Navigating People at Work: Types and Tips


When managing people, it’s essential to first spot and understand their type. As discussed in Assholes Matter,” we are all different, flawed, and imperfect! Accepting that, just like ourselves, all the people around us are works in progress engaged in journeys to become less imperfect allows us to deal with tricky situations in a more focused, supportive, and effective way. Here are the eleven types of difficult people you might encounter and some handy tips for what to do about it, whether you’re working alongside them or just want to help that person not be so, well, difficult.

1. The Intimidator

The Intimidator. These individuals present themselves as experts in their chosen fields, exuding an air of superiority that is hard to ignore. Their confidence is not just a façade; it is backed by an unwavering commitment to their craft and an insatiable thirst for knowledge.

When challenged or threatened in their area of expertise, The Intimidator will stop at nothing to further their competence. They will spend countless hours researching, studying, and honing their skills to ensure that they remain at the top of their game. This dedication to self-improvement is not just a hobby; it is a way of life for The Intimidator.

The Intimidator sets lofty expectations not only for themselves but also for those around them. They appreciate competence in others and have little patience for mediocrity. When collaborating with The Intimidator, be prepared to bring your A-game. Anything less than excellence will be met with criticism and obstruction.

However, it is important to note that The Intimidator’s high standards and critical nature are not necessarily a reflection of their personal feelings towards others. Rather, it is a manifestation of their unwavering commitment to producing the best possible work. In their eyes, anything less than perfection is simply unacceptable.

Working with The Intimidator can be a challenging but ultimately rewarding experience. If you can match their level of dedication and competence, you will find yourself part of a dynamic and highly effective team. The Intimidator’s relentless pursuit of excellence can be contagious, pushing those around them to reach new heights and achieve great things.

In conclusion, The Intimidator is a personality type that demands respect and commands attention. Their unwavering commitment to their craft and high standards for themselves and others can be intimidating, but it is also a source of inspiration for those who are willing to rise to the challenge.

Actionable Tip: Demand they take responsibility for developing competence in their interpersonal and functional skills, and use constructive criticism very carefully to help them understand there is always room for improvement.

2. The Ambitious Strategist

When dealing with The Ambitious Strategist, it’s crucial to remember that their intentions, while often positive, can leave others feeling manipulated and undervalued. This personality type tends to view peers as chess pieces in their grand plans, focusing more on the end goal than the individuals involved.

To effectively work with The Ambitious Strategist, it’s important to establish clear boundaries and open lines of communication. Expressing your own goals, values, and expectations can help ensure that you’re not simply a pawn in their scheme. Encourage them to consider the perspectives and feelings of others when executing their plans.

Recognize and appreciate their strategic thinking, but also be prepared to point out flaws in their plans tactfully. By offering constructive feedback and alternative solutions, you can help The Ambitious Strategist refine their approach and minimize the potential for interpersonal conflict. Ultimately, finding a balance between their ambition and the well-being of the team is key to successful collaboration.

Actionable Tip: Speak their language (big-picture, strategic thinking) to encourage a rounder approach, and help them see more complete perspectives so they remember to treat peers as people and manage tasks as well as strategy.

3. The Toxic Savior

When encountering The Toxic Savior, it’s essential to look beyond their carefully crafted public persona. While they may present themselves as highly principled, ethical, and fiercely loyal to their teams, their true nature is far more insidious.

Despite their gregarious and collaborative demeanor, The Toxic Savior harbors judgmental and uncompromising perspectives that can be detrimental to the team’s well-being. They show little regard for those who stand in their way and are quick to abandon their supposed loyalty when faced with threats to their position.

One of the most dangerous aspects of The Toxic Savior is their tendency to fabricate narratives in an attempt to appear self-sacrificing. These fabrications can sow discord and mistrust within the team, undermining the very principles they claim to uphold.

To protect your team and organization, it may be wise to consider easing The Toxic Savior’s exit. While this can be a difficult decision, it is often necessary to maintain a healthy and productive work environment. By addressing the issue head-on and prioritizing the well-being of the team as a whole, you can mitigate the damage caused by The Toxic Savior and foster a more positive and collaborative atmosphere.

Actionable Tip: Visibly live up to your own principles, and don’t tolerate criticisms or judgments. Terminate these staff as soon as possible.

4. Resourceful Drivers

When working with Resourceful Drivers, it’s important to recognize and appreciate their decisive, can-do attitude. These individuals thrive on challenges and have little patience for timid corporate agendas or those who don’t share their drive.

However, their ambition can sometimes lead them to take on more than they can handle, resulting in anxious responses as they strive to meet lofty goals. To support Resourceful Drivers, encourage them to break down their deliverables into manageable tasks and celebrate their progress along the way.

One key aspect to keep in mind is that Resourceful Drivers may not be the best at asking for help, often keeping their needs secret for too long. Foster an environment where seeking assistance is seen as a strength rather than a weakness. Regularly check in with them and offer your support proactively.

By understanding their motivations and providing the right resources and guidance, you can harness the full potential of Resourceful Drivers. Their determination and resourcefulness can be invaluable assets to any team when properly channeled and supported.

Actionable Tip: Protect limits around managing an individual contributor’s workload and communicate the reasons for limits directly and positively to them. They’ll demonstrate a desire to complete their work and assist others with any leftover time.

5. Revolutionary Innovator

Revolutionary Drivers are the embodiment of innovation and transformation, always ready to embrace new ideas and push boundaries. Their self-starting nature and enthusiasm for change can be a valuable asset to any organization.

However, their eagerness to jump into action without thorough consideration or consensus can lead to significant challenges. Revolutionary Drivers may act without fully understanding the potential consequences, causing massive fallout that can impact the entire team or organization.

To effectively work with Revolutionary Drivers, it’s crucial to channel their energy and enthusiasm while providing guidance and structure. Encourage them to slow down and consider the broader implications of their actions. Foster a collaborative environment where they can share their ideas and receive constructive feedback from others.

By striking a balance between their drive for innovation and the need for careful planning and consensus-building, you can harness the power of Revolutionary Drivers while minimizing the risk of disruptive fallout. With the right approach, their visionary thinking can be a catalyst for positive change and growth.

Actionable Tip: Demand concrete plans for deliverables, and for them to fully develop explanations for proposals. Find common ground and insist on good project management to help everyone maintain alignment. Innovators are wonderful people, but they require support to achieve success.

6.a Empire Builders (I)

Charismatic and visionary staff members can be incredible assets to any organization, inspiring others with their compelling ideas and ambitious plans. However, their reliance on followers to handle details while they focus on advancing their agendas can create challenges if not managed effectively.

These individuals may sometimes push forward with initiatives without fully considering the need for increased control or the potential for criticism and complications. To successfully work with charismatic visionaries, it’s important to establish clear lines of communication and accountability.

Encourage them to collaborate with their team members and involve others in the decision-making process. Help them understand the importance of addressing potential challenges and criticisms proactively, rather than avoiding them.

By providing guidance and support while also setting boundaries and expectations, you can help charismatic visionaries channel their energy and ideas in a way that benefits the entire organization. With the right approach, their vision and charisma can be a driving force for positive change and growth.

Actionable Tip: Require that they communicate goals and objectives on initiatives transparently. When something that is not in keeping with the existing strategies is proposed, disagree using a “Yes, and . . .”  as opposed to a “Yes, but…” or “No…” approach, as it will force them to address uncertainties and complexities openly.

6.b. Empire Builders (II)

Empire builders can be charismatic and engaging individuals who initially seem like valuable assets to any organization. However, their true motives often lie in creating silos and protecting their own roles, rather than working towards the greater good of the team.

These personalities tend to co-opt followers, building a loyal base that shields them from criticism and helps them avoid dealing with inconvenient complications. This behavior can lead to a fragmented and dysfunctional workplace, where collaboration and transparency are sacrificed for individual gain.

To effectively manage empire builders, it’s crucial to establish clear expectations and accountability measures. Encourage open communication and collaboration across the organization, and be vigilant in identifying and addressing any attempts to create silos or hoard information.

By fostering a culture of transparency, teamwork, and shared goals, you can minimize the negative impact of empire builders and ensure that everyone is working towards the same objectives. Remember, a united and well-functioning team is far more powerful than any individual empire.

Actionable Tip: Address their uncertainties with regard to requirements openly, and find ways to demonstrate that new initiatives will be to their benefit, as well as the organization’s, to help them understand why walls and silos are counterproductive.

7. The Worrier

In any workplace, you may encounter individuals who fit the profile of “The Worrier.” These detail-oriented colleagues can be incredibly helpful, ensuring that every aspect of a project is thoroughly considered and addressed. However, when their worrying tendencies escalate, they can quickly transform into dreadful micromanagers.

To effectively collaborate with “The Worrier,” it’s essential to establish clear boundaries and expectations. Recognize and appreciate their attention to detail, but also encourage them to trust in the abilities of their team members. Help them understand that while their concerns are valid, constantly hovering over others can hinder productivity and morale.

Open communication is key when dealing with “The Worrier.” Regularly discuss project progress, addressing any concerns they may have while also highlighting the team’s successes. By providing a supportive and understanding environment, you can help “The Worrier” channel their detail-oriented nature in a more productive and less stressful manner.

Remember, while “The Worrier” may have the best intentions, finding a balance between their need for control and the team’s need for autonomy is crucial for maintaining a healthy and efficient work environment.

Actionable Tip: Provide affirmation and mentoring, and avoid counterproductivity by providing clear insights into their behaviors, which should represent a helpful wake-up call about micromanagement.

8. The Immovable Rock

In every workplace, there are individuals who embody the qualities of an Immovable Rock. These highly responsible and loyal employees are the backbone of the organization, ensuring that everything runs smoothly. However, their cautious nature can sometimes lead them to passively refuse to engage wholeheartedly in advancing initiatives they consider risky or ill-thought-out.

Imagine someone who argues equally stridently whether you are lending or borrowing $20 from them. This level of caution and attention to detail can be both a blessing and a challenge when it comes to implementing change.

To effectively collaborate with an Immovable Rock, it’s essential to recognize and appreciate their commitment to stability and responsibility. When presenting new ideas or initiatives, take the time to address their concerns thoroughly and demonstrate the thought and planning that has gone into the proposal.

Engage the Immovable Rock in open discussions, valuing their input and perspective. By fostering a culture of trust and transparency, you can help them feel more comfortable with change and encourage them to lend their invaluable support to well-considered initiatives. Remember, the Immovable Rock’s stability and loyalty can be a tremendous asset when navigated with understanding and patience.

Actionable Tip: Include them in bigger-picture planning, request their input and concerns, help them emotionally “own” aspects, and frame your needs in terms of addressing risks.

9. People Pleasers

People Pleasers are warm and self-effacing individuals who can be a delight to work with due to their amiable nature. However, their strong desire to avoid conflict and change can lead to missed opportunities and hinder the team’s progress.

When faced with challenging situations or the need for change, People Pleasers often choose the path of least resistance, which can result in inaction. This reluctance to act can slow down the rest of the team, as they may perceive the People Pleaser’s behavior as an easy way forward.

To effectively collaborate with People Pleasers, it’s essential to create a safe and supportive environment where they feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and concerns. Encourage open communication and actively seek their input during decision-making processes.

Help People Pleasers understand that constructive conflict and change can lead to growth and success. Provide them with the tools and support they need to step out of their comfort zone and embrace new opportunities. By fostering a culture of psychological safety and empowering People Pleasers to take calculated risks, you can harness their strengths while minimizing the potential drawbacks of their conflict-avoidant tendencies.CopyRetry

Actionable Tip: Support them by having regular and tough conversations to help them reassess risks and embrace change. Set clear expectations, behaviors, and standards.

10. Saviors

Saviors are highly principled individuals with strong ethics who build fiercely loyal teams around them. Their unwavering commitment to doing what they believe is right makes them invaluable assets to any organization, as they are often looked to by peers for guidance and reassurance.

However, their uncompromising stance in defending others and their binary view of right and wrong can sometimes complicate and slow down action. Saviors may have little interest in engaging with those they regard as less principled, which can limit collaboration and hinder progress.

To effectively work with Saviors, it’s essential to recognize and appreciate their strong moral compass and dedication to their principles. Engage them in open discussions about the complexities of situations, encouraging them to consider multiple perspectives and potential consequences.

Help Saviors understand that while their principles are admirable, there may be times when pragmatism and compromise are necessary for the greater good of the organization. By fostering a culture of open-mindedness and flexibility, you can harness the strengths of Saviors while mitigating the potential drawbacks of their rigid adherence to binary thinking. Remember, balancing principles with practicality is key to navigating complex challenges and driving progress in the workplace.

Actionable Tip: They are watching you, judging if you are worthy of their trust. They tend to focus on black-and-white perspectives with little room for grey. To ensure their support, you need to exhibit consistent leadership by visibly living up to your own principles. This usually starts with constructive criticism and strong advocacy for fairness toward others.

Every type of personality, other than the toxic savior, can be beneficial to the organization, and every organization is filled with people who fall into these categories.  As a manager, your role includes softening any of their rougher edges and helping them embrace strategies and behaviors that increase productivity, innovation, and collaboration without compromising principles.

The best way to deal with any difficult people is with the use of “fierce kindness.” Kindness to understand and support them, so they develop new, more flexible ways of responding to pressures. Fierceness to first put right any organizational failings and then draw unmistakably clear lines around what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. Do this, and work becomes a place where everybody can be their best.