Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Personalities in the Workplace

In our previous post, we described some of the more common Talented Personality Types that Can Cause Workplace Conflict. In this post, we’ll focus on the corresponding management strategies for neutralizing the negative impact of these difficult personalities in your department.

  1. Overtly Hostile

Combating the impulsivity, unawareness, and lack of inhibitions that lead to overt hostility requires the opposite behavior of a manager. The least productive methods for dealing with this personality type are reactive. The best are proactive. Once you have identified hostility as a behavioral trend, first collect details of the incidents from your team. Match the behaviors to company policies and review the incidences with the employee, discussing how the company will handle future infractions after the idifficult personalitiesnitial warning. Ask the employee how he thinks his behavior may have impacted others and how the team performance could be adversely affected if his behavior persists. What you want is empathy for others and accountability to the common purposes of the team and organization.

  1. Grandiose Narcissist

The most problematic attitudes and behaviors narcissists exhibit in the workplace are manipulation, coldness, condescension, emotional distance, and boasting. The more confident she is in her job security, the more likely these traits are to surface.
Unfortunately, you cannot hope to change these fundamental personality attributes, but you can mitigate their effects. The key is managing the narcissist at arm’s length, preserving personal boundaries, and keeping conversations direct and precise. She has an urge and an agenda to self-promote, so ask closed-ended questions and provide succinct and factual responses in your discussions. You will also want to encourage peers who are struggling with her behaviors to use the same discipline in discussions.

  1. Passive Aggressive

This behavior is the manifestation of fear, powerlessness, and helplessness, combined with a distaste for direct confrontation. Toxic behaviors include talking behind your back, silent treatment, sabotage, and poor work. The behaviors may not always be 100% intentional, but this is irrelevant. As a manager, you must identify the behavior as hostile, talk very specifically with your passive aggressive employee about these behaviors, and set limits as to what is tolerable.  The key to ongoing management is to set an example of open, assertive communication.

  1. Type A Perfectionist

The high standards of a perfectionist can make her a pleasure to work with, until she inevitably criticizes, condemns, and offends colleagues. To minimize this possibility, avoid putting her in a project management or partnership role.
Working solo, the perfectionist will have another issue, and that is balancing tight deadlines against her internal need to deliver the best possible quality of work. Whenever possible, allow enough time for her to deliver the perfect project, and delegate responsibilities to others so that you will get the results that make a perfectionist’s idiosyncrasies worthwhile. Whatever you do, never put a perfectionist in a position where she has to deliver subpar work, as this will adversely affect her job satisfaction. This is one of the difficult personalities most worth understanding because of their high achievement ceilings.

  1. The Underachiever

People may underachieve for a variety of reasons, ranging from lack of desire to ADD. Regardless of the reason, underachievement can lead to clashes with better performing peers. To minimize this risk, you have to find ways to maximize the underachiever’s job performance. You can do this by clearly defining his job duties in reviews, in ongoing communications, and in assigned projects. When you notice dips in his performance, ask if there is anything distracting him from the objective. Then find out what you can do to enable him to focus. Provide constructive suggestions and reward progress with commensurate praise when he meets expectations.

These suggestions are broad, given the space constraints of this article. If you have one of these difficult personalities on your team, do some further research into more detailed management techniques to get the most out of your talented, but difficult employee.