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How to manage a difficult personality at work

What is the definition of a difficult employee in your eyes? Is it an employee who does not listen, who arrives late, who puts off everything, who argues every decision made?

Although what is considered "difficult" may vary from one person to another, there are certain personality traits that come together, can concoct a recipe leading to problematic behavior in the workplace.

Working with a difficult personality at work is a situation that everyone can relate to, and it can be one of the hardest to overcome. So, how to handle a difficult personality at work?

What does a difficult personality look like at work?

Difficult personalities can be very different. They can be indirect and suggest that all is well, or be very direct, threatening and explicit.

Many would be surprised to know that it is not necessarily the least productive people who have difficult personalities. Top performers may have personality traits that cause hardship, conflict and lack of synergy within an organization.

Employees may be temporarily more difficult because of stress at work or at home. So you have to determine if the difficult personality at work is contextual or if it is a recurring problem, so deeply rooted in their personality.

In order to better manage difficult personalities at work, you need to get a global picture allowing you to identify:

personality traits that you feel are more problematic at work
the environment in which you work (context, tasks, organizational culture)
your own personality traits and natural reflexes

The apparent aggressor
There are risks that difficult personalities at work will cause conflict, frustration, demotivation and confusion among peers. For example: those who cause problems by their tendency to assert their point on everything and nothing, who grumble and who portray an egocentric attitude. Their lack of filters and their aggressive behavior usually make people around them feel threatened.

With these types of difficult personalities, you must look beyond what is wrong and seek a solution. Sometimes it can be as simple as asking them for their opinion on something (because you know very well that you are going to get it anyway, but in this way they may feel more involved and even flattered than you have asked, which, in turn, can soften their answers).

Even if you decide not to go ahead with their opinions or ideas, you will at least have allowed them to verbalize their point of view in a more controlled setting. Their basic personality will not change, but it can help contain it.

A difficult personality at work is not always obvious
What about the less obvious types of difficult personalities? These people who never speak, who let the emotions intensify and play the victim in all situations. They may be just as difficult to manage because their colleagues will feel stuck trying to figure out how that person feels, and then really discover it later, at a much less convenient time. Unlike the more obvious difficult personalities, with the less obvious ones, you'll have to start by finding out what's wrong, then finding a solution.

That's why regular follow-up and feedback sessions are important not only to maintain a steady and stable flow, but also to give employees the opportunity to express themselves little by little. If you work with people who have difficulty expressing themselves or dealing with certain issues, you will need to pay particular attention to their nonverbal, such as difficulty in making eye contact, lifting eyes to the sky when confronted with comments, more closed body language, feeling of tension, tense facial expressions, etc.

Become aware of the difficult personality at work
Whether you are dealing with direct or passive-aggressive behavior, it is imperative to learn more about the situation. People with difficult personalities need to be aware of their own natural reflexes and how these can affect others, just as much as you need to be aware of how your personality can be influenced by others.

Returning to basics by using the "I" to open the conversation is a good way to prevent the other party from being on the defensive. This allows you to express how you feel without putting all the blame on the other. "I feel like I can not put my point of view when I am interrupted" can be much more effective than "you hurt me when you cut me off". I know what you think: a simple "I" will not make the difference with narcissistic and irrational employees. Maybe, but it will at least have the effect of not making things worse. See it as a way to break the ice, not a solution. As previously mentioned, awareness is the key, and a psychometric test can objectively provide you with the personality differences (and similarities) that may be causing your problems.

Hard Work Personality: A Bad Habit Some people may repeat difficult behaviours routinely or because they have proven to be effective for them in the past. They may be rigid and resistant to change (which may be a difficult personality in themselves), or may have never been confronted with their behavior in the past, and they are not aware that they are creating more harm than good. Help them understand the consequences of their actions and offer them different responses to certain situations by leading by example, role-playing games, or helping them learn to detect the signs that can trigger problematic behavior. Wider reach We also need to take a broader perspective on difficult personalities at work: to separate the person from the problem, to understand that people generally behave this way because of who they are, not because of remember that stress and demotivation can make someone more difficult to manage than usual, and try to take a proactive, non-reactive approach.

To effectively manage a difficult personality at work, you must discover the natural reflexes of your employees, understand the context, and broaden your perception of why you categorize them as "difficult" in the first place. Do not focus only on the negative, but work to find a solution. Systematically follow up to prevent certain behaviours from getting worse, and open the conversation with these employees proactively.