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How to manage (and coach) someone you don't like

October 2, 2023

How to manage (and coach) someone you don’t like

Leading a diverse team often means working with individuals who have different personalities, communication styles, and interests. While it's natural to gravitate toward people you get along with effortlessly, effective leadership requires you to support and coach everyone on your team, even those you might not have an immediate connection with. And even those you find irritating, frustrating or to put it candidly - those you don’t like.

Here are five tips on how to manage (and coach) someone in your team whom you don't really like or have much in common with:

Seek to understand them

The first step in managing someone you don't click with is to understand who they are. Be honest with yourself, how much time are you really putting into that? Just because on the surface you don't appear to have much in common, you might be surprised about what you can connect on when you spend more time getting to know them as a person, what they care about and value. Start by building rapport and trust, you'll be surprised at how much this will impact the dynamic between the two of you. Take the time to have 1:1 conversations to learn about their background, experiences, and aspirations. Find out what triggers them and ticks them off and on the opposite side of that coin, what really inspires them. By empathising with them as a person and understanding their perspective, you can better understand their motivations and communication style, which will help you tailor your coaching approach to their needs.

Focus on their strengths

We tend to have a negativity bias and focus on the things we don't like or want to improve. If that person only hears from you when you've got something to correct, then it's pretty demoralising to be on the receiving end of constant critique. Every team member, regardless of your personal preferences, brings unique strengths to the table. Instead of dwelling on what you don't like about them, concentrate on their positive attributes and contributions to the team. Recognising their strengths and helping them to play to them, can help you appreciate their value and find common ground in terms of team goals and objectives. This is as much about being conscious of your own values and biases as it is in recognising theirs.

Adapt your communication style

We all have personal preferences for how we like others to reach out to us (and when). And we expect everyone to be mind readers in knowing those preferences and failing those super-powers, we tend to project our own preferences on to other people. Well that doesn't always get you the results you're after. If you're not connective effectively with someone, consider asking them their communication style preferences and adapting your approach accordingly. One size doesn't fit all. If they prefer written updates over face-to-face meetings, or vice versa, make an effort to accommodate their preferences. A great way to encourage people to share their preferences is with a ReadMe. Being adaptable and open to different ways of interacting can bridge gaps and improve your working relationships all round.

Set everyone up for success

It’s much easier to set clear expectations with people we like, taking the time to make sure they understand what’s expected and giving them space to ask us questions. It’s normal to avoid spending time with people that frustrate us (or like less!) and that might mean we’re less clear when setting expectations or use communication channels that don’t offer the space for a two way conversation (uhum, Slack).

Be intentional about ensuring you’re setting people up for success when communicating your expectations. You’ll likely find investing time in those relationships that need it will naturally improve the relationship and final outcome too, making it easier to work with them going forward.

Be patient and open-minded

Building a positive working relationship with someone you don't have much in common with can take time. You have to put the effort in to make that time and don't just pay lip service to the act of 'getting to know you'. Encourage feedback from them about your coaching and leadership styles and be willing to take it on board and adapt your approach. Be consistent and show up for your planned sessions together. Assume good intent and try avoiding jumping to conclusions or making judgments based on your personal biases. In our experience, everyone is trying their best with the information they've been given. If there's a gap, it's usually a communication issue rather than because someone is lazy or slacking off.

Remember that effective leadership is about fostering growth, development, and success for your team. Even when you don't naturally click with someone, your role as a leader is to support their professional development and help them achieve their goals within the team. You don't have to like everyone, but you do have to give an equal level of care and attention.

By seeking common ground, focusing on strengths, adapting your communication, setting clear expectations, and maintaining patience and open-mindedness, you can successfully lead and coach those that you may not have an immediate connection with. Ultimately, your ability to lead and inspire a diverse team will contribute to a more productive and harmonious work environment for everyone involved.

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