The four different personalities you will come across at work – and how to deal with them

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Steve Wainwright, Managing Director EMEA, at Skillsoft

In the world of work, it is likely that – at some point – you will come across a co-worker, manager or employee you do not see eye to eye with.

For some of you, this may have already happened or be occurring right now.  The co-worker might be pessimistic, domineering – even unreliable or selfish.

In an ideal world, a difficult co-worker would realise their shortcomings, and do their best to improve themselves and their behaviour – but it doesn’t always work that way.  To be successful in business, one of the most important skills you can possess is the ability to adapt your manner to communicate with different types of people.  This capability allows you to enhance workplace collaboration and productivity, as well as to increase your chance of successful outcomes.  By having this skill in your arsenal, you will become better equipped to rise through the business world.

Below you can find an analysis of the four most common difficult personalities you are likely to see in the workplace, and how to identify and professionally deal with each.

The workplace bully (dominant-controlling personality)

Dominant-controlling personalities know what they want.  They are assertive, bold and great at making decisions in times of high pressure.  However, the pushy, decisive nature of this personality can also make them seem bullish and aggressive, which can be tricky for co-workers to handle.  On an off day, the D-C personality is particularly demanding and short-fused.  While you might be tempted to keep your distance from them, within a workplace team, this will only hinder collaboration.  Here’s how to communicate with the d-c proficiently:  

  • Appeal to their straight-to-the-point nature by avoiding small talk and jumping straight to the matter at hand
  • Avoid vagueness and prepare what you want to discuss beforehand
  • Stand your ground if you disagree with their point of view, but make sure you can back up your opinion with concise facts
  • Don’t take their communicative style personally – it is just how they are!

The nit-picker (analytical-obsessive personality)

Analytical obsessives have their place in every organisation.  They are typically great with numbers, and their perfectionist tendencies mean that they are unlikely to let a mistake get past them.  The issue with A-Os is that they can struggle to accept workplace changes, and may get caught up in perfecting detail, rather than thinking about the bigger picture.  However, there are ways to get the best out of your nit-picking team member: 

  • Base your conversation with you A-O colleague on the facts, numbers and details
  • Give them warning about organisational changes where possible.  To feel comfortable, they need to be ‘in the know’
  • Steer them towards tasks that suit their fastidious nature where possible 
  • Ensure feedback is not too critical, as the perfectionist A-O is likely to take this harder than other colleagues  

The pendulum (expressive-impulsive personality)

Expressive-impulsives are gregarious, creative and motivated by enjoyment.  Although innovative and positive when in high spirits, on a bad day this personality pendulum-swings to become frantic, distracted and hurried in their approach.  This means they are likely to make mistakes.  However, their often-sensitive nature means that they are unlikely to take responsibility for their errors.   But – like every personality type – the E-I does have a lot of good traits.  Here’s how to get the best out of them:

  • Resist scolding an E-I for a mistake and try to be very constructive in your feedback
  • Build a rapport with the E-I; they appreciate colleagues who they can have a friendly chat with
  • Let them know you appreciate their energy and ideas, but challenge them by giving them tasks that require them to organise their thoughts where possible
  • Be prepared to watch them take and seek the spotlight sometimes.  By nature, E-Is seek attention and approval of their creative ideas.  A ‘well done’ here and there can go along way for the E-I

The glass-half-empty (sceptical-negative personality)

Sceptical-negatives are realist and risk-averse.  They like to look at the facts before trying something new, and will always air on the side of caution.  While this can be great at making the whole team ‘look before they jump’, it can also create poor morale and cause conflict within the workplace.  S-Ns have no problem with criticising others ideas or decisions.  Although this can be unpleasant to deal with, there are ways of working productively with this personality type:

  • Be mindful when speaking with an S-N that they are likely to be pessimistic
  • Don’t let yourself catch their negatively – stay positive
  • Listen to the S-N – they might have a point!  However, ensure that they stick to the topic at hand, and gently stop the conversation if it turns into nagging rather than a productive discussion
  • When the S-N presents a problem to you, focus on a solution or way to improve the issue rather than becoming pessimistic yourself

By having a baseline understanding of the above personalities, you can become more mindful of your interactions with co-workers.  By altering your approach to each individual personality type, you are more likely to get the best out of them as employees – as well as feel more competent within yourself.

Steve WainwrightAbout the author

Steve Wainwright is Managing Director of Skillsoft (and SumTotal, a Skillsoft company) in Europe, Middle East and Africa.  He is primarily responsible for overseeing Skillsoft’s direct and channel sales operations in the region, including business development, sales, marketing and the successful implementation of Skillsoft’s products and services across EMEA.
Steve is a passionate advocate for learning and development (L&D) and has more than 25 years’ experience within organisations providing workforce solutions.

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