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It is useful in the business world to bear in mind that not everyone will like you. You should understand that antagonistic feelings aimed toward you by others may have nothing to do with anything youve ever done or ever will do. This is often the case even when your supposed transgressions are being freely quoted as facts by your antagonists.

There are hundreds of reasons why a person might act as your enemy, and it would be a waste of energy to try to figure them out. If you feel that the workplace antagonism you are encountering is primarily because you are a woman or minority, that situation is not the subject of this column; you may have to get help from your boss or even seek legal action. But otherwise, how do you cope with a corrosive co-worker?

Dealing with antagonistic people successfully can be a valuable learning experience. As Edmund Burke said, He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.

There are people, even as adults, who go through life acting like lower school bullies. With these, it is important to note that the most successful childhood approach for cowing bullies – that of direct confrontation – is definitely not the best solution for a business situation. The atmosphere is different, and the stakes are much higher.

An antagonistic person wants you to get angry, explode and react violently toward them in some public forum. (Gotcha!) Their feeling is that if they can make you look bad in front of others, they themselves will look better by contrast. They want to play the role of the innocent, injured party and you to appear as the evil aggressor. In the process, you can be made to look both foolish and incompetent. Dont let them drag you down that path.

For some individuals, this contentious behavior is a kind of game. He or she will get on your case and burrow in relentlessly. He enjoys being your dedicated catalyst for trouble but would probably pick on someone else if you can learn to respond in a way which doesnt satisfy his psychological needs. Some suggestions:

1.Recognize that these kinds of individuals are going to continue to act that way. You cant change them, but you can change your response to them. Make a habit of arranging your mind positively in advance so that such a person cannot make you angry, no matter what he does.

2. Respond slowly if he or she makes a particularly aggressive move. No reaction is usually the best reaction under those circumstances. Smile, say nothing, and eschew retaliatory acts. As one old manager used to say, Dont get involved in a spit fight with a skunk.

3. Control the battlefield; avoid harsh dialogue or obvious anger. Hide your annoyance and take the high road. If your opponent then becomes frustrated and turns up the volume of his animosity, it will become obvious to others who the troublemaker really is, and you will gain sympathy and understanding.

4. Stick to the present; dont let previous negative encounters influence you. A major outcry from you in answer to seemingly mild comments from your antagonist will mystify observers, gratify the enemy and discredit you in front of others.

5. Appear friendly, no matter what. It is common for a person to dislike someone because he thinks (rightly or wrongly) that the other person doesnt like him. Neutralize such feelings; smile, even if it hurts, when you encounter him or her.

6. Build a fence around your antagonist. If you cant change or eliminate him, contain him. Establish your own network in his area, making him a less important link. Set up paths of communication from his contacts directly to you, and make sure those people get to know you as you really are, not as he says you are.

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