Who hasn’t had experiences with difficult personalities in the workplace? Heck, it may even be what prompted you to set off on your own as a freelancer or small-business owner.
But those people are, alas, everywhere. You’ll probably meet them again. And as a manager, it’s your responsibility to deal with them. Here are some of the people you might meet in your (business) neighborhood, and some suggestions as to how to handle them so that you (and your spouse or partner, sorry) don’t have to think/hear about them both all day and all night.
These are the people who will bring you in close, either through flattery or feigned intimacy, then slowly use that leverage to undermine you and make you question yourself. Liz Kislik at the Harvard Business Review suggests that, while manipulators are often excellent at sucking you in, you can take steps to counter their behavior and make sure you don’t fall for it.
For one, don’t let them get away with subtle digs in public. If you notice a manipulator trying to undermine you or a colleague — whether it’s through a subtle gesture, facial expression, or remark — call them out on the spot. You don’t have to be unkind or similarly underhanded, but Kislik suggests something along the lines of, “Was there something you wanted to add? You looked like you disagreed strongly with what we just heard. Did you want to counter either the conclusion or any of the specifics, or are you comfortable with the report?”
Another way is to be wary and keep your distance when you feel things aren’t right. Whether they are paying you a questionable amount of positive attention or trash-talking other co-workers behind their backs, don’t just nod and stick around for the ride. Ask them what is making them say whatever they’re saying, or if there’s some action they want you to take. The likely response will be “no” — and for them not to bother you again.
These guys are tricky, because it is so damn tempting to listen and play along. After all, they probably know (gossipers are quite intuitive) who you dislike most in the office, and are there at the ready with some dishy-dish about ol’ Susan in accounting.
Don’t take the bait. That’s the first step towards having your time infringed upon, and your ears subject to a constant stream of poison; because once you let a gossiper in, it’s almost impossible to get them out.
Fortunately, though, gossipers can be shut down pretty easily. They’re generally a bit insecure (why else spend all that time trashing other people?), and once they realize you’re not going to play along, they’ll slink away to find another ear. One way to send them packing is to make them account for what they’re saying, by asking them how they got the information they’re sharing with you (that has the double effect of calling them out if what they’re saying isn’t necessarily 100% true). Another shut-down is to actually literally shut the door to your office, if you have one. Only the truly bold will knock to bother you with gossip. Finally, you can be straightforward, and just say, “Let’s talk about something else.” If that doesn’t do it, get up and walk away.
Like gossipers, imposers will tread all over your time if you let them. They’re the people who always need your help with something, who always want to go to lunch/coffee/happy hour with you, or who simply want to stop by your desk every five minutes to hang (DO YOU NOT HAVE YOUR OWN WORK TO DO, IMPOSER?!?). You don’t have to be mean to a person like this, but you do have to be firm. Tell them that you are too busy, and either redirect them to a different colleague (#sorrynotsorry), or — and this might be painful — just let them figure out whatever it is they need to figure out on their own.
The key thing to remember? If they fail, it’s not your fault.
Other folks have described this type of personality as “anger addicts,” but we prefer to just call a spade a spade. People who can’t control their anger at the workplace are jerks (though you can substitute any of a number of other names), and the key to dealing with a jerk to do so quickly. Whether you’re their boss, their peer, or their subordinate, go to human resources (or whomever you report incidents to) the first time it happens, be it yelling, insulting, intimidating, or even physical violence (including throwing things or slamming things around). You want a record of their behavior from day one.
If you’re the boss, it’s probably wise to have a zero-tolerance policy for jerks, because another term for “a-hole” is “lawsuit waiting to happen.” If someone truly, truly cannot control their anger, therapy is the best place for them, not your workspace.
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