Old Opponents and People of Royal Descent

By Nancy Ormos-Gadde

Sam rubs his temples as he leans back in his chair. His pulse is pounding, his face is flushed. He wipes his sweaty palms on his pant leg and releases a sigh. After today’s kick-off meeting, Sam is not sure he can handle working on yet another project with Stephanie, but what option does he have?

Aggressive, arrogant, negative, demanding, unproductive, obscure, depressing, sarcastic people don’t just make bad spouses; they make bad co-workers and employees too. We’ve all met them. In fact, you may have a meeting with one in just a few minutes!

So here’s the million-dollar question—how does one deal with these incredibly difficult personality types? Not working with them is probably not an option. Sending someone else in to do the work on your behalf is a possibility, but how practical is that? As hard as it sounds, your best bet is to figure out how to work with this type of person in a way that gets the job done.

Below is a list of personality types that can be difficult to work with. There’s also a description of the characteristics that make up that type of personality and tips for working with these folks:

  1. Opponent: Hostile or intimidating. They like to set the agenda and decide what it is you will do and when you will do it. Tip: Stay calm. Opponents can generate a lot of tension among those around them. Be patient. Opponents need to feel heard. Treat them with kindness. Most opponents feel a good measure of paranoia. If you treat them with respect and kindness, their paranoia cannot take root.

  2. Royalty: Always the expert. Facts are power, and they have all the facts. They use a tone of absolute certainty. They overwhelm people with their knowledge of data and statistics. They can be condescending and imposing. Tip: Do your homework. Make sure your information is accurate and complete. No guessing here. Show respect for their knowledge. You can do this by paraphrasing their input and referring to past contributions. Don’t flaunt your own expert credentials. It won’t work. No referring to past contributions.  No one knows more than they do (in their opinion).

  3. Passive – Aggressive: Sarcastic. Indirect with criticism. Sometimes underhanded. Always ready with excuses, justifications or alternative reasons. Tip: Directly confront the behavior, e.g.,“You called the project, “Mission Impossible” yesterday. Is that how you really feel?” Use assertive communication skills to let a person know how their actions affect you and the team, e.g., “By referring to the project as “Mission Impossible,” you create a sense of hopelessness.”

  4. Depressing Pessimist: Negative and or defeated. They can come across as self-righteous. They distrust power and always find fault in what is being proposed. Tip: Be prepared to interrupt and take control. Don't agree. Agreeing only validates for them that it is your fault and they are blameless. Ask them how they would like the discussion to end; what results do they want to achieve? Assign them to fact-finding tasks. This exercise will force the pessimist to use objectivity.

  5. Pleaser: They over commit. Can’t say “no.” They avoid conflict at all costs, are outgoing, sociable, personal with others, and very attentive. They will tell you things that are good to hear and then let you down by making unrealistic commitments. Tip: Don't allow them to over-commit. Ask them questions concerning their current workload, their project commitments, etc. Make it easier for them to bring up concerns. Be suspicious of their good humor and playfulness. It often masks their true feelings.

  6. Obscure: Won’t reveal their true motives or positions. These people limit risk and seek safety by refusing to respond, and are often non-committal despite the fact that something is definitely wrong. Tip: Manage expectations. Tell those attending the meeting that you need to hear from everyone. Get them to talk. Ask open-ended questions that start with “how” and “what.” Be attentive. When the obscure one does offer feedback, really listen. Ask for more information, if appropriate.

A Final Word of Advice

When working with a difficult person, make it your goal to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This is Habit #5 from Stephen Covey’s, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. If you're like most people, you probably first seek to be understood; you want to get your point across. In doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you're listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely.

The next time you must work along side an opponent, a depressing pessimist or someone of royal decent, remember this: Everyone has the potential to be difficult. Given the right or wrong circumstances—even you. Your character may not always mesh well with other character traits and given the type of project and or your objectives, your tolerance level or patience may be in short supply.

You can count on working with someone whose personality challenges you. Be ready. Your ability to work well with difficult people will not go unnoticed. Whether you are a business owner, a manager or a single contributor, being able to work with even the most challenging of people will pay off in spades.

Suggestions for further reading:

How To Deal With Difficult People- Part 3 The Passive Aggressive

Seven Difficult Personality Types and How to Deal with Them

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Difficult People

How To Deal With Difficult People

Personality types: Your key to better business relationships

By Adam

August 25, 2010