Expert Panel

Common job issues and solutions in Workplace Communication Skills

Dealing with difficult personalities at work.


Learn to work with difficult personalities so they do not interfere with your job.

You will encounter many personalities in your career.  Some of them are annoying, many inspirational.  What I want to address here are the difficult personalities that can stand in your way of accomplishing great things.  By understanding how to manage your way forward as you encounter them, you will grow professionally and possibly become an inspirational personality for them to learn from.


Here are six difficult personality types that can negatively impact your job, along with actions you can take to ensure they don’t.


The Every Day Grump

This is the person who always looks annoyed, never says hello, and uses the power of ignoring you as a tool to intimidate. 

  • You can break through to this person by being nice every time you see them, even when they don’t respond.  As far as you know you have not done anything to upset them, so you should continue to say hello, look them in the eye, throw in “today is going to be a great day” or “it is really nice to see you”.  Keep the sunshine beaming on them and eventually they will break because they know you are not going to change. 
  • These individuals are insecure communicators and would rather scare people away than be embarrassed by not knowing what to say.  The more you pull them to you, the better your chance of teaching them how to interact.


The Controlling Scrooge

These people have something you need but refuse to work with you.  They make your life impossible and force you to either drop your request or find someone else higher up in the food chain to deal with them.

  • The best way to approach these individuals is to be humble, show them respect, but do not back down from what you need.  Instead, ask them for a formal meeting and request their advice.  Explain what you are trying to accomplish and why.  Tell them that you have a dilemma and you do not know how to solve it.  Let them understand you first, and ask them, given your circumstances, if they could provide a solution for you.
  • These individuals throw their power around because they think it is the only thing they have to be respected for.  If you teach them about your needs and let them develop a solution for you (even if it has nothing to do with them), you will prove to them that you respect their intellect and advice, not just the fact that they are holding the key to something you need.  Once they feel respected for their knowledge, they will open up to you in the future and want to help you, sometimes going out of their way to show support.


The Negative, Foot Dragging, Head Drooping Downer

They complain about everything and everyone.  Rarely do they show signs of life unless it is on their terms.  They lack enthusiasm, they are very sarcastic and don’t know how to take a complement without needing to qualify it to mean something different.

  • Before you count this person out, keep in mind that you don’t know what they are going through in their personal life, nor is it any of your business.  All you can do is keep yourself positive at all times.  Hear the person out and be supportive, but never get pulled into participating in negative dialog.   Offer solutions or a positive perspective when they complain.  Never confide in them because they lack restraint when it comes to information.
  • These individuals do not know how to be positive.  They are so used to the tone of their negative voice that anything else sounds strange to them.  The only way they will learn is by your lead.  It is possible that the only thing they will learn is to not say what is on their mind when you are around…that is a good thing for you.  Or maybe by you not participating in the dialog, they will hear the differences and start to make an effort to change.


The Unsubstantiated Climber

This is the politician without a plan.  They are eager to please people above them while stepping all over you to do it.  Sometimes you work for this person, other times they are your counterpart.  They don’t do their climbing by showing great work product, instead they laugh at all the jokes, and kiss you know what instead.

  • These are the most difficult personalities to deal with, especially if you report to them.  You need to develop relationships outside of these individuals.  Make sure your work is known as being your work by getting input from others and talking about what you are working on.  Don’t get pulled into believing you need to act the same way to get ahead.    Focus on your work product, developing respectful relationships and the payback will come to you over time.
  • It happens all too often that people get ahead for the wrong reasons.  People like this exist because they don’t have a chance of succeeding on their own merit.  If you successfully maneuver around these individuals to be seen and heard for the right reasons, they will come to understand that rather than stepping on you, they have to start respecting you because they don’t want to be seen as the only person who isn’t doing so.


The Tyrant

They are typically higher up than you are in the organization. They use their position to intimidate and demean.  They will interrupt you, dismiss you and possibly verbally attack you.  They only appreciate those who admire them, but that does not stop them from attacking those individuals either.

  • Do not fight back, defend your position or engage these individuals.  As hard as it is to eat the blasts, you need to look them in the eye, listen to them and the words that they are saying, not the way they are being portrayed.  When they are finished….and only then…take a moment to acknowledge the words that were said by using phrases like “Understood” or “I respect your position on the matter.” Then, in a professional voice, get the conversation back to your points.  Stay calm, focused and professional.  If they start charging at you again…take it in, acknowledge it and get the conversation back on topic.
  • After a while they may figure out that they are not going to get under your skin and start to listen to what you have to say.  Or they will be so angry at their inability to control you that they will end the dialog.  Either way, you are the professional.  Over time they will see you differently because others who are witness to your professionalism will see you in high regard, or you will leave the company because it is not good enough for you.


The Naysayer

These individuals are not really difficult personalities, however you may perceive them to be.  They are typically experienced in their fields and in the organization.  They don’t like change and will create roadblocks if the change threatens to affect them.

  • Reach out to these people, be open to what they have to say, ask questions and learn from them.  They will open up to you quickly once they realize their perspective and knowledge is respected by you.
  • Many times these people come out of the word work when new employees or new leadership comes into the mix.  They fear that all of their efforts before the change diminish in value.  Once they are made comfortable and included by you, they are great assets to both you and the organization.


The funny thing about people with difficult personalities is that, for the most part, no matter which one they have in the beginning…once you break through to them, you will find they all have something in common…they are really nice people who are grateful you stuck with them.   Ignoring people is easy to do, taking the time to develop relationships and remove roadblocks is a professional lesson that will help you throughout your personal and professional life.


Take the time to reflect on all the people you work with.  Do they inspire you, annoy your, or hinder you?  If they inspire you, take note of how they handle situations and learn from their example.  If they annoy you, ignore their behaviors.  If they hinder you, try to implement the tactics outlined above.


Do you emphasize your own opinions when you give presentations at work?