One thing is guaranteed in the workplace: not everyone you collaborate with will be “likable.” These people may be business partners, investors, vendors, or even some of your best customers. Senior business advisors commonly offer advice on how to bridge these differences to accomplish shared business goals.
We’ve all heard the stories of business disasters resulting from teams who are so different that they can’t work things out. Some are legendary, like Steve Jobs’ differences with John Sculley. More recent examples include the travails of Uber investors challenging Travis Kalanick (the company founder), as well as the backstabbing among political rivals with the Trump administration.
But it’s possible to take a more positive approach, especially in light of the fact that the business world has increasingly become a global space, where all of us have to work with people across different cultures, languages, religions, political affiliations, as well as different generations and genders. We will all have to operate within more and more diverse teams—and our career success depends on doing this well.
These challenges were recently addressed in the new book, “How to Work With and Lead People Not Like You” by Kelly McDonald, a well-respected marketing and communications expert specializing in multicultural and diversity marketing. She provides key strategies and tools for communicating across cultural and other barriers – including collaboration with people you simply don’t like:
- Understand that they’re not trying to be difficult. Most people you have to deal with in starting and running a business are just being who they are. They are behaving the way they were socialized – the sum of how they were raised, cultural influences, and the dynamics of previous roles. Don’t let your emotion or theirs impede communication.
- Don’t try to change them – be civil and diplomatic. People can change themselves, but you can’t change them. Whatever their demeanor is toward you (or your business), remain positive and professional, and treat the other person with courtesy and respect. Do not allow tension to escalate, and your blood pressure and sanity will thank you for it.
- Adjust your expectations that everyone thinks like you. Business people come from different backgrounds and experiences, so don’t expect their behavior and opinions to always mesh with yours. Accept that there are very few absolute rights and wrongs in business, so expect different viewpoints, and don’t allow anyone to push your buttons.
- Focus on the business at hand and getting results. You are there to do a job, and so are they. Successful work relationships don’t have to be rooted in liking each other. Focus on the outcome you are seeking and what you and your counterpart need to do to get there. Success is about cooperation, respect, solving problems, and working together.
- Agree to disagree without being judgmental. Saying “I see it differently” is neither judgmental nor combative, and it doesn’t mean you are trying to “win the argument” or persuade the other person to change their opinion. It diffuses tension and can lead to constructive conversation that allows you and your peers to work together productively.
Across these scenarios, it’s essential to remain positive and keep a can-do attitude. People instinctively avoid negativity and move toward positivity. You can serve as a role model, a leader, and an ally for many team members, leading to breakthroughs and results in even the most non-compatible situations. As an additional bonus, that positive mental attitude will not only improve outcomes in the office but also improve your health and maybe add years to your life.
Keep in mind that you have a career to maintain or a business to run. Experts know that a diverse workforce, including people with different values and perspectives, leads to better decisions and solutions—eventually expanding business opportunities, profits, and satisfaction.