Most of us don’t get to choose the folks with whom we work. People we might thoroughly enjoy in a social setting can suddenly become the enemy in the face of workplace expectations and deadlines. So how do you manage difficult characters at work without losing your sanity or your job?  In my experience here’s a breakdown of the most commonly dreaded workplace personalities and a few tips on how to cope with them:


The “Horrible” Boss: 

Some bosses who have trouble leading are actually extremely knowledgeable in their field. They simply lack the leadership skills to convey their expertise without coming across as egotistical, unsupportive, overly controlling or downright mean. Sometimes the difficulties they pose are the result of frustration at having to lead others rather than directly using their skillset. Engaging with them about what they do enjoy professionally may be one way to thaw an otherwise chilly relationship. Even if forced to feign interest, why not inquire about their greatest professional accomplishments? Although dealing with them feels like “nails on a chalkboard” let them know you’re there to support them in accomplishing their team or departmental goals.  And if all else fails, secretly create your own “What Not to Do” guidebook to avoid making similar mistakes in your current or future role as a manager.  Some of the best life lessons we learn can come from dealing with folks who’ve gotten it all wrong!


The Perfectionist: 

So she expects everything to be ex-act-ly right (according to her)?  Although easier said than done, try to use her nit-picking and “holier than though” attitude to your advantage.  Although getting caught up in minutia may not be your penchant, perhaps you can learn a thing or two from Miss Perfect.   Why not use working with her as an opportunity to let her worry about the details while you step back and improve the bigger picture? As an added bonus, maybe some of her perfectionist tendencies will rub off on you, and by example, you’ll be able to demonstrate the value in focusing on the big picture.


The Brown-Noser: 

He has zero backbone and ethics but gets constant accolades from the head honchos by ratting out his co-workers and “managing up” like a champ.  First of all, take pride in the fact that you’re more of a straight-shooter and an honorable colleague. That said try taking some queues from the brown-noser.  He’s probably developed the ability to speak with tact and diplomacy into a high art form.  Try combining his ability to schmooze with your own great ideas and intent; you may have just stumbled upon a winning combination!


The Irritant: 

Maybe he can’t sit through a meeting without smacking his gum, or loves to listen to the sound of his own voice. Whatever it is, being around him grates on your last nerve.  Difficult as it may be, if you can see past his presentation he make actually add some unexpected value.  And trust me – he annoys everyone. Realizing this may turn at least some of your annoyance into empathy.


Actually the list of difficult workplace personalities is endless; I’ve just shared with you some of my personal favorites.  As with so many other life situations, you have a choice to make:  Are you going to let the “co-worker from hell” get the best of you, or will you instead decide to capitalize on the value hidden in their eccentricities?  As a new year begins, why not turn work place adversity into opportunity?

When Workplace Personalities Collide

by Maud Purcell

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© 2015 Maud Purcell