How To Tell Someone You Don’t Want To Work With Them


Telling someone you no longer want to work with them will always work, but how everyone gets out of the situation depends on the skill and experience of the person delivering the message.

The best way to tell someone you do not want to work with someone is to approach the situation cautiously, handle the conversation honestly, and treat the person respectfully. Avoid the word “you” as much as possible unless you emphasize a positive characteristic of the other person.

This article takes a look at the delicate situation of having to confront a person with the information that we no longer want to work with them. It also examines the differences between the successful approach and those that result in further conflict and unhappiness for everyone involved.

Typical situations in which you do not want to work with someone

Scenarios that can result in choices of resignation or the termination of work agreements include:

What you should do first

The first thing to do is to realize that the situation is normal, and is an issue that, if we work with other people, we must deal with constantly.

It is hardly reasonable to expect everyone to work well together. People have different work ethics, work energy, and work behaviors. Therefore, we don’t get always on.

The most valuable leadership skills include the ability to monitor and resolve conflict, reassemble groups and teams, and help resolve personal disputes. These skills are only won by first our having to practice them.

It is also normal for other people to not understand our workload or our energy, and to invite us (or expect us) to participate in tasks or projects we may not want to do.

Rehearse potential conversation flows as needed, using the following guidelines as a reference:

  1. Acknowledge your discomfort and admit the reasons for it.
  2. Approach the person you want to speak to privately.
  3. Speak clearly and honestly.
  4. Do not blame the other person. Rather, base the reasons on your own feelings of discomfort.
  5. Allow the other person to have their say.
  6. If your decision is still important to you, proceed with it.

If the situation ends badly

Considering the news you are going to deliver, it is more than likely that the situation will end badly. After all, who amongst us would receive this news with enthusiasm. Indeed, it is more normal if we react with disbelief and then anger.

These conversations take skill and patience to deliver, unwind and conclude.

Useful strategies include:

  • Having suggestions for what that person might do next.
  • Explaining what it is that you don’t have the skills to handle rather than the shortcomings that they exhibit when working with you.
  • Make your objections reasonable and relate them to you, not to them.
  • Explain that you are interested in working with more people and with different people as often as you can.
  • Show compassion, but do not revoke the decision. This is confusing and possibly misleading.

Alternatives to the one on one conversation

There are alternative ways to achieve a solution. One of these is to get someone else to do the negotiations for you. This means the exchange may be less heated and less personal.

Another way for you to avoid this type of conflict is to work for companies that provide resolution services as part of the company structure. For example, disputes between clients and carers in the health industry are often dealt with at the company level.

Staff who carry out this role are trained in conflict resolution and client satisfaction.

The third option is to include advocates in the exchange. This can potentially dilute tension by incorporating other people’s skills and experience.

Example phrases to approach the situation

The conversation must be handled carefully if it is to end. It won’t necessarily end well, but it does need to end. Consider the following tactics, which are listed with the least personal ones first.

“I’ve decided to join a different group. I’ve learned a lot with this one, but it’s time for me to continue and learn more.”

“I’ve decided to work with someone else. I’m experiencing a bit of anxiety at the moment, and I feel it’s better if I let this one go. Please accept my apologies.

“I’ve decided not to continue with this project for personal reasons.”

“I’ve decided to hand in my resignation. It hasn’t been an easy decision to make, but I know this is best for me and my career.”

“I’ve been struggling with some team issues, and I’ve decided that this particular project is not for me. I’ve appreciated the opportunity though.”

“I’ve been concerned for some time that you’re experiencing discomfort with the job. We feel it may be best if you take a break.”

It’s no problem to determine your career path, but make sure to always remain committed and reliable.

The common factor in all of these strategies

The word “you” is omitted as much as possible, and if it is used, it is an acknowledgment of what the other person may be experiencing.

Notice also, that the focus is on what the speaker can’t do rather than on what the listener does do. This keeps blame and personal faulting to a minimum.

It also soothes the tendency to become defensive because the speaker is only referring to their flaws rather than pointing out flaws in the other person.

How not to tell someone that you don’t want to work with them

Some approaches can only make things worse. These include being indirect or dishonest, delaying the conversation or decision, blaming the other person for the conflict, blaming the other person for your discomfort, being rude, aggressive, or threatening.

Avoid phrases like:

  • “I refuse to work with you any longer.”
  • “I can’t work with you because you’re just impossible to work with.”
  • “This whole situation is now unworkable thanks to you!”
  • “There’s no way you are going to continue on this team, and I’ll make sure you don’t continue anywhere else either.”
  • “I’m sorry, but you just don’t know how to do anything.”
  • “I’m sorry you’re upset – we’ll give it another go then.”
  • “It doesn’t matter why. All that matters is that you can’t do the work.”

When usually problems occur

It is surprising how often this situation arises and how many circumstances seem to result in the need for the same conversations.

These include:

  • Staff groups who have split temporarily into smaller groups at meetings to discuss issues or work on projects. The projects may or may not be long term.
  • Larger staff groups who work together for long periods, a school year for example, and who work in the same environment.
  • Micro groups, such as teaching teams of just 2 or 3 members, and where the interaction is more intense and less diluted.
  • One on one interactions, such as those between carers and clients.
  • One to one long term interactions such as with editors and writers.
  • Collaborative groups such as artists and musicians who are all working on the one production or project.
  • Recruitment staff who must address professionality and ethical issues with workforces.

Situations that often lead to difficult conversations

Certain scenarios are already complicated to the point that even minor conflicts will be laden with difficulties. These include:

  • Families who work in the same business.
  • Married couples who work together.
  • Sports teams, managers, trainers and coaches where the results of teamwork are fought with energy and emotion.
  • Any volunteer organizations where experience and expertise are contentious issues because there are far less “paid” personnel in conventional leadership positions.

Even in these situations, however, the focus is on developing the skills needed to handle complex circumstances rather than on solving them. Unfortunately, many situations are simply unsolvable. To use your energy to find and obliterate issues will result in frustration and burnout.

Helpful skills in case you experience this more often

If you are confronted with such situations more often, it makes sense to train yourself in the following skills.:

  • The ability to listen closely.
  • The capacity to steer through argument; to ignore some points while paying attention to others.
  • Safe use of polite phrases; these are words that can soften and soothe meaning, while remaining honest at the same time.
  • The ability to make decisions calmly, with clarity and without confusing the listener.

The only way to develop these skills is to practice them, and curiously, this means participating in and not avoiding the situations that need them.

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