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The Question

I share an office with someone who, I think, dislikes me. I'm not actually sure if this person dislikes me or if she just likes to say white when I say black.

As well, I usually receive one smug smirk a day. Am I simply imagining it? We work in a fast-paced environment so have little time to talk, but whenever we do, I sense that she dislikes me. I don't like confrontation, I just want to spend my work day in a positive environment and be treated with the same respect I show others. Is there anything I can do to send a discrete message that I won't tolerate these smirks and confrontational comments much longer? If it helps you to know, my position is a more senior level.

The Answer

Let's pass on the smirking for a second and address what I believe is the larger issue at play here.

I think one of the great milestones of growing up/getting older is the realization that not everyone is going to like you – and that's okay.

I certainly understand, however, being obsessed with someone who has a hate-on for you.

Many years ago, neighbours of ours who were sort-of friends thought my wife and I had Machiavellian-ly scooped out from under them a house they believed they had an inside track on.

We didn't. But every time I saw the wife from that point onward, she would give me the evil eye.

And, as I am obviously God's plaything, here to amuse Him, suddenly I started bumping into her everywhere I went.

Our same-age kids became friends (natch: I could almost hear the celestial snickering) and they'd be playing together in the sandbox and she'd just glare.

My kid would bop her kid with a toy truck, and her face would become like one of those faces on Easter Island: stony, indifferent to my fate and the fate of everyone like me.

The saddest thing of all? Every time I saw her some weird reflex would cause my face to stretch into a rictus-like smile and my arm to pop up of its own accord and wave. She'd just glare.

And truly I became preoccupied with her – for a while. This woman I had heretofore hardly ever thought about became uppermost in my thoughts – because she disliked me so much.

But one day I let it go, decided to stop caring and even embraced the fact this woman detested me, and recognized that I wasn't necessarily all that crazy about her, either. It was very liberating and I urge you to do the same. Not everyone can like us. In fact, some might say if everyone likes you, you're doing something wrong.

That goes double for the workplace. I don't believe a workplace where everyone likes each other exists. If all you can put your finger on, disrespect-wise, is a few oppositional cracks and some smug smirks, you should thank your lucky stars. I've worked in some tough places, baby. I've had people chew me out – then throw a chair! Now, of course, you could take this woman out for a drink, or a cup of tea, go somewhere quiet away from your "fast-paced" workplace and have a chat.

And if you did, I suppose you could say something to the effect of: "I sense there's some friction between us. Is there something I do that bothers you?"

But you should know going in with that tack may or may not end well. She could well say something that ruffles your feathers, you might be tempted to shoot something back and it could go pear-shaped on you – leading to a worse atmosphere than ever.

Since you're senior to her, it might be just old-fashioned professional envy.

So ask yourself: What's your motive? Is it really that your workplace atmosphere is so intolerable, or just you wanting to be universally liked? Sounds more like the latter to me.

So, sorry if this seems like a cop-out, but my advice basically is: Do nothing – apart from being your best self, doing your job well and training yourself to believe and even enjoy the fact not everyone is going to be your biggest fan.

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