by Tina Kuhn
How to Communicate with Difficult People in the Workplace and Successfully Lead Any Personality Type
Successful managers keep their organizations and teams focused on their goals and avoid the mire of drama and frustration. Managers must learn how to deal with the most difficult people, listen and respond to others, resolve conflict, and be a strong leader.
Here are my hands-on strategies for dealing with the ten most challenging personality types:
Manipulation can show up in many different ways in the workplace, creating a toxic environment. Manipulators are often bullies and, by using devious methods, control others. Manipulators often create a chaotic emotional situation allowing the exploitation of others. Manipulators are reacting to fear they are not enough, fear they are not competent. Manipulators are controlling, so it is critical to find a way to take away some of that control in a positive way. Ask probing questions that point out that they are only looking at the picture from one side. For example: Can you help me understand how this benefits the program? With bullies, remain firm. Call their bluff by gently and calmly exposing the fallacies in their statements. Use a direct, no-nonsense approach to reveal their deceptions. The bully has achieved their goal if you get flustered or rattled. Don’t become their victim. We are manipulated because we allow it; and refusing to be manipulated is the first step.
Gossip is rampant in most workplaces. People speculate about everything. You need to act on gossip if it’s disrupting the workplace, causing morale issues, or hurting employees. Gossiping can create a toxic culture causing mistrust and lower morale. When communicating with a Gossiper, please keep in mind that the Gossiper maybe feel anxious about his or her place in the organization. It is better to use a coaching approach to the situation—it is a habit the person needs to break. Use a non-confrontational approach but one that makes it clear you believe the gossip is negative and harmful. The person may or may not understand the harm that is being done.
Naysayers say why things cannot or should not be done. They question every decision and have strong opinions. Naysayers focus on the flaws of the situation. Naysayers want to feel they have been heard. If you ignore them or marginalize them, they will only become louder and more disruptive. A Naysayer comes across blustery and strong but is typically very sensitive and has a deep need to be right. When talking to a Naysayer, keep the discussion on the facts and stay away from your opinions. Listen to their view of the facts. Try to use words that do not convey emotions or judgments. Many times, Naysayers have good ideas, but their approach and method of voicing their ideas is disruptive. When Naysayers are backed into a corner, they dig in and stop listening. Provide Naysayers with a safe place to discuss their opinions and the facts of the situation; give them face-saving opportunities to change their minds without feeling any outside judgment.
Controllers want things done the “right way.” And, of course, the way to do, act, think, and speak is their way. They are interested not just in the outcome but in how you get to the end goal. Controllers are motivated by power and exercising influence over others. They don’t delegate well, and get frustrated with others. Controllers typically do not value emotions. Provide details to help lower anxiety levels. Do not respond with emotion to their controlling. Do not take it personally when they are controlling. Their control compulsion is not about you. The less you react to their incitements, the more objective you can be. Make it a point to give praise and recognize their contributions to the workplace. Controllers typically view things as strictly black-and-white—things are good or bad, right or wrong. Put things in writing so you can be clear and concise, protect yourself from sabotage, and make sure the expectations are clear on both sides. Stand up to a Controller without being confrontational. They do not react well to a direct challenge. Stay calm and controlled while talking to a Controller.
Perfectionists are typically goal-oriented, and expect perfection in themselves and others. Perfectionists are driven by their fear of failure and may conceal mistakes because of fear of judgment. Perfectionists typically take on too much work. A Perfectionist wants to think for others, usually provides too much information, and is easily frustrated about perceptions of equity, fairness, and order. To keep a Perfectionist working at the optimum level, compliment him or her on their organizational skills and accomplishments. Keep a Perfectionist focused on the schedule, otherwise they will continuously re-do work (their work and others’). Achievement is important to them and they need not only to recognize their own work, but also to have others recognize it and express appreciation for it.
The Yes Man
Yes-Men are always trying to please the people around them, and will usually do what is asked (or what they assume is asked) without question. They instinctively avoid conflict and become stressed when disharmony occurs. The danger with having a Yes-Man in your organization is that they are motivated primarily to keep the peace and not necessarily to ensure the organization’s success. These individuals must have a trusted, safe place to discuss difficult issues. Yes-Men should not be blamed for bringing up problems. Instead, they need warm conversations and gentle leading up to the point of the conversation. Yes-Men prefer face-to-face conversations but will respond to email, text, and meetings as long as these are not abrupt or abrasive. Yes-Men tend to be nurturing and easily acknowledge their feelings.
The Drama Queen
There is a Drama Queen in every team. This person thrives on attention, spins small issues into disasters, always tops your stories with a tale of their own, and wants to be the center of attention. Drama Queens can take minor conflicts as personal affronts; they will blame others if they screw up; have dramatic mood shifts; dominate any social gathering; and will overshare. The Drama Queens want to be in the thick of activities and act like a victim. Keep the discussion to facts. Drama Queens tend to exaggerate, blow things out of proportion, and to editorialize. Don’t get sucked into the drama. Ask the Drama Queen to summarize what happened in one sentence. That will force them to get to the facts of the issue. Repeat back the facts that you heard, taking out all emotion, empathy, and compassion. Ask the Drama Queen what they can do about the issue. This pushes the actions back to them. Don’t tell them what to do, as this simply continues the drama. Just listen, and ask what actions they can take to resolve the issue.
Recluses are typically reflective and imaginative, and are often the creative engine of many revolutionary ideas. However, they typically do not do well implementing their ideas. They often become overwhelmed, and have difficulty prioritizing multiple assignments. Recluses need time alone to think and process. They are not motivated by schedules and time constraints; instead, they tune out. Recluses withdraw when there are too many people around or too much pressure. Recluses typically withdraw when communication involves anger, threats, or attacks. When talking to a Recluse, the conversation should be non-threatening in order to permit the Recluse to reflect and think. Know in advance that detailed administrative tasks will not get done. Recluses do not mind at all if other people do all the administrative tasks and make decisions.
Whiners moan, complain, grumble, and blame others for all their difficulties. It takes emotional energy to fend off the negative energy of someone’s constant complaints, making people around the Whiner less productive. Whiners can drag down an organization because the negativity can be “catching,” and soon your whole organization is thinking about what is wrong instead of what is going right. When talking to the Whiner, ask them to help you develop a solution. Sometimes Whiners can point out real issues in an organization. Empower them to help fix the issues and to be invested in changes. If they are part of the solution, their whining will diminish. Keep the conversation positive and lively, if at all possible. Many times, Whiners don’t see how their behavior impacts the organization.
Liars tell untruths. People lie for a variety of reasons: to build up their own image; to cover up an action; to spare people’s feelings; to manipulate others; to put others down; to be more likable; to prevent a conflict or negative reaction to a situation; to justify a behavior; to appear more competent; or to avoid consequences of their actions. When talking to a Liar, pay close attention to the details of what they are saying. Repeat their statements so they know you are paying attention. Follow up with an email documenting every detail of the conversation. Try to understand what motivates the Liar so you can work on solving the underlying problem. Be careful about jumping to conclusions as to who is telling the truth. Practiced Liars are believable and typically seem trustworthy. Pay attention to body language that doesn’t match the words being stated to identify untruths.
Keep these 10 personality types in mind, and you’ll be well on your way to a workplace that has less conflict, better communication, and stronger leadership.
Tina Kuhn is an accomplished Senior Executive with expertise in organizational transformation. Her 35 years of demonstrated success span executive management, operations management, business development, and program management. Throughout her career, Tina has held a number of leadership positions. At present, she serves as President & CEO of a cyber security company. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Information Systems Management from the University of Maryland. Additionally, she earned her Project Management Professional (PMP) credentials through the Project Management Institute (PMI). Tina is the author of The Manager’s Communication Toolkit.