By Maria Collar
Chief Consultant, Serendipity Consulting Services

Ever wonder if difficult people get the full effect of the alphabet soup? Each person may have their own category of difficult people, based on personal traits or past experiences. For example, some seem over-protective or possessive while others come across as stern, over-bearing or authoritarian. And then, there are those “game-changers”. The individuals who do not show they have hidden agenda until you have fallen into their trap.

No matter which category, managing and promoting effective communication should always be the goal when dealing with difficult people. When there is conflict, communication can ensure the advantage of protecting and preventing conflict from ever disrupting the business process. Different styles and personality types, chiefly, represent a barrier to overcome due to the potential to communication breakdown.

For the most part, the secret to success when dealing with difficult people is learning to identify different personality styles. Apart from any special reason for finding someone difficult, there are certain types of personality styles identified as particularly difficult by scholars, researchers, counselors, and therapists. These people are difficult to deal with simply because of who they are.

Robert M. Bramson’s Coping with Difficult People identifies different types of personality styles that make the process of dealing with people a bit more challenging. The characteristics described provide a practical framework when dealing with difficult people. These different types of personality styles present fundamental guidance when choosing an appropriate communication style.

The following are different types of personality types identified in the book as particularly difficult to deal with:

1. The hostile-aggressive: These are individuals who respectively try to bully others to get their way and make underhanded cutting remarks if no one listens. Some of the individuals who fit this mold act with a cruel vulgarity that is itself distressing.

2. The passive-aggressive: Those who subscribe to this style often react defensively. They silently disrupt decisions when they feel threatened or under pressure. These individuals secretly dampen new proposals or suggestions regardless of merit.

3. The complainer: They generally do not do anything to resolve the problem because they feel victimized and powerless to do anything. Often they do not take responsibility or accountability.
4. The super-agreeable: Eagerly say yes to just about everything and appear to offer support. However, they just do not follow through to produce, acting differently than they lead you to expect.

5. The know-it-all expert: They act superior to everyone else because they think they know everything and want everyone else to know it. They may come across as “balloons” overinflated with their own knowledge and importance. It often turns out they are wrong and are just acting a part.

6. The staller: These are individuals who have trouble making decisions because they are afraid of being wrong or imperfect. Most often, they wait until the decision is made for them or the need to make a decision has passed.

7. The perfectionist: The overly-rigid individual who wants everything just so, even when it may not be realistic.

8. The secret fort: This is one who keeps everything in and on the surface shows that everything is going good, often silent and unresponsive. Since they usually won’t tell you what is wrong, they tend to express anger through unexpected sabotage or withdrawal.

9. The innocent liar: These are individuals who cover their own tracks with a lie or a series of lies until you end up not knowing what to trust or believe.

10. The resentful altruist: They appear to be helpful or giving but begrudge what is given. You may feel the resentment percolating up in other encounters or expressed non-verbally.

11. The perennial pessimist: Those who fit this mold find a reason why everything suggested won’t really work. Their unrelenting criticism pushes others to acquiesce against their own best judgment. When these criticize something said or done, they seem to attack not just the particular behavior but you, in an accusing way.

12. The wet blanket negative: These are your conversation-stoppers who say everything with such conviction that you are likely to begin believing that all hopes for future are just a mere figment of your silly over-optimistic imagination. With their steadfast and rational communication, these are able to suck everybody into their negative worldview. The big difference between these and negativists is that these are thoughtful individuals who actually consider reasons for not taking a given course of action.

Some types are quite aware of the havoc they create, others are not. Learning your own and other’s characteristics can enrich your understanding of difficult behaviors. Every style has its own strengths and weaknesses, depending upon where and when it is used. Even though one cannot possibly grasp all possible ways of thinking and behaving, when the situation calls for responding to demands rapidly, a sound understanding of the different styles is key. Those with experience dealing with difficult people will, undoubtedly, think of many more. Challenge yourself to create your own list of difficult types and identify their game-changing strategy.