Managing Employees

How to Deal With the 7 Most-Challenging Workplace Personality Types

Plus: What to do if you're (gasp!) one of them.
How to Deal With the 7 Most-Challenging Workplace Personality Types
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Guest Writer
CEO, Author and Entrepreneur
5 min read
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Working with challenging employees is one of the most difficult and frustrating aspects of any manager’s job. The toll can be stressful for the manager and the employee alike.

These “energy vampires” take up an inordinate amount of time and resources.

The most-common types.

Odds are you’ve worked with someone who fits into the "challenging" category. Read on to see if you recognize any of the most-common types of difficult team members.

1. Professional experts. They genuinely believe they are the smartest person in the room -- always -- and know more than everyone else. About everything.

2. Negative nixers. You can count on them to shoot down everyone’s ideas and identify why a proposed solution won’t work.

3. Ultra competitors. They’ll go head-to-head with anyone for any reason, and they won’t stop until they win. As a result, they’re often also the office bullies.

4. Chronic complainers. They never have a good word to say about anything. They strive for everyone to feel their pain and show their depressing mindset.

5. Yes-men and -women. These coworkers agree with nearly everything – yet follow through on almost nothing.

6. Political players. They’re friendly to your face. Then they stab you in the back to get ahead while you’re still reeling from the attack.

7. Drama queens and kings. Highly dramatic and over-reactionary, they use their emotions as a tool to manipulate you.

If these seem extreme, think about team members who cause a generalized sense of tension in the room. You might spend a good deal of time thinking about how to handle situations involving a certain team member. Maybe other employees come to you with issues that swirl around the same one or two coworkers. You might even feel angry, annoyed or helpless to handle situations.

These scenarios all point to a difficult person whose behavior negatively affects your organization by dragging down the team’s productivity and overall morale.

Related: 5 Kinds of Lazy Employees and How to Deal With Them

The road map.

Fight the urge to press the “close” button on the elevator door when you see them approaching. Instead, stay attuned to recognize the changes these team members elicit in yourself and others.

You’ll need to understand that a one-size-fits-all solution doesn’t exist. However, you can use the road map below to guide an intentional conversation about nearly any issue. Choose a quiet, private place, take a deep breath and try to remain as supportive as possible.

As you discuss concerns with the employee, focus on behaviors -- not personality traits. Otherwise the back-and-forth will devolve into an emotional situation, and you’ll lose any chance of making headway. Throughout the meeting, think about the employee’s motivations. What might drive her or him to make a change for the better? Your team member isn’t likely to remember your precise words, but he or she will remember the feeling in the room. You can create an open, respectful atmosphere by sticking to a few rules.

  • Use “I” language. Begin with “I’ve noticed ____” and name the behavior. Never lead with “You ____," which adopts an accusatory tone.
  • State in clear, cause-and-effect terms why the behavior is harmful to the team and/or the organization.
  • Calmly lay out the change that needs to occur. Describe the anticipated benefit for the employee (what’s in it for him or her) and for the team. Also establish what will happen if the behavior does not change. You are not issuing a threat. You are cluing the employee in on expectations and natural consequences.

It’s possible you might reach a point of no return, when continually putting out fires is taking too much energy away from other duties. If you deal with the same person time and again but don’t see progress, you have good reason to make a different kind of change. This cycle speaks to good-faith plans and broken trust. And once you can’t trust someone, it’s virtually impossible to repair the damage and work together. It’s rarely an easy call. But you might be giving the person the freedom she or he needs to find a proper fit somewhere else.

Related: 7 Signs You May Need to Leave Your Original Team Members Behind

The hard truth.

There’s a flip side, too: Are you secure enough to acknowledge you’ve been the challenging coworker in some instances? Think hard. You might realize you’re having issues getting along with multiple people at your company. Or perhaps you’re consistently at the center of the drama. Do you regularly talk down your company’s goals? Disparage your manager or CEO -- or question leadership’s intelligence? Confidence is a good thing, but no one wants to work with an arrogant colleague. It doesn’t matter if she or her has the most brilliant mind in the field.

If this is hitting close to home, there’s hope. You are not an awful, lazy person destined to miss out on professional success. Your current job might be a bad culture fit. Maybe your personality doesn’t align with your boss’s style or the company values. Perhaps you’re working in the wrong industry or at the wrong job for your skills. A change in scenery could empower you to focus on your strengths and find a workplace that’s a better match.  

Related: 9 Ways to Boost Productivity That Will Make You a Great Teammate

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