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5 Difficult Personalities and How to Handle them in the Workplace

Posted by Mary Bradbury Jones on April 27, 2016

difficult personalitiesDealing with different personality types in the workplace can be tough. Having to shift gears from one conversation to the next and trying to get all your work done can be an onerous task.

What helps is when we define the different personality types that exist, and more importantly consider difficult workplace personalities. What are the signs of difficult personality types in the workplace and what can you do to handle them so that your work isn’t affected?

In this post we will discuss what difficult personality types look like and how to identify them. What are some things to do, and what should you avoid? By the end of this article you’ll know what to do, what’s fixable — what’s not — and practical ways to go about dealing with difficult personality types in the workplace. Let’s get started!

1. Narcissists

Narcissists are often characterized by big egos, and are the exact opposite of team players. They’re often easy to spot because they’re arrogant and disliked, but can be extremely well-liked and charming on the surface. What you don’t want to do when dealing with narcissists is to make them look inferior in front of yourself or others. Even if you’re more competent than the narcissist, feed their ego by praising them openly and downplaying their mistakes when you make them. Ironically, the solution might be to actually put them in a position of power, since they value it so highly and are likely to treat it with reverence. The main idea is to maintain realistic expectations for interactions with narcissists, you should take their personality for what it is and do your best to get the job done regardless of who gets the credit.

2. Passive-Aggressive

The passive-aggressive types are some of the hardest to spot openly in the workplace, but they can do real damage. Sure signs of a passive-aggressive type is if you catch them sabotaging someone else’s work to make themselves look better, or committing to a project then failing to follow through. The number one thing to avoid is responding to them passive-aggressively, as you will be feeding into the game that they’re trying to play. The best thing to do is to approach them openly, in front of the people that their actions are harming. Use direct communication and don’t mince words when it comes to your feelings. By saying “you did this, it affected me in this way and this is how it made me feel” you’ll drive home the point that their behavior isn’t acceptable.

3. Gossips

The office gossip has been around for a very long time, and it’s usually common knowledge who the gossipers are in each workplace. Often they do this out of their own personal insecurities or the need to create some kind of drama around their lives. They may even have the misguided belief that their gossip helps them connect with their fellow co-workers. You’ll want to avoid sharing too many details about your personal life with the gossip and avoid trying to change their behavior dramatically. The best thing to do is to drop subtle hints over time that you’re either not interested in their gossip or that you think it might be damaging to other people. For example, next time a conversation turns into gossip, simply excuse yourself politely and get back to work.

4. Anger Addicts

The anger addict can manifest themselves in a variety of different ways, the most common being the “office bully.” In fact, nearly 55% of all workers say they have been bullied at some point in their careers. This type of anger can manifest itself in a variety of ways from open outbursts to more subtle behaviors like undermining others in meetings or constantly belittling others. First off, you’ll want to identify how the anger is manifesting itself, whether it’s public outbursts or private attacks. But before you do anything, make sure to take time to recover from the incident and think calmly. The worst thing you can do is strike back in anger and risk saying something rash. Third, try and quantify the damage that the person is doing through their anger and bullying, then present it to a superior. Confronting a bully or anger addict one-on-one can result in huge negative consequences, so make sure to have backup when you raise the issue.

>> Learn more about working with difficult people.

5. Guilt Trippers

We’re all guilty of pointing the finger at someone else when there’s a problem, but the guilt tripper makes a habit out of it. Guilt trippers are never at fault, and are constantly shifting blame or responsibility towards others when things go wrong. They will even stretch the truth or outright lie to avoid the consequences of their own mistakes, bad decisions or poor performance. When dealing with guilt trippers, stand firm and don’t allow yourself to be thrown under the bus by these toxic individuals. Once they get away with blaming you for something, they’re likely to try again and you’ll just become his or her de facto target. Instead, push back with verifiable facts about what happened, and maybe even accept a small part of the blame for what went wrong. This goes a long way to diffuse the guilt tripper’s main arguments, and you’ll win coworkers over to your side in the process. Finally, take small wins by making them realize at least some of their own faults and you’ll start the process of normalizing the relationship.

Odds are you’ve dealt with one or more of these difficult personality types in the workplace, and after reading this are better equipped to handle situations based on what kind of personality you’re dealing with. By quickly identifying which difficult workplace personalities you deal with on a daily basis, you can assess the situation and take the actions that will make your life (and your coworkers) a lot easier.


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