Crucial Skills®

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Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

Working with Someone You Just Can’t Stand

Dear Crucial Skills,

I have a coworker that I just can’t stand. He is good at his job, but I struggle to get along with him because he is so opinionated and narrow-minded. He has an opinion about everything and can’t fathom any other viewpoint. I’d rather go to the dentist than be in a meeting with him. What am I supposed to do? Should I have a conversation with him about it or just let it go?


Dear Exasperated,

I’m sorry you have to deal with this. We’ve all been there and it’s no fun. I want to give you some possible solutions and challenge some of your assumptions.

As I see it, here are your options.

Change your view. If you enjoy your work and are happy with it aside from your interactions with this person, it might be best to change your view of him, even just a little. Let me ask you: has anyone ever given you feedback that you were narrowminded or strong-willed or too wedded to your opinions? Think hard. Maybe a friend, a spouse, a neighbor, a family member. The truth is that the person you are describing is ALL of us, at least sometimes. And he’s some of us ALL the time.

Change yourself. What are some things you can do to model the behaviors you want to see in this coworker? Are you doing anything to enable the behaviors you despise? We often don’t see how we are contributing to our own pain.

Change the person. I don’t really mean “change” him, but influence him with dialogue. You might say something like this: “Hey, Gary. I wanted to chat with you about something that’s getting in the way of us working well together. And that’s important to me. There’s a pattern that looks like this: you and I disagree. I share my opinion. You cut me off with your opinion. You don’t ask me questions about what I think but continue to advocate your side. For example, in the last four budget meetings, you haven’t changed your stance once from your initial position. This comes off like you’re not open to other views. What are your thoughts on these situations?”

Change your situation. Maybe you should consider working somewhere else (or with different people in your organization). I don’t mean to be insensitive, but depending on the degree of frustration you’re feeling, it’s helpful to know this is an option. I’m not saying it’s easy or that you should do it, but that you should try to keep the most proactive attitude you can. If you don’t like the situation and can’t change it, maybe it’s time to leave it.

Gossip and Stew. This is the option that most people choose. They endlessly complain about this frustrating coworker. They make subtle, but sarcastic comments in meetings. They stew in silence. They vent to the boss. And on and on. It’s an option. 🙂

I’ve come to the conclusion that we all have to interact with people in our lives who annoy us. For some of us it’s coworkers, others it’s a neighbor, and for some it’s family. Either way, be honest about your options. Don’t paint yourself as a victim, because that just leaves you stuck in the same place. Consider your options and decide your next actions. Nothing is more annoying than staying in the same situation (that you hate) forever.


You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

8 thoughts on “Working with Someone You Just Can’t Stand”

  1. Andrea

    Thank you for this article. Much needed.

  2. Dale Cook

    Good read on working with someone as you say “you just can’t stand”. I wonder what your thoughts are on the responsibility of the teammates manager to address as well?

  3. Mark C

    Well, said Justin. Great reminders of how our story often gets in the way.

  4. Teresa Harry

    It’s so true we have all been there. I really like the suggestion to avoid playing the victim. Getting to know someone better, truly listening to them and looking for the good they do, even if it doesn’t outweigh the negative—those are things that have helped me in the past.

  5. Jordan Snedaker

    Great insights Justin! Your first focus on “Change Your View” aligns so well with “Work on me First” in Crucial Conversations.

  6. angela jackson

    Enjoyed the suggestions; its important to look at self also.

  7. NickySam

    Insightful and practical tips! Great list of options emphasizing no need to remain a victim or helpess.

  8. Barbara Pilarcik

    There is a saying : “In life, we meet the people we are supposed to meet.” So why is this person in your life, what lesson are they bringing you? View it from the opportunity to learn a new skill, lesson, or perspective even if the answer is “they are showing me how not to treat other people.’

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