byGia Iloleon Jul 12, 2016

How to Manage 5 Types of Difficult Personalities at Work

Difficult personalities at work

Photo credit:Creative Commons

This article was originally published on Sharpheels.

We know we aren’t meant to be best friends with all of our work colleagues, but there are sure to be a few who you might butt heads with.  However, by stepping back and reconsidering how to deal with them, their behavior, and the (sometimes thorny) conflicts that arise, it’s possible to have a better working relationship with office rivals for mutual success.

Here are Five “faux foes” personalities at work (in other words, they don’t have to be a negative weight at the office), and how to best work with them:

The Strategist

This colleague is a self-proclaimed “big thinker.”  She (or he of course) is bold in her strategies.  She is innovative and confident. Her ideas aren’t tweaks to tactics, or minor events with minimal prep work. Instead, they are overhauls, “disruptive” strategies, or large-scale occasions. They require logistics, preparations, change management, policy revisions, trainings, or enterprise-wide socialization.

The problem with this sort of strategist is that she is great when it comes to the big thinking, but not so great with the execution. If this is someone with whom you work often (especially a peer), you may be stuck in a support role, failing at the execution of her idyllic strategy.

Smooth (& Productive) Solution: The more often the strategist needs to be accountable for the execution of her ideas, the more refined and realistic they will become. Being bold and disruptive is good, but strategies that are innovative and achievable are best.

So, offer to “scribe” for the next meeting with her (any strategist busy doing the big thinking won’t likely be opposed to your offer to take the notes).  Now take that opportunity to transcribe roles, responsibilities, and next steps.

Afterwards, have the strength and poise to offer options such as if you’re planning for a large event, “I’ve documented the next phase for this event, as follows: order catering for 400, put together a panel of speakers, and ensure Facilities Dept. has the directions for room set up. I’ve already volunteered for the panel, so would you prefer to do the catering request or to talk to Facilities?  With a landmark event like this, we’ll really need all hands on deck to ensure your idea is executed well.”

Make sure the question is posed as “either/or” — not “any/none,” which can instead create an awkward setting for an outright objection (i.e. offer tasks that are distributed, not a laundry list of things the other party must do to accomplish the goal).  After a few events such as this, the strategist gains an appreciation for logistics and execution.  The win-win result is that strategies will become more refined and effective through true teamwork.

The Perfectionist 

The good news: this person’s project plans are flawless, her presentations have no graphics misaligned, emails are bulleted and segmented with action items, and links embedded.  Why it gets difficult: you reply to the action items and she asks you please to upload it to the Sharepoint, as requested in the action item with link embedded, rather than respond via email. You groan and follow directions. So you may have skimmed. But she got the information.  Can’t she go with the flow and add it to the document she was probably just looking at it; it would have been shorter than writing back and asking you to upload…!

The answer is… no, she probably can’t. This is who she is. This email was crafted with thought-out, with lots of energy and instructions because this is the way she operates best.  It may not be the way you operate best.  But if this person is leading a project, so this is the time to respect her workstyle and go with her flow!

Smooth (& Productive) Solution: To best deal, read her emails and instructions in full.  She took the time to write, so take the time to read and show that you value her efforts.  It will save you time and prevent re-work.

Next, if this is your project/presentation/job, and she is nitpicking with her perfectionism, you have two options (and consider these wisely before choosing):

Listen to the feedback and learn something from it,  or

Gently and professionally relay that while you appreciate the attention to detail on your font sizes, the priorities of the project are a, b, and c —  so let’s focus our limited worktime on ensuring all changes are adding value from those perspectives.

The Hater

Have you ever had the feeling a colleague just didn’t like you?   You rack your brain, but can’t imagine why.  More than likely you barely know her.  Consider this.  Maybe she doesn’t.  Has she said so?  Have you heard through the grapevine she had it out for you?  Does she really attack you outright?  Or is it just a feeling that you get from her expression?

There’s something that we like to say in the corporate world: “Assume positive intent.”   This means that unless you have true reason to think this person feels negatively toward you overall, assume she doesn’t.  So if comments or questions are professional and courteous at minimum, assume the person has no negative feelings toward you, and operate on that basis.

We tend to feel things so heavily for ourselves that we assume any person’s actions or reactions are a reflection of our own relationship.  More often than not, they aren’t. Now, maybe this person isn’t your biggest fan, truly.  Maybe you have gotten off on the wrong foot, or you have rubbed them the wrong way.

Smooth (& Productive) Solution: Rather than avoid this person, seek them out. Try to find a project where you can work closely, so you can get to know each other better.  With more interaction you may find common ground. Then capitalize on that, and grow from there to develop an ease of interaction.

The Dissenter

It seems that any discussion, meeting, project execution, or even friendly interaction with this person is filled with negative responses, devil’s advocate-playing, and general opposition.  It might be in the form of questions (“Do you think that timeline is even plausible?”), comments (“In my experience, marketing like this rarely works”), or even body language (facial, or full body).

Again, assume positive intent.  More than likely, this person is just analytical. It is her habit to think things through, which means that every worst case scenario ever experienced or imagined needs to be brought up every time.

Smooth (& Productive) Solution: Pay attention to see if this person plays the dissenter in every situation, or only with you.  Does it have to do with the type of project that is under scrutiny?  Does this affect her job more than others?  Does she have past experience with the project?  Whether the variety of her “dissent” is constant, project- or person-specific, look on the bright side: if your input is valuable, with that kind of dissenter in the room, she’ll make sure that all potential drawbacks will have been brought to light – thus leaving you with very few “lessons learned” at the end of the project.  And if it was your idea to start with, you will shine even brighter, due to her vigilant input – so remember to thank her at the end of the project for highlighting potential snags to avoid.

The Ignorer

You have written her three emails over the last two weeks.  You need an answer, some feedback, a response.  Should you follow up again?  She is blatantly ignoring you.  Maybe this is typical of her.  It feels personal.  You wonder, “Am I not important?”

Smooth (& Productive) Solution: It’s time to make contact after three emails and no response. So if you honestly need her response before you can move forward, it’s time to either: a) pick up the phone b) stop by her office c) take advantage of a common meeting.  Whichever option you go with, give yourself a pep talk beforehand.  Actively decide not to take it as intentional; if this is common for this person, take a moment to have sympathy: if this is how she handles her work (or rather, doesn’t handle her work), her performance is probably suffering.  Or if this is a result of her workload (she is honestly so busy things slip through the cracks), her happiness is probably suffering.

When you finally catch her, try not to make her jump to the defensive.  Rather than saying, “I’ve been waiting for you to get back to me on ___” or even “Did you get my emails on ___,“ start the conversation with a low pressure, “I’ve been meaning to follow up with you; what did you think of ____.  I really want to hear your thoughts.”  This shows you are focused on the value she adds to the project, not the fact she did not reply.

After you have an intelligent (and, one hopes, friendly) conversation on the subject, end your dialogue with a direct, but not aggressive, reference for future communication — something like, “I’m so glad we talked – and I’ll want your feedback again at milestone X.  I know we didn’t connect via email before, and that set us back a bit.  Do you prefer to set meetings ahead of time, or should I give you a call instead, next time?”

Not only will this put the colleague on point to commit to further response, but you might just learned something about their communication style. It may be, “No, email is great, but I get so many that I categorize them by type – next time if you put ‘Action’ in the subject I’ll be sure to flag it for follow up. I’m so sorry I missed it this time!”  Or it might be an honest, “Actually, I’ve been getting really behind on email…if you are ever missing something from me, I’d really prefer a quick text reminder.  But let’s put something on the calendar now, so we don’t get to that point again.”  Many people have valid preferences for communication. If you figure them out, not only are you more likely to get a response, but less likely to be negatively associated with that aversion.


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