How To Manage Difficult Personality Types

You’ll find all types in an office, right? As a manager with a team ranging from the type A worker bee who’s more detail-oriented than even you are to the brilliant-yet-frustrating creative who’s full of fantastic ideas but lacks follow-through, your communication style needs to be flexible. A good manager understands that each employee requires a slightly different tack to get the best results.

Here are some tips to help you communicate with 5 common types of people you may work with.

The Narcissist

True narcissists constantly seek attention, and lack empathy. He’s motivated primarily by the question: “what’s in it for me?” If you can show him that hard work and dedication are in his best interest, the narcissist can be a good worker – but be aware that he’ll constantly be on the lookout to move up. If the narcissist doesn’t see any path to promotion, he’ll stop contributing, or may set his sights on your position.

Narcissists can also be extremely sensitive to criticism, and may react badly if you try to reprimand them – since they’re the center of their own universe, any sort of negative feedback can be taken as a full-on attack. Present criticism in a way that comes across as mild praise, and outlines the ways in which it might serve them. Praise their ability to go far in the organization, for example, and present your criticism as tips to help them get ahead.

The Type A Overachiever

This person arrives early, stays late, and never misses a deadline – even if it means working all weekend. Ambitious and time-oriented, she sets her own bar high and may bite off more than she can chew. A Type A personality can get stressed out easily as she pushes herself to perform, and can overwhelm herself by not delegating tasks out of worry they won’t be finished to her high standards.

It may feel like you never have to check in with a type A overachiever, since she’s always on target – but keep a close eye to make sure she’s not getting burned out. She likely won’t ask for help on her own. Check in to make sure the work she’s doing feeds in to her career ambitions, and work with her to develop systems and standards for tasks she should be delegating – both so she can feel comfortable letting go, and so her coworkers will be less intimidated by working with her on projects.

Mr. “That’s Not My Job”

A flexible team can work wonders, unless one of them is constantly measuring tasks against the yardstick of his job description. Forecasting? Not his department. Running numbers? Not in his job description. Stuffing envelopes? What, is he an intern? Cleaning out the fridge? Not a chance.

To help our “Not My Job” guy become more flexible, try to get to the bottom of his reluctance to take on new tasks. Maybe investing in training, or working on a task alongside a more experienced coworker will help. Or maybe you simply need to call a meeting to outline new team expectations, and demonstrate how these new tasks will feed into the team’s regular work – and the team’s evaluations.

The Cog in the Machine

You can set your watch by the time this employee enters and leaves the building. She completes every assignment on time, and her work is always competent. She doesn’t draws attention to herself, rarely socializes with her coworkers, and never asks for additional work. She’s the most reliable person on your team, and so it can be easy to overlook her.

In letting this employee run on her own, you may be overlooking a goldmine of hidden talents. Offer her opportunities to develop her skills, and try to involve her more with other team members. In particular, she may be good at training others in the programs and processes she’s so proficient at.

The Shy Guy

He’s clever, he’s a quick learner, and his resume is impressive. But he becomes practically invisible at meetings, and melts into the background compared to other team members. He’s got the brains and talent to do well in the organization, but lacks the confidence to put himself forward.

Try to understand where this employee’s apprehensions lie, then work with him to iron them out. If certain social situations put him on edge, seek out targeted coaching to help him develop the communication skills and confidence to really contribute.

Shy employees often prefer to communicate via email rather than answering questions on the fly. If he’s nervous about speaking up in meetings ask him to jot down his thoughts and email them to you after the meeting – you may get a more thorough response than if you put him on the spot.

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Carol Davison

Some people thought of as “shy guys” may be an introvert, like I am, and not lacking in confidence at all. We prefer to analyze problems for a while before discussing them. You can obtain his best input by sending out meeting agendas ahead of time so he can think them over and contribute when the meeting occurs.

Sandra Yeaman

Difficulty is in the eye of the beholder. I have worked with all of these “types” (and have probably been considered to be each of them by one boss or the other). Finding the joy in working with each is my goal. Thanks for the tips on what may work with each.


I couldn’t help but notice that the negative types were male associated and the positives were female associated. I know this has no real bearing on the article, but I noticed.