How to Tell If Your Colleagues Don’t Like You


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — You may think being the black sheep at work has little to do with your own career goals, but experts say those interested in moving up the corporate ladder should care about whether their co-workers genuinely like them.

“It doesn’t matter how you good you are in the technical aspects of your work,” says Bob Wall, author of Working Relationships, Using Emotional Intelligence to Enhance Your Effectiveness With Others. “If you can’t get along with people, you’re not going be successful.”

Wall, who studied behavior in the workplace extensively for his book, says that what tends to differentiate a star performer from an average one is his or her ability to develop positive relationships with others that can be leveraged as means to get things done.  

“When people like you, they look for ways to say yes to you,” agrees Nicholas Boothman, author of How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less. “When they don’t like you, they look for reasons to say no.”

It also can potentially minimize your chances of getting a pink slip. Wall says a majority of terminations these days have little to do with insufficient technical capabilities and are more likely to result from inappropriate behavior, bad attitudes and problems with relationships at work.

Of course, this isn’t actually a directive to mix business with pleasure.

“You don’t have to spend time with your co-workers after work or go out to dinner with them,” Wall says, but it is in your best interest to be genuinely liked and respected by the members of your team.

As such, MainStreet talked to career and relationship experts about how to gauge your office connections and what you should do if you’re getting the vibe some of your co-workers just aren’t that into you. 

How to Tell You’re Unpopular

The first step to improving someone’s overall impression of you is to make sure it is, in fact, negative.

“Sometimes people think that other people don’t like them and they’re wrong,” Boothman says. He explains that a person’s perceived disdain may have more to do with their bad day than your bad behavior.

That being said, experts say employees can look out for the following telltale signs they are on the outs:

  • Fleeting eye contact: Wall admits that while it’s true many people just aren’t good at making eye contact with others, they should at least be able to maintain it with someone they work with on a day-to-day basis, if even for a few moments.
  • Long pauses in response to your questions: According to Kerry Patterson, co-author of the Crucial Conversations series published by consulting firm Vital Signs, this is generally an indication people feel they have to choose their words when you are around. Additionally, don’t be wary of people disagreeing with you, Patterson said. It’s more telling when someone doesn’t respond to your questions or suggestions at all.
  • Closed body language: Boothman says that when people are genuinely fond of you, they approach you with an open heart, meaning their arms aren’t folded, their chest is turned out toward you and there is a genuine smile on their face.  When someone is turned away from you or has his or her arms crossed, it indicates mistrust. Patterson says it’s also telling if co-workers consistently move their chairs so they face away from you during meetings.

Other more obvious signs include social exclusion, gossip or rumors surfacing about you or, of course, formal complaints being made to your boss.  

The Next Steps

Wall says you should keep a written record of the behaviors you observe in your co-workers to make sure the perceived animosity is consistently directed toward you and was not caused by a bad day or surly colleague.

Additionally, Patterson suggests consulting with a confidant in the office as a way to check how you are rubbing people the wrong way. The confidant may be able to clue you into the things you aren’t seeing.

“Instruct that confidant to be behaviorally specific, rather than conclusionary,” he says. For instance, you don’t want to know that people think you are arrogant; you want to know what you did that preceded someone’s observation that you were arrogant.

The honest feedback might help you make some minor adjustments in your day-to-day work life that will improve your relationships with others.

Boothman says another way to change a person’s perception of you is to synchronize your body movements with theirs.

“Stand the way that they are standing,” he says. “It sends an unconscious signal. People like people that are like themselves. Just don’t start laughing when it works.”

How to Remedy the Relationship

If the situation can’t be remedied indirectly, you should address conflicts head on. All experts agree it’s perfectly acceptable to talk to the co-workers from whom you get a less-than-amicable vibe, as long as you refrain from treating it as a confrontation.

“We need to be able to put these issues on the table,” Wall says.

Patterson suggests asking the co-worker in question if you can set time aside to talk about how you can both work better together. He says to focus on perceptions and feelings in lieu of making direct accusations about behavior. For instance, you don’t want to say “I saw you roll your eyes are me in the meeting. Why?”

You also should avoid becoming defensive.

“You need to make it safe for them to say what they are thinking,” Patterson says. The best way to do this is  to treat the conversation similarly to the one you had with the close confidant, the goal being to gain insight into the behaviors others perceive as off-putting. When executed correctly, Patterson says, the conversation itself can improve a working relationship, as it illustrates your willingness to communicate.

“You’re holding yourself accountable,” Wall agrees.

The final step is to name one or two things you plan on working on in your behavior and agreeing to follow up later.

What can you do if your boss is not the one you’re getting along with? MainStreet has a few suggestions.

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