful and cooperative at work. As long as you act appropriately, how you feel really doesn’t matter. Do you have any questions about this?”

After delivering this collective warning, meet with Sara and Kristen separately to discuss their individual situations. With Sara, you can express appreciation for her professional attitude and let her know she’s on the right track. But with Kristen, you must firmly set the stage for change.

Start by describing her troublesome behavior and indicate that this must stop immediately. Explain the consequences which will follow if it continues, which could include anything from moving her desk to formal disciplinary action. Finally, schedule regular feedback sessions to review her progress and provide ongoing coaching.

If Kristen shapes up, thank her for making the effort to improve. But if she’s unable or unwilling to do so, it might just be time to say goodbye.

Q: For the past seven years, the managers who report to me have completely ignored my birthday, despite the fact that I always remember theirs. I usually buy a small gift or take the person to lunch. While I certainly don’t expect them to spend money on me, a simple “happy birthday” doesn’t seem like a lot to ask. Although I’m trying not to take this personally, it still hurts to have my birthday overlooked.

What do you think I should do?

A: To put it bluntly, I think you should get over this and let it go.

I do understand your feelings, and it would certainly be nice for the staff to acknowledge your special day. However, the reality is that employees often fail to consider how their bosses feel, just as kids do with their parents. In fact, they may not even know when your birthday is.

Since this lack of reciprocity seems to be causing resentment, perhaps you should consider ending the birthday gifts and lunches. But if you choose to continue, do so only because you want to make people happy, without expecting anything in return.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach. Send in questions and get free coaching tips at, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.