4 of the Toughest Work Personalities – and How to Deal With Them

Jan 7, 2016
7 Min Read

Unless you work all on your own in a cave somewhere, you’ve probably had your share of difficult coworkers over the years – from the guy who thinks he knows everything to the person who sees work as an interruption to her day-long socializing. But there are ways to deal with difficult coworkers reasonably effectively, or at least to minimize the amount of aggravation they cause you.

Here are four of the most common difficult personalities you might encounter at work, and how to neutralize them.

1. The chatterbox. Some chatterboxes are relentlessly social, and others are simply enamored of their own thoughts and expect everyone else to be too. Whichever type you’re dealing with, they may distract others, make it hard to stick to a meeting agenda, or ever have a conversation that approaches being concise.

How to deal with a chatterbox: Be willing to address the behavior forthrightly by saying things like:

  • “We need to get through all the items on the agenda, so let’s move on to the next topic.”
  • “We only have 30 minutes scheduled for this meeting, so I’d like people to hold comments until the end unless they’re crucial.”
  • “That’s a really interesting thought, but for now let’s stick to Topic X.”
  • “I’ve only got a couple of minutes before I’ve got to get on a call, but I wanted to ask you about…”
  • “I’m on deadline right now – can’t talk!”

If you manage a chatterbox and notice the person regularly distracting others, you might say something like, “I love that relationships with your coworkers are important to you, but I want to ask that you balance that with people’s need not to get drawn into long conversations that take their focus away from their work.”

2. The Eeyore. Eeyores, like their grumpy donkey namesake, exude negativity. In their world, nothing is a good idea, plans are doomed to failure, and suggestions are just new opportunities for defeat. Unsurprisingly, colleagues of Eeyores usually find them exhausting.

How to deal with an Eeyore: Compassion and a sense of humor are your best bet. To the extent that you can, remember how miserable the person must be with this kind of mindset. When compassion runs dry, try to at least see the humor in the predictability of the naysaying.

3. The know-it-all. Know-it-alls have an opinion on everything, and love to share it – including telling you how to do your job better, where you went wrong in that report, why the CEO won’t like your presentation, and reasons that next year’s product launch won’t work.

How to deal with a know-it-all: Your best strategy here is to ignore and shut down. As much as possible, let all the unsolicited opining roll right off of you. Don’t get drawn into a back and forth; instead, rely on bland responses like “Hmmm, it’s a thought” and “I’ll think about that.”

4. The slacker. The slacker always finds ways to do the least amount of work possible, is often seen indulging in marathon YouTube sessions, and has gained a reputation among coworkers for not pulling her weight.

How to deal with a slacker: Assuming that you don’t manage the slacker, there’s not a lot you can do here. Your choices are basically to ignore the slacking or to speak to someone in a position of authority over the person. If you do choose to speak up, it’s smart to come prepared with examples of how the situation has impacted your ability to do your job (for example, if you’re dependent on the coworker to supply you data and you’re not receiving it on time).

However, if you’re the slacker’s manager, there’s only one option here, and that’s to set clear expectations about the changes you need to see in her work performance and the consequences for not meeting those expectations, and then follow through. This is the least enjoyable part about being a manager, but it’s also one of the most fundamental job duties. If you don’t do it, you’ll bring down everyone else’s morale (and possibly their performance, over time – after all, why should others work hard when the slacker gets away with little work?) and seriously impact your team’s results.

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