Do I Have to Like Everyone I Work With? by Catherine Conner

One of the reasons I decided to start my own practice is so I could decide who would be my clients and who I would turn down.  But it turns out that my idea about how much control I have was a pleasant illusion that doesn’t really work so well in real life.  Sometimes, people who seem fine when I first meet and start working with them turn out to be quite unpleasant in the end.  Others that I feel some ambivalence or antipathy towards in the beginning grow on me and turn out to be quite likable folks.  But does this make a difference?  Do I need to like my clients and other people I work with?  Shouldn’t a professional be able to work with anyone regardless of personal feelings?

My experience is that my connection to my clients, the other party in a case when I am not a neutral, and my colleagues makes a tremendous difference.  If we are feeling positively towards each other, it’s easier.  When a request is made, there is an assumption of good faith and openness to consider the request.   When questions are asked, the immediate reaction is not to look for the hidden motive but to answer the question.  Responses, advice and discussions are characterized by an effort to listen and understand.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t legitimate differences of opinion and that conflict does not occur.  That is healthy and I would worry if that wasn’t happening.  But the differences are respected and the conflict worked through.

So knowing this, what do I do when there is someone in a case that I am starting to dislike, knowing that things will be more difficult when that happens?  The first step is just to be aware of my negativity, to recognize it before develops a headwind.  Next, I explore what it is causing my aversion.  Is it something about him or her or is it actually something about me that I would rather not look at it in the mirror they have become?   If it really is them, then I try to be curious about why they are acting in a way that evokes such a reaction.  Perhaps there is something about their behavior that I could understand in a different way that would lessen my negativity.  I also try to find things I can actively like about someone, sometimes just one or two small things but sometimes when I put some effort into it, I can find quite a few things.  If none of these steps work, then I think about what it must be like to be someone who is so unpleasant that it’s impossible to find something to like about them even with some effort.  It’s quite possible that they are suffering tremendously from whatever compels them to act in such a disagreeable way.  In almost every case, this has helped me to find a different perspective and empathy.  If not, then I have to consider the extent to which my antipathy is going to affect the case and whether I should still be working on the case.  On occasion, the right answer has been to refer the case to someone else.

I would appreciate hearing from other people about what it means to you when you dislike someone in a case and what you do about it.