Who in your work (or personal) life do you experience as prickly and/or just difficult to be around?

Take a look at the following fable:

Fable of the Porcupine (Author Unknown)

It was the coldest winter ever. Many animals died because of the cold.

The porcupines, realizing the situation, decided to group together. This way they covered and protected themselves; but the quills of each one wounded their closest companions even though they gave off heat to each other.

After a while, they decided to distance themselves one from the other and they began to die, alone and frozen. So, they had to make a choice: either accept the quills of their companions or disappear from the Earth.

Wisely, they decided to go back to being together.

This way they learned to live with the little wounds caused by the close relationship with their companion, but the most important part of it was the heat that came from the others. This way they could survive.

Moral of the story: The best relationship is not the one that brings together perfect people, but the best is when everyone learns to live with the imperfections of others and can admire the other person’s good qualities.

Thought of someone you feel “stuck” to be around?

In this article…

You will get 5 ways to live with people who show up with their prickly imperfections– irritating and difficult interpersonal traits.

Here we go…

1— Plan to be proactive rather than reactive.

Let’s say you have been offended by the words or actions of this person in the past. If you know you’re going into a meeting with this person bring some extra “comfort” with you.

  • Take a few minutes to breathe deeply and relax.
  • Hydrate with extra water, especially if you drink coffee like I do!
  • Bring your favorite beverage. (I like holding a hot cup of coffee.)
  • Realize it’s really more about “them” than about “you”… so it’s not personal.
  • Make it a “research project”. Be curious and observe without judgment. Ask questions.
  • Choose your battles.

“You’re passive,” said my friend…”I couldn’t let that go like you did.”

“Really?” I replied, “What you label as passive, I label as smart. I’m not interested in battling over that issue. It’s not that important to me. If I challenged him, he would have gone to war. I don’t want to use my energy that way.”

Use your self-awareness to be proactive and increase your comfort so you can relax and move beyond tolerating to positioning yourself for appreciation galore.

2— Look for the good qualities.

Just like the cactus full of prickly spines hosts some beautiful flowers, so do people who you experience as difficult to be around have good qualities. Identify those positives and keep them in front of you.

A former colleague I’m around periodically talks about herself nonstop rarely asking about me. She can be loud and opinionated. Yet, if I needed help with a software program or I need a ride somewhere, she is immediately available. She volunteers her time and knowledge (which is considerable) to others. She’s a salt of the earth kind of person who has some traits (for me) that makes my visits with her shorter rather than longer.

Remember the value this person brings which helps you accomplish your goals. Look for the good qualities of the other— be wowed!

3—Rethink labeling the other as “different,” not “difficult.”

Ask yourself, is it just easier to label someone you don’t easily understand or relate to as “difficult?”

The truth is we naturally gravitate to people who are most like us. It’s easier… not necessarily more interesting, but easier. Just like speaking to someone in a language they understand is critical, so is adjusting your approach with someone whose interpersonal style is different than yours.

Let’s say you enjoy greeting others, asking and answering the question, “How are you?” You know co-worker X isn’t easily chatty. Why not just say “Hi” as a greeting and keep walking. Why expect co-worker X to be like you?

The challenge is to broaden your understanding and appreciation for other personalities/styles unlike yours. How can you communicate and/or think about the other so they aren’t difficult?

Great question to investigate, clarify and take action on.

4— Use “CPR” for confronting problems.

We all make mistakes, yet repeated mistakes create new problems which need to be addressed so the full impact is revealed. It’s helpful to follow a structure which separates the issue, patterns and relationship.

In their book, Crucial Confrontations Patterson, Greeny, McMillan and Switzler discuss using the tool, “CPR.” According to them, when a problem occurs apply “CPR” to help define the problem and get to the right confrontation.

Think CPR— Content – Pattern – Relationship

The first time a problem comes up you talk about the CONTENT— what just happened.

As a manager, you talk to the project coordinator about the report he submitted late which addresses only 10 out of the 12 areas required for the customer. You were able to add the missing 2 areas at the last minute. The project coordinator appreciates your correction and promises to be on time with complete reports in the future.

The next time the problem occurs, talk PATTERN— what has been happening over time, a history is established and histories make a difference. The problem has morphed into a pattern, not a single incident.

This is the second time this has happened–a late and incomplete report. You promised the first time this wouldn’t be repeated. I’m concerned I can’t count on you to do what you say you’ll do. 

Finally, as the problem continues, talk about RELATIONSHIP— what’s happening to us, a serious loss of trust and respect, doubt of the other’s competency and your treatment of each other is affected.

This is putting a strain on how we work together. I don’t want to have to nag you to get things done. I fear I can’t trust you to keep your agreements.


Living with the imperfections of others means confronting problems when they come up and making necessary changes to resolve the issue and preserve the relationship. Using a tool like “CPR” consistently helps.

5— Oh yeah, you’ve got your prickly, difficult imperfections too!

Me? Tell me it isn’t so!

I wince remembering employee feedback I got as a manager of a hospital unit. A couple brave employees shared that they had figured out to give me “extra space” after meetings with administration or certain doctors because I was usually tense and responded abruptly to their questions. Busted!

You and I are a part of the porcupine fable too, quills and all. We are wounded by others and others feel wounded by us. It’s an “ouch” experience caused by prickliness we all hold.

And then again… perfectly imperfect with a dash of prickly and colorful flowers keeps it interesting and worth the extra effort!

The takeaway is…

Learning to live with the prickly imperfections of others at work is challenging, sometimes difficult yet worthwhile.

We’re all in this together and can increase our tolerance for difficulty and the discomfort to not only survive but thrive!

If you’ve got imperfections, or struggling with a work relationship, you’re my kind of person! The pricklier the better. 😉

Contact me for a free 30 minute strategy session. Let’s find your good.