How Do You Work with Someone You Don’t Like?

Categories: Articles

Rhonda R. Savage, DDS

There are people you may work with that you’d like as a friend. In a working environment, however, you don’t like them because…. they’re lazy, negative or incompetent. They cause you to work harder to do your job and theirs, or they skate by on as little effort as possible and get the same pay, benefits or worse…more recognition.

There’s a lot of complexity in this topic. You’ll find in life that there are those people who annoy you, and then there are those you dread because they may be manipulative, drama driven or credit stealers. Or, they’re all about themselves; the only path forward is their own.

The usual advice you’ll hear: Grin and bear it. Is this sufficient? I wish it was! Other thoughts: De-personalize the relationship. Just do what you need to do and move on. Work on minimizing contact if this is an option, but it’s not, in most dental settings. You could be working together, side by side, at the chair clinically or at the front desk.

So what do you do? The best first approach is a direct approach, but in a respectful way.

You might say, “I get the feeling that we might be somewhat out of synch. My intention is that we have the best working relationship possible. I feel uncomfortable bringing this up, but have felt somewhat frustrated in the past. I’ve found if two people can discuss differences and ways to work together, we can both be successful in our job. I believe the most important thing is to get the job done and do it to the best of our abilities. Is this a good time to talk?”

If this doesn’t work, talk one on one with your office manager or doctor. The next step is to sit down as a three-some and try to work out your differences. There are times, though, that nothing you do can or will change the situation. Other than resign, what can you do?

First, the Golden Rule applies: Do not talk badly about this person. This is called gossip. Gossip will drive the morale of the practice down. When morale goes down, production goes down. Gossip will ANTI-market your practice. Patients feel the negativism.

Secondly: Don’t obsess. Practice detachment. You don’t have to like the person you work with, but you do need to be respectful, friendly and cooperative or your patients and the practice will suffer from the tension.

As a consultant, I realize this is a difficult topic because when you have a ‘jerk’ in your life, the ‘jerk’ is on the top of your mind. Despite these helpful tips, some people have a tendency to fervently complain about their ‘jerk.’

Instead, if this is how you feel, ask yourself, “What, specifically, might make the situation better for you both?” If our focus is on the negative, those negative thoughts will burrow themselves further into your brain. Instead, it’s hard to be down if we have a focus on the positive and be grateful for what we do have that’s good. I call this: An Attitude of Gratitude.

Another saying that is especially powerful, when we’re feeling down, is: “Rejoice and be glad.” Rejoice is the action, being glad is the result. Rejoice: Write down all the things you enjoy about your job. If it were me, I’d rejoice in my great patients. One patient that comes immediately to my mind is Sharon.

Sharon is a nurse. Granted, many nurses aren’t good patients, but Sharon was! She is a tall, fit, 40-ish patient who was focused on her health as well as her patient’s health. Sharon regularly came in for her hygiene visits and had good home care. She had 3-4 mm pockets, with minimal bleeding.

Yet, she came in for her six month check with 4-5 mm pockets, the start of a six mm pocket and a fair amount of bleeding. This was a significant change. She said she had no increased stress, no change in her diet and her hygiene habits hadn’t changed.

We recommended she ask for a C – reactive protein screening from her physician. It turned out that she was going in the next week for her physical. The C – reactive protein is an enzyme that is produced by the liver and it circulates in the blood stream. The C – reactive protein is an indicator that says, “Hey! There’s inflammation coming from somewhere.” It’s not a specific indicator for what is the problem, but it signals the need to look further.

Today, in addition to the C – reactive protein test, we’re fortunate to have the ability to identify the periodontal pathogenic bacteria that are causing the infection by submitting a simple swish sample to the Oral DNA company. Now we can recommend the appropriate antibiotic and treatment regimen specific to her needs. As this case was 7 years ago, we had to choose a shotgun approach to her treatment of periodontal disease. Sharon chose periodontal scaling and root planing, followed by systemically appropriate antibiotics.

Unfortunately, just prior to her follow up visit, she was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. Caught early, she had a better prognosis than most: Because of the C Reactive Protein test, her physician looked further. Was the periodontal disease present due to the altered immune response from the breast cancer or was it coincidental? We’ll never know, but she felt we saved her life.

And for that, I’m very grateful. When I think of Sharon and the impact our dentistry made on her life, I cannot help but be thankful. I’m thankful for research and our new ways to help our patients be healthy. Being thankful is a good thing! It’s hard to be down when you’re grateful. “Rejoice and be glad!” I would challenge you that if you look hard, you’ll find things in the person you don’t like that you can be appreciative of…and your positive thoughts can improve your relationship. People feel it when someone doesn’t like them and will often respond in kind.

Can you change your thinking about all people? Can you like all people? No, that’s unrealistic. But you can and should be respectful, try to resolve the issue and look for the good in the person. After all, the most important reason you’re in health care is to help the patient and provide a living for your family. Rejoice and be glad in the moment! It will lift your spirits and enable you to do your best.