We all come across difficult personalities in the workplace. They can undermine you, eat into your confidence levels and make you feel outright miserable.
Learning to identify the 10 most common difficult personalities in the workplace and how to deal with them, can empower you instead of feeling defeated.
1. The Sherman Tank
As the name suggests, the Sherman Tank runs roughshod over others. Their communication style is to be pushy, abrupt, and openly hostile. They will attack until others move out of the way and accept their view of the world. They get aggravated by too much discussion or friendly chatter.
Confrontational, their objective is to just do it! They are likely to say things like, “What an idiot you are. You’ve been working on this for two weeks and nothing has been achieved. You are totally incompetent.”
Coping with the Sherman Tank
When attacked by Sherman the Tank, it’s easy to fall into the fight or flight mode and attack back. Tank-to-Tank warfare doesn’t work in the business environment. Sherman the Tank is not interested in your attempt to defend, explain, or even justify yourself. Take a deep breath to gain control of your emotions and allow the logical part of your brain to respond.
- Be assertive and hold your ground, but don’t fight back.
- Interrupt the attack by repeating their name until they stop.
- Restate what the problem is to gain clarification.
- State your opinions forcefully and assertively.
- Be ready to be friendly; don’t close the door on them.
- Consider if you played a part in their outburst.
2. The Sniper
The sniper hides in crowds and can exhibit passive aggressive behavior. They use jokes and sarcasm to sidetrack, humiliate, and embarrass others to make them look foolish. They roll their eyes to distract you and can become a Sherman Tank when exposed.
Friendly Snipers sometimes use humor to get attention from a group of people. Their objective is to get it done and be appreciated. They are especially good at talking behind your back and creating a gossip culture.
Coping with the Sniper
Your goal is to bring the sniper out of hiding.
- Deal with the attack immediately; don’t let it fester.
- Ask about the relevancy and what their intent is through open ended questions.
- Seek consensus from the group regarding the criticism.
- Solve the problem if one exists.
- Resolve ongoing problems in private.
- Use coping with the Sherman Tank strategy if you have to.
3. The Hand-Grenade
The Hand Grenade gets frustrated and feels threatened, so they “act out” by throwing a tantrum. They may storm out of the office or attack others without explanations. They might cry or look silently enraged. They explode easily and rant and rave about whatever is on their mind. Their objective is to be appreciated.
Coping with the Hand Grenade
Your goal is to take control of the situation before things get out of control.
- Give them time to cool down and get over their tantrum.
- Get their attention, once they are calm.
- Show them you take them seriously.
- Reduce the intensity by taking a break.
- Identify and resolve any underlying issues and problem.
4. The Whiner
These personalities constantly whine and speak in generalizations about problems. Everything is a problem. This is what they focus on, not solutions. They believe it’s up to someone else to fix the problem.
They make themselves victims of an unfair world, and nothing ever measures up. Misery loves company, so they hang out with anyone who will listen and agree with them. Their objective is to get it right!
Coping with the Whiner
There are four things you must not do with a whiner. Don’t agree, as this encourages them to continue to whine. Don’t disagree; otherwise, they will continue to repeat their whining. Don’t try to resolve their problems for them, and if you ask why they are talking to you, this seems to them to be an invitation to keep whining.
- Be patient and have compassion.
- Listen for the main points they raise.
- Acknowledge, interrupt, and ask for specifics.
- Don’t agree or apologize; just state facts.
- Switch into problem solving mode.
- Ask them to come up with a solution.
- Draw the line and ask them “How should this end?”
5. The Expert
Experts are confident in their abilities. They are very thorough and accurate and ignore other people’s opinions. They are quick to criticize and pick at others and don’t like being contradicted. Their objective is to get it done!
Coping with the Expert
- Be prepared and know your stuff.
- Listen and acknowledge them respectfully.
- Present your views assertively.
- Turn them into mentors as they can be useful.
6. The Know-it-all
The Know-it-all thinks they know it all. They are usually highly productive bottlenecks of information. They enjoy power and limit others’ growth. They like to make others feel stupid, confused, and inept.
They act like experts and are often charismatic and enthusiastic talkers. They like to pontificate about a subject in front of others, even though they are not really experts. They generalize in many fields. They like to dominant conversations and eliminate opposition by discrediting others. Their objective is to be appreciated!
Coping with the Know-it-all
Know it All’s seek recognition. They can be curious and alert for new information. Listen to what they are saying; you may learn something. Paraphrase what they say, so they will understand that you know what they are talking about. Then, suggest your idea for their consideration.
Remember, you are communicating with them to get to your goals. Patience is the key. Maintain the control of your own behavior to reach your business objectives.
- Be prepared and know your stuff.
- Allow them to save face; attention is important to them.
- Have them clarify for specifics.
- Use probing questions, instead of making statements.
- State facts or alternative opinions back to them.
- Look to break the cycle by establishing a mentoring relationship.
7. The Yes Person
The yes person tries to please everyone by doing all that is asked of them, which sometimes, makes them feel aggrieved. They tend to over commit so much it hinders their performance.
They say yes to avoid confrontation at any cost and, sometimes, fail to follow through with what they said they would because they become overloaded. Over time, they become resentful because they have no time for themselves. Their objective is to get along with others!
Coping with the Yes person
Your goal is to get a commitment you can count on.
- Create a safe environment for them to be honest with you.
- Talk personally and honestly.
- Help them to plan realistically.
- Gain a commitment and keep them accountable.
- Strengthen the relationship with them.
The No Person
They feel hopeless to bring about change. They destroy morale and react strongly to any problem solving or process changes. They are bitter and are more hopeless than people who complain a lot. Often, they are bureaucrats, who like to find every reason something won’t work. It’s a never-ending battle for futility and hopelessness and shuts down ideas with a simple “that won’t work” with no reasonable explanation or logic why it won’t work.
Their objective is to get it right!
Coping with the No person
Your goal with the no person is to get them to transition into problem solving. You can also use the Whiner strategy.
- Avoid getting drawn into their negativity.
- Don’t argue with them.
- Acknowledge their good intent.
- Get to the bottom of the problem before solutions.
- Use them as a resource.
- Describe the worst-case scenario.
- Wait for them and act when the time is right.
9. The Maybe Person
The Maybe person avoids deciding for fear of harming a personal relationship. They hint or beat around the bush to remain honest and postpone making decisions unless they absolutely need to.
They are experts at procrastination in the hope something better comes along. Often, there comes a time when a decision makes itself, too little, too late. Their objective is to get along!
Coping with the Maybe Person
Your objective is to get them to make a decision.
- Establish a comfort zone where they are comfortable making decisions.
- Get to the bottom of the issues holding them back.
- Help them learn to solve problems on their own.
- Reassure them and follow through.
- Keep building the relationship.
10. The Nothing Person
The nothing person will withdraw from others when feeling frustrated. They stop talking even though they still seem angry. They will withdraw from a decision, rather than try to influence it.
They don’t like to rush into taking action, without understanding the background and the details. You get no feedback, verbal or non-verbal, which is exactly what you would expect from this personality, nothing. Their objective is to get it right and get along!
Coping with the Nothing Person
They have no strategy for choosing between imperfect choices. Your goal is to help them think decisively and persuade them to talk.
- Be patient with them.
- Ask them open ended questions, expecting an answer.
- Avoid filling quiet pauses by talking by waiting for their response.
- Keep it light.
- Show them a vision for the future.
By learning to identify and cope with difficult personalities in the workplace, you not only empower yourself, you enhance your influencing skills.
In a Nutshell
- The Sherman Tank runs roughshod over others. They are pushy, abrupt, and openly hostile. To handle the Sherman Tank, be assertive.
- The sniper hides in crowds and can exhibit passive aggressive behavior. To cope, deal with them immediately.
- The Hand Grenade gets frustrated and feels threatened, so they “act out” by throwing a tantrum. Give them time to get over their tantrum.
- These personalities constantly whine and speak in generalizations about problems. Draw the line and ask them “How should this end?
- Experts are confident in their abilities. Turn them into mentors as they can be useful.
- The Know-it-all thinks they know it all. Allow them to save face; attention is important to them.
- The yes person tries to please everyone by doing all that is asked of them, which sometimes, makes them feel aggrieved. Create a safe environment for them to be honest with you.
- They feel hopeless to bring about change. Avoid getting drawn into their negativity.
- The Maybe person avoids deciding for fear of harming a personal relationship. Help them learn to solve problems on their own.
- The nothing person will withdraw from others when feeling frustrated. Show them a vision for the future.