How To Cope With Difficult Personalities at Work

image: Geoff LMV (flickr)

By Robert P. Poindexter

Do you work with fellow employees who make your skin crawl? Conversely, do some of your workmates have such brilliant personalities that you actually look forward to seeing them each day? Well, if you’re like most of us, many of your co-workers fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. It’s not surprising that you would feel that way. After all, most offices are simply microcosms of the world at large.

Listed below are a few of the more common personality types one might deal with on a daily basis and some pointers on how to maintain your sanity in an office gone mad.

I-Used-to-Have-A Guy. This dude was only $100.00 away from being movie-star rich when tragedy struck and he had to take this job. Common forms of tragedy run the gamut from a “real bad divorce” to the ever popular “lawsuit just because I failed to use my blinker one day while turning into the First National Bank of Rich People’s parking lot.” He had yachts, airplanes, a little place in Venice and a whole host of uber-wealthy accoutrements.

But, thanks to the other side’s lawyers, he’s brown-bagging it and schlepping in to work each day with the rest of the working class. We all know people who have fallen on hard times and have to return to work for whatever reason, and most of us don’t judge those people harshly, if at all. The problem with this guy is the fact that nothing he says or does seems to have any basis in reality, and he will corner you like a scared rabbit if there is even the slightest hint that you are willing to stay put long enough to hear every last detail of his battle to regain his fortune.

  • How to Cope. First of all, you must understand that other than wasting some of your time, Used-to-Have-A Guy is relatively harmless, as long as you don’t let him talk you into going in on an investment together. If you can avoid being trapped in the same room alone for any length of time, you should be safe. Whatever you do, never challenge the validity of his tale. Doing so only encourages his story telling and you will be subjected to even more grandiose historical highlights. It is simply best to offer the occasional “Really? Wow!!” as you continue to move towards any exit. Soon enough, he’ll figure out that you are a hard target and eventually will give up trying to impress you.

The Boss’s Best Friend. This bundle of joy is living under the (usually) false assumption that he and the Big Cheese are besties and letting you know it is his way of making sure you know you’re in the company of greatness if he’s in the room. The biggest problem here (besides the obvious annoyance) is the fact that in order to keep his dream alive, he will sabotage you without hesitation for even the slightest crumb of back-patting. Yes, he’s been invited on several private outings, and yes, their kids attend the same school.

That is enough for this pariah to claim the “Best Bud Trophy.” The hole in this claim is that the “private outing” was the company off-site breakfast meeting where he was asked by the boss to show up early to help push tables together before the rest of the staff arrived. It is true that their kids attend the same school, but that has more to do with zoning ordinances than friendship.

  • How to Cope. Congeniality is the key here. Remember, even if he’s not as high on the food chain as he thinks he is, some insecure bosses are glad he’s there. Choose what you say carefully in his presence. Keep in mind he can actually be beneficial to you when used properly.  Anything you say around him is likely to be heard by the boss, so send some messages cloaked in gossip and ‘casual Tuesday’ could become the norm.

The My-Life-is-Total-Misery Girl.  She just got a raise! Unfortunately, she is worth much more then the pittance they threw at her. She just got a new car! Too bad it’s red instead of black. She really wanted black, but the dealership didn’t try hard enough to talk her out of the red. Her husband hasn’t been home since last July when he went to get milk, and it’s April now. After a few minutes in her presence, most of us want to join him. Gloom and doom seems to beset her at every turn, and she wishes nothing more than to add members to her club. If were only pity she wanted, you could almost feel sorry for her. After all, who doesn’t need a shoulder to cry on sometimes? What she wants is much more sinister then this. She wants companionship in this world of misery.

  • How to Cope.  Whatever you do, do not attempt to console this person. Trying to do so would be akin to wrestling with a pig. The pig enjoys it too much, and you just end up muddy. No matter how strong-willed you think you are, she will eventually pull you into her drama given half a chance. Physical avoidance may not be possible, but tuning out the constant buzz of her groaning is. This is the one person you can interrupt without appearing rude. People around you will applaud (even if only in their heads),  and she will never notice because of the focus placed on her own need to vent.

Lest anyone should think me mean-spirited or judgmental, my purpose for this post is merely to point out that we all have people we work with that may be difficult. The above examples are by no means all-inclusive of the range of personalities many of us encounter as we go through our work day.

Learning to cope with the challenges of certain quirks in those we work with can mean the difference between a good day at work and a day that leaves you exhausted and wrung out by the time it’s over.

So stay focused on the job at hand and just be glad it’s not you people are trying to avoid.






2 Responses to “How To Cope With Difficult Personalities at Work”

  1. Rosa Vargas says:

    Great advice, Rob! So well conveyed. I am sure you will save many people a lot of frustration! I am definitely going to put some of these tips into practice. Virtual work environments are not immune to difficult personalities (though you can mitigate it more than in a “RL” setting). Rosa

    • Thank you Rosa. You’re absolutely right about not being immune in our virtual world. It’s great to hear from you, and I’m always pleased to know that my rantings have struck a cord with respected careers industry professionals like you.

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