By Winifred Tan
Where there's a group of people, there's bound to be conflict. Biology dictates that we all think and work very differently from one another, and this difference surfaces especially prominently in the workplace, where a potpourri of diverse characters ranging from the easygoing to the dramatic to the over-fastidious are thrown together in close contact for approximately eight hours a day, five days a week, 250 business days a year.
Unlike the days of school, the workplace requires every individual to put aside his differences and work well with his fellow colleagues, supervisors, and subordinates in order to be productive. It is therefore imperative for you, as a member of a larger organisational matrix, to recognise what makes your co-workers tick.
To help you better understand the nuances of workplace behaviour and conflict resolution, we've put together a list of the top five difficult personalities that you're likely to meet at work and how to best to deal with them.
1. The Bully
Although the days of playgrounds and elementary schools are long past, bullies do still exist, albeit in more covert forms. Workplace bullies tend to rely on psychological tactics of intimidation and humiliation to insult, threaten, ostracise and basically bulldoze their colleagues or subordinates. For instance, they will distort the truth or fabricate allegations of underperformance in order to discredit their target. Such bullies are difficult to handle because they often operate within the established rules of the company and out of sight of their superiors.
Battle the bully: Bullies thrive on hostility. They are loud, aggressive, persistent, and expect you to run away in fear or react in anger. As such, you should learn to stand up to them. Be clear and assertive when expressing your opinions, and do not let them interrupt you. If they become openly aggressive, you should ask them to leave, or let them vent until they have run out of steam before expressing your views (supported with clear evidence) confidently. The earlier you confront the bully, the better — don't wait till the bullying escalates into a crisis before reporting it to your manager or the HR executives.
2. The Gossip Mill
Every workplace has at least one gossipmonger. This resident tabloid always has "exclusive" news to share; no one is spared from his barbed words and the negative shadow he casts. It is difficult to pin him down because he takes the truth and manipulates it a little before spreading the word. Before you know it, the entire office will be rife with rumours about your latest office scandal or supposed attempts to influence the boss unfairly.
Nip gossip in the bud: The only way to deal with toxic behaviour like gossiping is to be direct. The next time the Gossip Mill swings by for some catch-up time, inform him politely but firmly that you are not interested in engaging in harmful conversations about other people. Ignore him if he persists in his efforts. Most companies practise open communication and have a zero-tolerance policy towards gossip, so remind yourself that if you're ever unhappy with any aspect of your work, you should be forthright and discuss it through the appropriate channels.
3. The Chronic Attention Seeker
The Chronic Attention Seeker likes to be seen and heard. That doesn't seem too bad, until you realise that he is also taking credit — even when it's not due — for successful projects and failing to acknowledge the help he received from others. Next thing you know, he's been promoted twice while you're still stuck in the same old career rut. Did you mention "unfair"?
Checkmate: The first time the Chronic Attention Seeker steals credit for your work, consider it a genuine mistake and notify him to let others know about your contribution. If he doesn't do so, or he repeats his mistake, notify your supervisor and colleagues so that they can recognise your achievements fairly. Make sure you carefully document all the instructions, correspondence and task plans as evidence to back up your claims. Then in future, unless you're specifically assigned to work with the Chronic Attention Seeker, refuse to help him out again.
4. The Control Freak
If there's anyone who can make Attila the Hun look like Mahatma Gandhi, it's the Control Freak. The Control Freak boss doesn't just want to know what you're doing; he needs to know what you're thinking, every second of the day. To him, employees are robots, best suited for following his instructions blindly down to the very last detail. Micro-managing is a must for He-who-is-deathly-afraid-of-failure.
Take a chill pill: Do not take the Control Freak's criticism personally or attempt to justify his control over you. Instead, explain rationally to him why his dictatorial streak is counter-productive. Offer suggestions on what he should do, and give him the chance to control his compulsive behaviour. Stand your ground and be prepared to walk away if he fails to change for the better.
5. The Sniper
Snipers are arguably the most annoying personality to deal with in the workplace. Like backstabbers, they attack their target anonymously, making petulant remarks and insults disguised as compliments in an attempt to discredit their target. What's worse, some snipers have a fondness for giving backhanded compliments during meetings or in public settings, making it that much harder for the target to determine their true intentions.
It's time to snap: Unfortunately, there's no other way to deal with snipers apart from taking a more aggressive stance, especially if you've reached the end of your temper. That is not to say you should snipe back — it only makes you look unprofessional and encourages the sniper to continue in his destructive behaviour — but you should definitely snap back and show that you're no pushover. Don't be afraid to confront the Sniper about his jabs; just do so in private and be quick and concise about your message, "Yesterday you called attention to my being late to the meeting and suggested that I'm given preferential treatment. Please don't do that again." Alternatively, if you're in a public setting, camouflage the situation by addressing the other parties present, "I apologise for being late as I was on the phone with an important client." Remember, the Sniper is not that difficult to deal with: force him out in the open, highlight his poisonous actions, and pounce hard to make him accountable for them.
Dealing with difficult personalities is an acquired skillset that can only be honed through experience. Even though workplace conflicts can really wear you down emotionally and physically, it is nevertheless important to learn how to manage them appropriately, because unresolved conflict can escalate and lead to distrust, miscommunication, increased stress, reduced creative collaboration, and ultimately, failure.
As a general rule of thumb, don't try to beat these difficult personalities at their own game. Employ as much tact and diplomacy as possible, and eventually you will be able to cultivate long-lasting and healthy relationships in the workplace.
The JobsCentral Group, a CareerBuilder company, is the owner of JobsCentral.com.sg, one of Singapore's largest job and learning portals. Get a free career personality test and more career- and education-related articles at JobsCentral and JobsCentral Community.