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Difficult personalities: identifying them and working with them to improve relationships

by Technologia
Difficult personalities: identifying them and working with them to improve relationships

Who are these people who are labelled as "difficult personalities"? They are people whose behaviours deviate from the usual norms and do not correspond to the expectations of others.

It is a generally accepted principle of psychology that every human being, when he or she acts (when he or she thinks, speaks or acts), always proceeds with a positive intention for himself or herself, i.e. he or she puts his or her own interests first. The expression of this positive intention (through thought, verbal or non-verbal action) can be appropriate or not for others.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty, it is important to remember that a complicated or oppositional person is not necessarily difficult. For example, a conflict between two colleagues (professional disagreements, differences in work style...) is not necessarily synonymous with a difficult personality.

In this article, we give you some tips on how to identify the characteristics and types of difficult personalities and how to deal with them.

What are the characteristics of a difficult personality?

A difficult personality can take many forms, but there are some common characteristics or behaviors that can be associated with them:

  • Aggressive behaviors: anger, bullying, harassment, etc;
  • Arrogance: being haughty, dismissive or condescending to others
  • Manipulation: using tactics to get what you want;
  • Passivity-aggressiveness: showing annoyance or anger in a passive or indirect way, such as making sarcastic comments or hurtful remarks
  • Insensitivity: lack of empathy or consideration for the feelings or needs of others;
  • Egocentrism: lack of consideration for others, self-centeredness
  • Inflexibility: lack of ability to adapt to change or to accept the ideas of others
  • Resistance to feedback: refusal to accept constructive criticism, to see one's own mistakes.

These behaviours can vary from person to person and a person with a difficult personality may not exhibit all of these characteristics. These behaviors may also be temporary and related to external factors such as stress or pressure.

What are the three main types of difficult personalities?

Among the difficult personalities listed, there are 3 main types: the executioner, the victim and the saboteur. Of course, these 3 types are generalized, there are several others.

The executioner wants to impose his choices and can be aggressive. They often show opposition and criticize ideas that are not their own. In this context, you must be careful not to take everything as a personal attack or be defensive. Do not adopt the same tone as the other person and do not argue. Above all, do not ignore the problem.

The victim usually takes everything as a personal attack. Often a pessimist with a low tolerance for stress, they can make a mountain out of a molehill and show resistance to change. Keep in mind that you are not the "shrink" on duty, that you should not minimize the person's feelings or isolate him or her by showing impatience, and that it is not necessary to make him or her feel guilty or ridiculous, but rather to make him or her take responsibility for the problems. You must listen to and value their interventions while de-dramatizing the situation and imposing your own limits. You must make the person responsible for their problems.

The saboteur never attacks head-on, proclaims himself as the spokesperson without the group's approval, and always finds excuses to justify his mistakes that are never his fault. He cannot stand criticism and is sure to make you feel guilty even if you are right. In any case, never confront a saboteur in front of his colleagues. Avoid accusing, judging, isolating, ignoring or reacting emotionally to his remarks. You will only make the situation worse. When dealing with a saboteur, you must remain calm and discuss with him or her the harmful consequences of his or her behavior. You need to set clear and specific goals and make sure the repercussions are known if they are not met.

Now that you can put into words the characteristic behaviours associated with each of these difficult personalities, it is important to take action to avoid conflict.

What actions to take in the long term when faced with a difficult personality


  • Make sure you have all the facts;
  • Familiarize yourself with the people's history;
  • Notify the people involved of the purpose of the meeting, the time and the place.


  • Establish an atmosphere of openness, respect and non-judgment;
  • Encourage dialogue;
  • Reach a mutual agreement on each issue;
  • Take the time to explain why things are happening;
  • Advise of the potential repercussions for individuals and the company if the situation is not resolved;
  • Establish an action plan and follow-up dates.


  • Start with a recap of what needed to be improved;
  • Comment on the results achieved;
  • Follow up again to ensure a long-term solution, even if the situation has resolved;
  • Establish a new action plan and reiterate the consequences of not achieving the goals, if the situation has not resolved and the goals have not been met.

To conclude

The consequences of not intervening in the presence of a difficult personality can be potentially devastating for the team, the manager and the company (decrease in cohesion and mobilization, staff turnover... failure to achieve business objectives).

Properly identifying the type of difficult personality determines the actions to be taken to obtain a change in behavior. And it is imperative that the manager take the necessary actions to address the problem, including patience and consistency, while having an attitude that is appropriate to the context. Your actions must reflect your words. You must express yourself in a way that is understood, analyze your behaviors, and adapt your management and motivational methods accordingly to achieve solutions and create positive change.

To go further :

Difficult Personalities: From Confrontation to Engagement

Contact us

To learn more about our new services or to talk to us about your skills development needs, contact Cyrielle Renard at 514-380-8237 or by email: crenard@technologia.ca.

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