From the moment you accept any form of a leadership position, conflict is inevitable because of differences in personalities and expectations. Wherever there are people, you will have friction. Particularly if you are the kind of leader who takes responsibility.

“Thou shalt be opposed, resisted and misunderstood” –  our indebtedness to the role of leadership, writes Hans Finzel in his book “The Top Ten Leadership Commandments.” While it’s impossible to turn off your reactions to what others think of you or say about you, you don’t have to compare yourself with others, and you can always take people’s opinions (constructive or destructive) with either a grain of salt or a bucket of sugar. That way, no matter what toxic people are thinking, saying or doing, your self-worth comes from within and your focus cannot be derailed!

I’ve also discovered over the years through leading a variety of people, regardless of what they think about you, at any particular moment, one thing is certain—you’re never as good or bad as they say you are.

When the leader has the capacity and emotional maturity to feel good about something that they’ve done, they won’t let anyone’s opinions or snide remarks take that away from them.

At the same time, it is vital to understand and appreciate the diversity of personalities and human psychology behind why people are the way they are.

Whether you are expanding conversations beyond the individual into teams, there are eight types of difficult personalities and several tenets you have to always remember when engaging them.

8 Types of Difficult Personas and What To Do With Them

The Chronic Complainers
The Silence of Lambs
The Challenger
The Dominator
The Unfocused Loafer
The Drama Queen
The Offbeat Worker
The Follower

Let’s take a quick look at each of these difficult personas who you may find challenging and what you can do about them.

1. The Chronic Complainers


It’s hard to be positive and productive when you have someone complaining in your ear all day. Chronic complainers believe the world is out to get them, but the truth is that they may not even know that they complain so much. There is a difference between a chronic complainer and a negative person. An optimist sees: “The glass half full.” A pessimist sees: “The glass half empty.” A chronic complainer sees: “The glass that’s chipped, holding water that isn’t cold enough because it’s tap water when I asked for bottled water.” And wait there’s more, “a smudge on the rim, which means the glass wasn’t cleaned properly and now I’ll probably end up with some kind of virus. Why do these things always happen to me?!”

Most of the time chronic complainers are the way there are because they don’t have anyone to vent to. At times, one good venting session could do the job. They want to be heard. You don’t have to say a single thing that helps or goes against them. Just listen, nod, and show that you’re validating their issues.

Once you’ve shown them you’re listening, you’re ready to deploy the ultimate weapon – Validation! The number one priority, but once you’ve done that, it’s time to sympathise. Make certain that you express sympathy authentically and avoid sarcasm. Your employees can tell when your sympathy is fake and sarcasm will create more problems.

Most of the time validation and sympathy are enough to ease any chronic complainer, but there are still some things you can do for the really tough cases – Deflection!

Deflection is a way for you to respond to them without shutting them down or telling them they’re wrong. These are deflection examples:

  • If they’re complaining about a specific person: “It sounds like you and him have something to talk about.”
  • If they’re complaining about something else: “That’s terrible. I don’t know how you deal with that.”
  • When all else fails, give them a different kind of attention: “What’s going well for you?”


Leaders assist chronic complainers

  • By avoiding arguments that lead to potential disagreement.
  • By rather asking “do you want my opinion?” instead of telling them what to do.
  • By avoiding telling them that “they aren’t so bad,” the truth is, it is hard for one to remain positive with them complaining as much as they do. Only they can change themselves.
  • By avoiding the complaining about other workers with a complainer, this is damaging to your reputation as a leader.
  • By drawing the line if things have gone too far. They’ll know that their complaining has gone out of hand.

2. The Silence of Lambs (The Shy or Quiet One)


The workplace is very verbal, immersing with questions and conversation. But not all employees process the workflow in the same way. Those that are shy or reserved may benefit more from smaller groups. But do not assume that quietness means lack of engagement or weakness. Leaders such as Eleanor Roosevelt, Gandhi and Warren Buffett have all one thing in common; they are introverts.

Introverts are people who “refuel” by spending time alone. They need periods of solitude in order to thrive, be more creative and more productive.

Leaders assist the shy and quiet

  • By understanding that quietness does not mean weakness.
  • By investing meaningful time to help cultivate and maximise their hidden talents and abilities.
  • By helping them to capitalise on alone time to “refuel.”
  • By coaching them on how to use solitude to thrive, be more creative, and more productive.
  • By giving them time to think, plan and prepare.
  • By respecting their space.
  • By respecting their silence.
  • By becoming their voice when necessary.

3. The Challenger


Challengers are programmed to be oppositional and disrespectful.
When presented with a proposal, suggestion, directive or idea, they automatically point out flaws, obstacles and potential problems.

Challengers are not at all reluctant to disagree with you. In fact, they rather enjoy challenging the leader, because they feel it establishes their sovereignty.

They begrudge authority and never show respect just because the person has a title. The challenger’s focus is on winning the argument, not resolving the problem. They would rather win an argument and lose the relationship.

Challengers have a high demand for control. When they feel that others are attempting to constrain or direct their behaviour, they become rebellious. They’ve learned (from a young age) to get their way by throwing tantrums or employing intimidation tactics.

They are independent spirits, meaning that, they do as they please.
They commit meeting felon by dominating the discussion and derail the stated purpose of the meeting.
They will challenge everyone, but prefer weak leaders or managers who easily backle in the face of opposition.

They want to work or “serve” someone where they can dominate.
Their rebellious behaviour will eventually derail their career and prevent them from achieving their goals.

Leaders assist dominators

  • By not allowing yourself to be intimidated by a challenger’s forceful behaviour.
  • By never giving in or change plans just because the challenger may be unhappy or resistant.
  • By avoiding getting “hooked” into endless debates and energy consuming arguments.
  • By calling them into a face-to-face discussion and ending the discussion at the appropriate time.

4. The Dominator


A great skill to teach your team is “bottom lining” – what is the bottom line? Or how to speak less by speaking right to the heart of the issue, in a few words as possible.

However, dominators just love to dominate. They don’t care if someone else has something more important to say, they are inconsiderate towards time allocations.

Dominators tend to get into power struggles with their leaders. They act as if they are the leader or manager. They know how to take-over a meeting because they don’t like to be ‘managed’, they may resist direction or ignore your instructions.

They are title and position conscious. They like to broadcast their accomplishments. So titles and public recognition are important to them.

They love the fact that spineless managers or supervisors allow them to do whatever they want and leave a power vacuum for them to fill. But powerful leaders are the only people they respect.
Dominators respect leaders who are comfortable using power.

Leaders assist dominators

  • By being comfortable with their own authority and by using their position when necessary.
  • By knowing when to make firm decisions.
  • By not fearing confrontation and leaving a power vacuum.

5. The Unfocused Loafer


They are the ones who are usually found lingering in the cafeteria, openly wasting company time on Facebook or chatting in the parking with someone for a lengthy period (which proves that ‘unfocused-ness’ can be contagious).

Unfocused workers are hard to stop. They know how to find legitimate reasons to leave the office. They are masters at avoiding tasks they don’t like. They never develop a strong work ethic.

Unfocused workers are unmotivated, they dislike their work and have trouble bringing any energy to it.

They love leader/managers who leave them to do whatever they want. They prefer to have as little supervision as possible. They adore leaders who are afraid to address performance issues.

Unfocused workers need to be reminded that their paycheck represents an investment by their employer. Their employer has the right to expect a certain return on that investment. Therefore, the company “owns” the employee’s work time and reasonably expects that the time will be applied for the employer’s benefit.

Leaders assist the unfocused loafer more efficiently

  • By clarifying and defining specific objectives for the employee to meet.
  • By setting regular times for feedback and follow-up meetings to ensure that work is getting done.
  • By addressing unfinished projects or missed deadlines immediately.
  • By insisting that work be completed.
  • By ensuring that the employee observes scheduled work hours.
  • By being a regular presence in the work area so that you know what’s going on.
  • By praising their productivity, progress and punctuality.
  • By confronting non-performance issues as soon as they arise.
  • By avoiding the acceptance of tacky work or tolerating lame excuses.
  • By permitting unfocused employees to work from home or in a remote location.
  • By “rewarding” laziness by giving difficult tasks to someone else.


5. The Drama Queen (or King)


Drama queens thrive on attention and excitement, so spotting them is easy. For drama queens, a quiet and productive workday is just not enough or very rewarding. So they try to spice things up with dramatic pronouncements, juicy gossip, hurtful rumours or by emotional tantrums.

You don’t have to ask how a drama queen feels because they wear their problems on their sleeves. You can tell only by a look that something is on their mind. They are expressive and animated. The more subdued find drama queens exhausting and try to avoid them.

When their work environment doesn’t provide enough excitement, they will try to create some, because they flourish on emotional stimulation, regardless of whether the emotions are positive or negative.

As one drama queen said to her husband, “We haven’t had a good fight in a long time!” The truth about them is, they are rather insecure and only feel important when everyone is focused on them.

When your sense of pleasure and satisfaction are derived from the opinions of other people, you are no longer the master of your own happiness. This places a drama queen on a perpetual emotional roller-coaster.

Drama Queens prefer leaders/managers who will spend time licking their wounds or listening to their stories, sympathising with their troubles and getting involved in their crisis.

Their behaviour usually indicates an immature personality. For long-term success, these type of workers must learn to expand their view of the world (the world is bigger than their problems), focus their energy towards work-related goals (relationship must complement productivity) and contain their emotionality (emotional intelligence coaching is needed.)

Leaders assist drama queens more efficiently

  • By insisting on face-to-face interaction than emailing.
  • By keeping the focus on your work-related goals.
  • By organising regular meetings to discuss progress and challenges.
  • By being prepared to invest some time (but not too much) engaging in trivial conversation.
  • By understanding that drama queens love an audience, so give them a stage when appropriate.
  • By helping them understand how excessive emotionality may turn-off co-workers.
  • By not accepting their inappropriate behaviour, listening to endless stories or responding to constant complaints.
  • By avoiding the drama queen to waste time with gossip or gripe sessions.
  • By never giving in to unreasonable requests simply to make the drama queen shut up.


6. The Offbeat Worker


The offbeat employees live in a world of their own. They’re on an entirely separate orbit. They make “seemingly” off-the-wall comments in meetings. They begin conversations in the middle of a thought. Regardless of the topic being discussed, they seem to be thinking of something else. This is sheer intellectual torture for the strategic leader.

Most of the team are often unsure how the off-beat worker’s comments or suggestions relate to the subject at hand. They often feel uncomfortable having a person sit in a strategic meeting.

The offbeat worker may come up with ideas which, at least on the surface, seem rather difficult or impractical. Offbeat workers are usually friendly and cheerful people who have little interest in power or control.

They tend to be very abstract thinkers who focus on ideas and possibilities compared to facts and action steps.

Their thought processes are not linear so their conversations are not sequential and actions do not proceed in a step-by-step manner. However, their talent lies in seeing associations and connections that others may miss.

The off-beat worker prefers a leader/managers who will listen to their ideas and appreciate their insights. They are also happiest with leaders who do not force them to do routine tasks.

Leaders assist off-beat workers more efficiently

  • By teaching them to improve communication skills and enhance focus.
  • By defining clear expectations regarding results that must be accomplished.
  • By helping them break down large projects into smaller implementation steps.
  • By setting regular times for feedback and follow-up meetings to warrant that work is on track.
  • By explaining why more mundane or tedious tasks are important.
  • By providing feedback to encourage more concise verbal and written communications.
  • By stressing the importance of organised presentations.
  • By taking the time to understand the offbeat worker’s ideas, as they often have benefits that are not immediately apparent.
  • By paying attention when the offbeat employee brings up long-range concerns because they often have an uncanny ability to anticipate the future and, by providing opportunities to be creative.


7. The Follower


The follower’s main characteristic is dependence. They prefer clear instructions, frequent communication and continuous positive reinforcement.

Making decisions unsettles them because they are in fear of making mistakes and therefore they would rather not make a decision. This drives their leaders crazy! They will ask for information and clarification until they feel completely certain about what is expected.
Followers are reluctant to express disagreements because they fear making others angry and losing their support. They sometimes withhold their views, resulting in harboured resentments that they never express. Because followers are loyal, reliable and eager to please, leaders/managers usually view them as reliable ‘workhorses.’ But these employees will not realise their full potential unless leaders/managers encourage self-containment.

Followers thrive in safe environments. They believe safety can be attained through attachment to authority figures. Their primary emotional driver is fear: fear of making mistakes, fear of losing support, fear of disapproval, fear of being disliked, fear of breathing too loud.

Followers want to work for strong, friendly leaders/managers who offer consistent support and guidance. Regular communication with their leader/manager is imperative to them.

Leaders assist followers

  • By becoming more confident in their abilities.
  • By being more willing to express opinions and more comfortable making decisions.
  • By asking their opinions and making them feel safe to express it, and by appreciating them for their opinions.
  • By using their ideas if possible.
  • By gradually enlarging their scope.