6 Difficult Workplace Personalities to Manage

When training new managers, it’s important to note the array of personalities they may be confronted with.

Workplace personalities I have not enjoyed over the years are many. My own personality probably has made others feel the same at times. Here’s what a post on Entrepreneur by Emily Reynolds Bergh notes about managing six common personality types that can be difficult if not handled properly.

1. Detail-Oriented Perfectionist

The “detail-oriented perfectionist” is at the top of Bergh’s list, and at the top of mine in terms of personalities that can be highly unpleasant when paired with aggressive tendencies. Being a detail-oriented perfectionist is great, until you are imposing those standards on others and failing to do so with tact and sensitivity. One way to avoid frustration if you’re not yourself a detail-oriented perfectionist, writes Bergh, is to provide instructions for projects over the phone, rather than through e-mail. Your more detail-oriented colleague likely will have many questions you hadn’t thought of.

2. Defensive Type

The second personality type Bergh highlights is the “defensive type who doesn’t take feedback well.” This is me, especially on a bad day. I may not express my annoyance and anger at the negative feedback, but I will feel it inside and sometimes hold it against the person who had a critique for me. I also tend to be friends with people who have my same personality type (i.e., sensitive people). If you’re not sensitive yourself, it can be hard to understand why even “constructive” criticism can be angering. One reason is that it’s often delivered in ways that rub a sensitive person the wrong way. And it takes little to rub a sensitive person the wrong way. Providing criticism in all caps can be a trigger because it can come across as someone yelling at you. Another trigger for me is multiple question marks. I always wonder if the person communicating with me is trying to express that they are angry or outraged that they must ask the question, or that they are frantic for an answer. What are the multiple questions marks intended to connote?

Bergh recommends couching the criticism in a “praise sandwich” with the criticism in the middle. That said, a sensitive person typically will catch on to this tactic at some point. I had a boss who did this. I would cringe whenever he praised me because I knew something bad was coming.

3. Wannabe Coach

The third personality Bergh calls attention to is the “wannabe coach instead of field player.” This is the person who wants to be the leader, rather than the one being led. “Recognize this personality’s need to lead something and give them something to lead: a department, a niche of the business, a particular client list,” Bergh advises.

4. Overly Confident Type

The fourth potentially difficult personality type on Bergh’s list is the “overly confident type.” This is the person I often have found is not as confident as they would have people think. An insecure person who is overcompensating sometimes will demonstrate over-obvious “confidence.” To that point, Bergh’s advice for managing this kind of person is similar to what a sensitive person like me would need: “Red-line their work as needed—no long, drawn-out criticisms and explanations or lecturing that would just be met with resistance. Simply show in black-and-white the tweaks that would elevate their output with the goal of them noticing their own areas for improvement.”

5. Low-Motivation Employee

The “low-motivation” employee also can pose big challenges to managers. I used to be a low-motivation person as a child, so I know what it’s like. I’ve become a self-starter as an adult by necessity, but I know what it’s like to feel no desire to do anything—and then to actually follow through and do nothing. If I had an employee like this, my thought would be to give them a few chances to learn to self-start and then terminate their employment. Bergh, however, suggests my approach would be a mistake. She believes these people can make “stellar” employees. “Send many reminders: upcoming projects, pending deadlines, and expected benchmarks. They may not look at the clock naturally, but your notifications will prompt them to,” she writes.

6. Challenged Organizer

Last, Bergh highlights the “challenged organizer.” This, in other words, is a highly disorganized person. The worst of this personality is when it’s paired with a hyper-critical personality type. There may be nothing more annoying than a person who is highly critical, yet doesn’t know what’s going on and doesn’t follow through on their own work. “Require them to use your company’s project management software to automate and track job progress,” Bergh advises.

Train Managers on Personality Types

When training new managers, it’s important to note the array of personalities they may be confronted with. It’s good to be able to identify the major personality types in advance during training, so when the manager experiences an employee with a personality that they are struggling with, they immediately will have a game plan to implement.

Do you train managers on personality types, and how to manage the many different personalities that will work under them?