How to Work with Difficult Personalities

June 24, 2009

Avoiding confrontation

Is there a person who constantly ridicules your work, or someone who just won't speak up? Identify 11 personality types that can cause problems and find out how to turn around the conversation.

We all encounter personality conflicts at work; even Sesame Street has Oscar the Grouch. However, conflict can be a positive experience. Here are 11 personality traits to be aware of and ways to approach them for a positive solution.

Difficult Personality: Locomotives

They steamroll over people. They're angry and hostile and take out their frustrations on others.

How to Approach the Situation: Don't take it! Tell them how their behavior affects your work, how it makes you feel, and that you need to be treated differently. Be assertive.

Difficult Personality: Perfectionists

Their standards aren't realistic, and even excellent work that is praised by others can be unacceptable to the perfectionist.

How to Approach the Situation: Don't take their statements seriously. They're expressing their own inadequacies, not yours. Try to work with them to set realistic expectations for themselves and others.

Difficult Personality: Resisters

Change causes negativity. Resisters usually don't openly express their opposition to change. They do it more subtly – saying they think change is good, but then don't implement change. Extremists may even sabotage if they find a particular change exceptionally threatening.

How to Approach the Situation: Try to gradually involve these people in the change. If they're part of the transition, their resistance may decrease.

Difficult Personality: Not-My-Jobbers

These people express their negativity by refusing to do any task, no matter how simple, if they decide it isn't part of their job responsibilities. It's often their way of getting back at colleagues, managers, or the organization because of their unhappiness with how they perceive they're treated.

How to Approach the Situation: Find training and development opportunities for the Not-My-Jobbers. When they feel they're in a dead-end career road, they lose their enthusiasm for work and try to do as little as possible.

Difficult Personality: Rumormongers

They take out their negativity toward work by spreading rumors. Rumormongers sense a loss of control over and rumors help them regain that control.

How to Approach the Situation: Give people in the organization the information and facts they need. Doing so gives them little motivation to spread rumors.

Difficult Personality: Pessimists

They experience the world as an unpleasant place. They're unhappy with the way things are - no matter what you try to do for them.

How to Approach the Situation: You won't be able to change their attitude easily. Start by trying to have them adopt specific positive habits to take the place of their existing negative ones.

Difficult Personality: Criticizers

They disagree with anything that's said. They like to be right, no matter what. They find problems, never opportunities.

How to Approach the Situation: Ask them for examples, evidence or their reasoning for disagreeing. Be persistent and don't give up.

Difficult Personality: Crybabies

When crybabies don't get their way, they behave like children frown, withdraw, go off on a tirade or cry.

How to Approach the Situation: Crybabies need a supportive environment and constant encouragement. Also lower their stress and pressure levels.

Difficult Personality: Sacrificers

They come in early and stay late, do whatever you ask them to do. But they'll complain about their workload and about difficult employees, customers, or bosses. Their negativity is brought out by feeling unappreciated.

How to Approach the Situation: Give regular positive feedback on how much their hard work and contributions are appreciated. Giving recognition in front of their colleagues, teammates, and boss also is helpful.

Difficult Personality: Self-Castigators

They get upset with themselves and become negative. They find fault with their work performance, career progress, socioeconomic status... everything.

How to Approach the Situation: Use strategies that build their self-esteem.

Difficult Personality: Scapegoaters

They shift the blame for their mistakes on others, especially when they're in a negative mood.

How to Approach the Situation: Give specific examples of how their errors, mistakes or miscalculations were the problem, not any individual.

Difficult Personality: Eggshells

They're very sensitive, and even the slightest comment, if misconstrued, causes them to crack.

How to Approach the Situation: When giving constructive feedback, give it slowly, without making it personal, and be sure they understand your point before you move on.

Difficult Personality: Micros

They like to focus on the smallest details or mistakes and forget about the big picture

How to Approach the Situation: Have them get into the habit of evaluating the entire project or assignment. Ask them for the main point, the overall goal, the major problems, the main objectives, and so forth.

The Big Picture

We all have highs and lows and may demonstrate some of these behaviors now and then. However, if you or someone you know regularly demonstrates some of these behaviors, you may need to assess the situation and adapt your actions. If the behavior seriously affects your work, talk with your supervisor and ask for input on a solution.

Improving your work relationships can lead to increased job satisfaction, more recognition, and an even greater chance of advancement.

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