How to Handle Difficult Personalities in the Workplace

There are certain types of difficult behaviors and attitudes that occur in the workplace. Below, we have outlined the most common personalities that employers encounter in the workplace and how to approach their behavior.

Type 1: This employee has a tendency to quickly point out errors, bad results, or mistakes. As a result, this employee tends to come across as condescending to other employees and undermine innovation and morale.

Approach:  This employee has critical thinking skills that need to be put to good use. Challenge this employee to improve upon others’ ideas, rather than discounting the ideas completely. Coach this employee to help make his/her presentation and style more palatable, but still offer constructive suggestions that lead to improvements.

Type 2: This employee’s personal life tends to disrupt their work life. This employee may overshare and make other employees feel uncomfortable. 


Approach: Consider the oversharing may reflect underlying medical issues. Avoid harassment and miscommunication. Highlight the organization's employee assistance program or other resources that may be offered.

Regardless of the personality type, here are five (5) tips to better manage difficult personalities in the workplace:

  • Listen. Actively listening is one of the best ways to ensure employees feel acknowledged. Remember to always “listen to” not “listen for.”
  • Reflect respect and dignity toward the other person. Regardless of the employee’s reaction, showing contempt will not help to reach a resolution with the employee.
  • Don’t judge. Whether you are addressing a body odor issue or a performance concern, approaching the situation in a non-bias and understanding manner.
  • Remain calm. Managing your verbal and non-verbal cues is critical to handling difficult personalities in the workplace.
  • Set limits and boundaries. While the other tips promote listening and remaining calm, it is still within your right to assertively communicate your boundaries by saying, “Please don’t speak to me like that.” If the conversation gets overly heated, it may be necessary to take a deep breath or a brief break from the conversation.

For more tips on how to address difficult personalities in the workplace or to learn about coaching/mentoring sessions, please contact HR Partners at 785-233-7860. In addition, we would be pleased to assist you with any other HR matters your business may need guidance with.

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Washburn University Alumni Association and Foundation

Gina Stewart
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Washburn University Alumni Association and Foundation

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