How To Handle Five Difficult Office Personalities
Here's how to recognize and work with difficult office personalities.
An office environment is similar to any other situation where many people must work together in order to achieve similar goals. There are natural leaders among the group along with natural followers. Some will be extroverted and firm in their convictions while others may be more introverted and easily swayed to the majority opinion on an issue. Every employee, from management to labor, brings with him/her personality traits that are unique. Some characteristics are most welcome, such as leadership ability or diplomacy in discussions. Other personality traits, however, can adversely affect the delicate interpersonal dynamics of the office environment. Dealing with these difficult personalities can be a challenge, but here are some ideas on how to identify five common disruptive personality types and how to deal with them on a daily basis.
1. Chronic Complainer
The chronic complainer is usually the co-worker who has worked for the company a few years longer than he or she might have expected. He or she may have once been a model employee, but a few shot-down ideas or confrontations with the boss (or various other reasons) may have caused this person to be the voice of doom for the office. If bad news is circulating, the chronic complainer will hear it first and enjoy breaking it to fellow employees. The chief effect of the complainer is a general lowering of morale and a reluctance to initiate constructive dialogue with "the enemy" (i.e., the supervisors and higher management).
The best way to handle a chronic complainer is to keep his/her views in perspective. This person's opinions do not have to reflect those of the entire office. Whatever events triggered this person's obvious dissatisfaction are his/her own issues and should not affect your own goals and relationships with key members of management. Forget about trying to change the complainer's opinions; instead, concentrate on forming your own. Complainers are sometimes completely justified in their complaints but still allow room for more objective facts concerning the issue involved.
2. Office Gossip
This personality type lives for the controversies and disagreements that may arise in such close quarters. Although rarely a part of the official loop, the office gossip will routinely position him/herself to "accidentally" overhear privileged communications or intercept confidential memos and phone calls. The chief effect of the office gossip is misinformation and the loss of trust among peers. Some co-workers may establish a covert relationship with the office gossip, hoping to obtain information that will be useful to them. This is usually an unhealthy alliance, and one you should avoid at all costs. Deal with the office gossip by not dealing with them. Once you have identified a gossip, make an effort to avoid discussing anything remotely confidential near him/her. If he/she approaches you with a new rumor, politely but firmly inform the gossip that you are not interested in what he/she has to offer. Gossips tend to seek out only those who are eager to hear the latest.
3. Information Miser
If you work in a business environment that uses a system of "nodes" as its model, you may encounter the information miser. The nodes model relies on each element of the company working as a separate but equal "node" or point on a grid structure. Accountants answer to an accounting manager, who compiles the information and waits until another node (e.g., marketing) makes a formal request for that information. Most of the time, this arrangement works well. Decisions in any one node do not have to be approved by an executive who may not be strong in that area. But on the human level, certain node managers realize that their information is vital, which gives them considerable leverage when bargaining for their own agendas. They will hold onto their information until they are satisfied that their own needs have been met. Dealing with the information miser may be very difficult because in a sense he/she does hold most of the cards. You need to keep a human face on your dealings with such people. As long as you represent "Marketing," misers can hold out as long as they need to. If you come across as "Bob, the nice guy who works in marketing," then they are more likely to give you what you need. Acknowledge their power, but appeal to their human side.
Perhaps the worst scenario possible in the workplace can be the inevitable calling of the expert. You've done everything you know how in order to fix the situation, but now you must call in the reinforcements. Introducing...the know-it-all. The know-it-all may be a skilled repairman or a knowledgeable consultant but an absolute disaster as a co-worker. The chief effect of a know-it-all is a definite reluctance to call for such help ever again. Situations that could actually benefit from their expertise may go unaddressed for months simply because no one wants to deal with the know-it-all. This is a difficult challenge if you want to maintain a good working relationship with this obviously talented and useful co-worker. Keep in mind that you won't change their arrogance and overbearing ways overnight, if ever. Try to encourage some interaction away from the office environment: an invitation to the after-work wind down or an informal party. Know-it-alls sometimes use their intelligence as a defense against personal intimacy with their fellow workers. They may not even realize that their sharp remarks and quick dismissals sound as harsh as they do. You may privately suggest to such a difficult co-worker that he/she use more discretion when dealing with co-workers.
5. Mood swingers
These are the people whose daily temperatures must be taken before entering into any conversation. They may be perfectly pleasant one day, then completely irrational the next. If they are in a supervisory position, their subordinates usually walk on eggshells in their presence. They are the mood swingers, a tribe unto themselves. Their most common effect on the office environment is an atmosphere of uncertainty and dread. Maybe they will be receptive to your idea; maybe they will laugh you out of their office. You just can't tell. The best way to deal with a mood swinger is to strike while the iron is hot. Get as much work done with them on their good days, so the bad days won't affect your own agenda nearly as much. You don't really want to know all the reasons behind their moodiness and emotional outbursts, so don't bother trying. Their bad days may seem to coincide with the days you need their input the most, so you may want to change your priorities. Save the bad news for their good days when they are more likely to deal with it rationally. But by the same token, don't confuse bad moods with an inability to function as your supervisor or co-worker. Sure, they are in a terrible frame of mind, but they did show up for work and they can still sign off on that project on which you've been working. Their outbursts are rarely personal, even though they may seem that way while they are happening. As long as you can distance yourself from the brunt of their self-inflicted fury, you can survive the mood swinger pretty much unscathed.