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Following Dominic Cummings’ claim that Boris Johnson called Health Secretary Matt Hancock ‘hopeless’ in a WhatsApp message, there has been much discussion around peer-to-peer relationships and whether you can tell if your co-worker actually likes you. In a 2020 Total Jobs survey of 2,250 UK workers and managers, it was discovered that the most common cause behind any workplace issue is not the project but the people.

Here, Frankie Kemp, a workplace communication expert based in Woodford in Redbridge, discusses how you can tell if someone hates you and how to deal with it:

Here’s an example: When Miranda hired Sam as an Account Director for a SaaS company, she was his biggest fan. When Sam realised that his job may be at risk, he pursued another role in a different department. Whenever he worked with Miranda, he noticed the air between them had turned to ice. Luckily for Sam, she was no longer his manager. However, some people still work alongside a co-worker who hates them – or at least, that’s how it feels. But is it really hate?

In Sam’s case, he later discovered through colleagues that Miranda had regarded his opportunity as ‘unfair’.  She was chained to the belief that as Sam was the last to join her team, he should be the last in some invisible line to have such an opportunity. Sam had undermined her system of control by finding his own break.  So ‘hate’ in itself is a symptom of other causes. Take jealousy for instance: a new colleague seems to be given a project that others feel they deserve. So ‘hate’ is often a symptom of other emotions.

How can you tell if someone actually hates you?  Here are 5 telltale signs:

  1. The look: that hard-eyed look.  Our eyes dilate when we’re happy to see someone but they tend to turn into stoney beads when we’re looking at the object of our animosity.
  2. If they smile, it doesn’t go all the way up and falls quickly.  With a real smile, there’s a hormonal interplay that takes a while to fade, the ‘Duchenne’ smile.
  3. They disagree with you all the time.  Whatever comes out of your mouth is discounted.
  4. Leaving you out of the loop so you find key information after the event.
  5. They seem to be especially affable and charming with others in front of you – just so you see how low you are in their pecking order.

How to deal with it:

  1. The most obvious but very often, the most challenging, is to talk to this person directly and alone.  Often, leaning on a mentor or friends for some help with an approach is the first course of action.
  2. Communications training: if you can learn how to handle conflict, influence others and work around obstacles while maintaining a sense of self-esteem, why wouldn’t you?  It’s certainly been a lifesaver for many of the individuals and groups with whom I work.
  3. If you can’t talk to them, go round them: Cath talks of a female manager in Finance who was generally hostile to women but was especially charming to the men.  In that case, it would be unlikely a fireside drink and a chat would smooth that relationship.
  4. Have someone you know, who is respected by your ‘nemesis’, speak to them.  This conversation doesn’t have to focus on why they’re not being a decent human being, but more about achieving buy-in for projects that they’re blocking.
  5. An informal chat with your manager – or their line manager if the manager’s the issue.