You’ll find many different personality types in any organization. Most people are helpful, cordial, and easy to work with. But every now and then you’re sure to encounter a personality type that is hard to work with. Since you’re probably not going to change these people, the best way to be effective is to recognize their type and adapt how you respond to them.
Aggressive and/or Condescending
Sometimes these people come from organizations where aggressive or competitive behavior is encouraged. Stock traders, for example, are expected to be aggressive. Some may have learned they’re more likely to get their way if they come on strong, and others may simply lack the self-awareness to know how they are coming across.
You will be most effective with this personality type if you are calm, centered, and unflappable. In conversations, do your best to ignore their aggression and stay on message. If their behavior becomes egregious and they start yelling at you, you can say, “I would like to discuss this with you; will you please lower your voice?” If the person continues to yell, your best option may be to end the conversation. But don’t let them off the hook; tell them you will resume the discussion later when it can be conducted at a lower, more appropriate volume.
Placaters will agree to just about anything to make others happy, but often they can’t deliver because they’re overcommitted. Because of their inability to say no, you can’t trust that they will come through for you. One way to deal with them is to inquire about their schedule and whether they’ll have time for your work. Give them permission to decline the work by letting them know you can ask someone else to do it. If they insist they have the time, give them an earlier due date than you need and check in on their progress along the way. It may be underhanded to misrepresent your schedule, but if you have been burned by a placater before, you know you have to do whatever is necessary to make sure they get the work done.Manipulators
When you speak with someone who is a manipulator you often get the sense that they have a hidden agenda. If what they are telling you sounds too good to be true, it probably is and it’s your job to ferret out the truth.
Manipulators look for people who take what they say at face value and don’t question them. So ask a lot of questions and insist on concrete answers, not vague reassurances. Take time to think through what they are offering, and don’t decide on the spot. If they have exhausted you, put on a smile and say, “Well, this sounds good, but what aren’t you telling me?” Be quiet and see what they say. If they seem to be verbally tap dancing, you need to find another dance partner.
Chatty people can consume your productive time. When someone is settling in for a gabfest, tell them you only have a few minutes before you have to head to a meeting. If maintaining a good relationship with a talker is important, consider making a date for lunch. “I’d love to hear about your weekend, but I’m on a deadline,” you might say. “Can we talk at lunch?” The invitation lets the person know you value them and talking over lunch keeps them from eating into your day.
It’s often difficult to get passive people to take a position. They may say, “Whatever you want to do is fine.” You might think they’re being magnanimous, but they may simply be avoiding having to make a decision and being held accountable for it. Insist that they give you their thoughts, especially if you suspect they may be withholding their opinion so they can criticize your decision later. And if they still have nothing to say, tell them you will take their silence as concurrence with the decision.
Victims and blamers never take responsibility for their shortcomings and mistakes. They always claim someone or something else is to blame for their not being able to get their work done. You can short-circuit their finger pointing by asking what obstacles they may encounter and what steps they can take to minimize their impact. Tell them you need regular progress reports on specific dates and ask them to warn you the minute a potential issue crops up. After all, you just want them to succeed.
These characters seem to enjoy finding things to complain about. You offer free breakfast at a training event and they complain that you served bagels instead of croissants. They note every inconsistency in a document, no matter how insignificant, and misspellings are an unforgivable offense. Your best approach is to not take their criticism personally and appreciate their actionable suggestions. If you ask them to review a document or presentation and note any errors, they can’t complain about the finished product when they had the opportunity to improve it.
This group seems to always see the negative in any idea. When you suggest that the team do Y, they will give you many reasons why Y won’t work. You might try turning the tables on contrarians and become contrary yourself, saying “I don’t think we can do Y.” To your surprise, they will often respond, “Of course, we can.”
There are no doubt many other personality types that can be challenging to work with. When you come across them, keep in mind the universal guidance: don’t take things personally, stay calm and centered, ask questions to clarify, and look for solutions to engage the person positively.