In some ways, the ability to spot a difficult coworker is counterproductive. We’d be better off tagging a person as different rather than difficult. Why? What’s wrong with calling things the way we see it?

Once you judge a coworker to be difficult, you start seeing ‘difficult’ in everything they say and do. And your opinion of that person, when expressed to others, colors other people’s views. It snowballs.

So how do you change a difficult coworker who’s making your work day miserable? Try changing your view of them from difficult to ‘different.’ Put on a new pair of glasses.

Look at yourself through the People/Task focus lens. First answer these questions to see what you focus on at work, then compare it with them:

  1. Do you focus on tasks or on people?
  2. If you’re task oriented, do you strive to get a task done, or get it right?
  3. If you focus on people, is it more important to you to get along with others, or to get appreciation from them?

From author Dr. Rick Brinkman in his book, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, here is a grid of personality strengths and weaknesses:


Often people drive us crazy because their priorities are different from ours. You can’t change them. But you can change how you view them. You can change your reactions to them.

The next time you’re baffled by a coworker, try seeing them through this lens. People can be difficult, no doubt. But only rarely is it intentional. First try to identify where they focus that is different from your own priorities. Then look at how their intentions can be a strength or can easily turn into something unintended and counterproductive.

When we take the word “difficult” out of our judgment of someone and reframe it as personally challenging because of our differences, we pave the way to better conversations.

We change them because we change our own way of looking at them. What do you think about this tactic? It works, give it a try.