News & Insight
March 2004

Your Career Path to Success Keys for Managing Difficult Personalities

Bill Morin<br />Chairman & CEO<br />WJM Associates

Recognizing different personality types and learning to deal with the issues they present is a skill that managers must develop and refine throughout their careers.

One of the most challenging types of employees to manage is the “angry” person. This is someone who infects people with negativity. Sometimes these people are so vocal and forceful that they silence the majority who don't share the same views. They are so loud it appears that everyone feels the same way. They can be sarcastic, critical, short-fused, impatient, and insensitive to the feelings of others.

People who are often belligerent at work are usually angry about something other than work. Their emotions are misplaced. The likelihood is that they are angry about something in their personal life and are venting that anger at work. They have little or no self awareness and understanding. Here are some guidelines for dealing with them:

  • Don't return their anger with anger. Stay centered.
  • Mirror what you think, see, and feel.
  • Ask them why they are so angry.
  • Help them see that the intensity of their reactions is not appropriate to the event. (Be careful on this one. Don't tell them they shouldn't feel a certain way.)
  • Set strong boundaries with them. Do not let them be abusive.
  • Help them realize they are not helping themselves by staying angry all the time.
  • Encourage them to get help if you think it is needed.

Social Gossips

Social gossips often spend more time feeding the grapevine than working. They seem to have a hotline to what's going on in the company. Sometimes their information is amazingly on target; other times, it is filled with rumors and innuendos. In any event, social gossips waste a lot of their own time as well others’. Their trademarks? They are extremely social, often hang out in other people's offices, and spend a great deal of time on the telephone.

Social gossips are getting something from their behavior. There is a payback. It often has to do with a person's need to feel important and in the know. It gives them a feeling of power and control. Social gossips do a lot of implied bartering: "I'll be your friend if you tell me this information and vice versa." When people share gossip, they often share a false sense of connectedness with one another. They bond for the moment over the juicy piece of information they have about someone else. This is a tough behavior to confront because it is almost always done in secrecy. Here are some suggestions for dealing with social gossips:

  • If you see them on the telephone a lot or spending a lot of time in other people's offices, ask them if they are bored and need more work.
  • Keep them so busy and challenged that they have little time for gossip.
  • If you are passing through their work area and you feel they are gossiping, find some reason to interrupt them. Subtly let them know that you know what they are doing.
  • If you know for a fact that they have either told confidential information to others or spread hurtful rumors, confront them directly.

The Overly Sensitive, Conscientious Person

You wouldn’t think it, but people who are overly sensitive and conscientious also present management challenges. Sometimes they are difficult to deal with because their extreme sensitivity keeps them from hearing what you are trying to say. They often read into things that simply aren't there. Such people often are very thin skinned, have a high need for approval, are unusually self-critical, can be very defensive and emotional, and focus on pleasing others.

Overly sensitive people tend to be perfectionists. Their need for perfection usually stems from some insecurity. From their perspective, they are either a supreme success or a total failure. Here are some methods for dealing with this type of person:

* Give them plenty of recognition and praise.
* When giving them constructive criticism, tell them what you are not saying. In other words, frame the criticism with plenty of positives.
* If they get defensive, ask them why they feel the need to do so.
* Don't withhold constructive criticism from them because of their sensitivity.
* If they cry or get emotional at the slightest criticism, encourage them to look at that tendency.

Learning to “read” people’s personalities and deal with them as individuals is a skill that takes time to develop, but one that all good managers should have.

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