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Webucator's Free Working with Difficult People Tutorial

Lesson: Understanding People

Welcome to our free Working with Difficult People tutorial. This tutorial is based on Webucator's Working with Difficult People course.

In this lesson, you will learn a greater understanding of working with various personality types and behaviors.

Lesson Goals

  • Learn about different personality types.
  • Learn how to recognize destructive behaviors.
  • Learn about the motivation for difficult behaviors.

To be able to address problems with people, it helps to understand them. Understanding a person is not the same as agreeing with the person, or agreeing with his or her behavior. It simply means:

  1. We can identify the negative behavior and the effect of the behaviors.
  2. We realize why people act out as they do.

With this understanding we can address the problem closer to the source and thus, more effectively.

Personality Types

There are many interesting assessments that evaluate personality types. While some assessment center on relationships and others on vocation, there are many that center on the workplace. Some of the more familiar profiles and assessments used in the workplace include:

  1. Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory
  2. Keirsey Temperament Sorter
  3. DISC Profile
  4. StrengthsQuest Personality Assessment Inventory

Through these personality assessments we can recognize each person's unique personality, which exhibits both strengths and weaknesses. By teaming together different people with varying strengths, productivity can be increased tremendously.

Conversely, if people are teamed together in such a way that their weaknesses are exhibited and these personality traits are not kept in check, a great deal of harm can be done to employee moral and the productivity of the company.

DMS-IV Personality Types

There are 14 personality types defined by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in their DMS-IV diagnostic system. By taking this assessment, one can learn:

  1. What a person's predominant traits are as defined in one or more personality style.
  2. The characteristics common to that style that are demonstrated as strengths.
  3. The more extreme characteristics common to that style that are demonstrated as weaknesses.

Below is a chart with the personality types and behaviors one might observe in their stronger state.

Personality style Extreme style Extreme behaviors
Conscientious Obsessive-compulsive Destructive professionalism
Self-confident Narcissistic Self-inflation, lacking empathy
Devoted Dependent Feels helpless, clings to others
Dramatic Histrionic Exaggerated emotions, seeks attention
Vigilant Paranoid Suspicious
Sensitive Avoidant Unloving, feels unlovable
Leisurely Passive-aggressive Says one thing, does another
Adventurous Antisocial Non-empathetic; not bound by rules
Idiosyncratic Schizotypal Disconnects from reality
Solitary Schizoid Disconnects from people
Mercurial Borderline Unstable
Self-sacrificing Self-defeating Random acts that block success
Aggressive Sadistic Abusive
Serious Depressive Feels hopeless, sad

This chart shows the wide variety of personalities which express themselves in many ways and to many degrees. When the strengths of each are channeled positively, this variety adds to the creativity and productivity in the workplace.

The goal here is not to try to psychoanalyze people; we leave that to the experts. Rather, we want to be aware of the many personality types we see in the workplace, and we want to be aware that these personalities present themselves in varying degrees in both positive and negative ways.

Personality Types

Duration: 5 minutes.

In this exercise, you will respond to the following questions about personality types.

  1. Which of the following is true:
    1. People should not show their personality in the workplace.
    2. Leisurely people are lazy.
    3. The best team is composed of people with the same personality type.
    4. Personalities have strengths and weaknesses.
    5. People with negative personality traits cannot work with others.
  2. Match the following personality types in part A with the related extreme behavior in part B:
    1. Personality Types
      1. Conscientious
      2. Self-confident
      3. Devoted
      4. Dramatic
      5. Vigilant
      6. Leisurely
      7. Self-sacrificing
      8. Aggressive
      9. Serious
    2. Extreme Behaviors
      1. Abusive
      2. Says one thing, does another
      3. Destructive perfectionism
      4. Suspicious
      5. Self-inflation, lacking empathy
      6. Feels hopeless, sad
      7. Feels helpless, clings to others
      8. Exaggerated emotions, seeks attention
      9. Random acts that block success



  1. D. Personalities have strengths and weaknesses.
  2. The correct matchups are as follows:
    • i. Conscientious and iii. Destructive perfectionism.
    • ii. Self-confident and v. Self-inflation, lacking empathy.
    • iii. Devoted and vii. Feels helpless, clings to others
    • iv. Dramatic and viii. Exaggerated emotions, seeks attention.
    • v. Vigilant and iv. Suspicious.
    • vi. Leisurely and ii. Says one thing, does another.
    • vii. Self-sacrificing and ix. Random acts that block success.
    • viii. Aggressive and i. Abusive.
    • ix. Serious and vi. Feels hopeless, sad.

Personal Application for Personality Types

Duration: 30 minutes.

In this exercise, you will consider the following questions.

  1. Think about your personality and the personality of another person in your workplace.
    1. Write down two strengths each of you possesses.
    2. Write down two weaknesses each of you demonstrates from time to time.
    3. Compare the strengths with the weaknesses. Are your strengths and weaknesses rooted in the same personality traits? Is the other person's?

  2. If you have never taken a personality assessment, find one or two to try. They may be available at your work or you can do a web search. Use "free personality assessment" as keywords. While some may cost a small amount, there are many available for free. Once you receive your results, consider how your personality fits your work, your relationships, and your interests.


  1. In thinking about this question, consider how your and your co-worker's strengths and weaknesses play into your daily work lives.
  2. Is your personality assessment as expected? Did you find the assessment as expected or surprising? If surprising, how so?

Recognizing Destructive Behaviors

It is very important, especially from a managerial perspective, to acknowledge that destructive behavior may be taking place even if workers do not complain. The willingness of people to speak out about issues has a direct correlation to the perceived safety of the environment. If the environment is punitive, workers may remain quiet; however:

  1. Turnover will be high.
  2. Tardiness and sicknesses will increase.
  3. Gossip will take place.
  4. Customers will complain.
  5. Productivity will be low.
  6. Anonymous complaints may be received.

Wise managers will be watchful for negative issues that contribute to unhealthy environments, but they will also watch for an absence of healthy behaviors. A healthy environment in which people are working well together can be recognized by workers who:

  1. Are happy.
  2. Stay involved in their work.
  3. Produce good work.
  4. Achieve their objectives.
  5. Communicate well.
  6. Experience positive interactions.

In most working relationships employees will meld together and learn to work with and around each other's personalities; but on occasion relationships can be challenging. Personality conflicts are inevitable, and are exacerbated when a person has an extreme personality.

We will now look at some of the behaviors difficult personalities may demonstrate in the workplace.

Destructive Personality Styles


Authoritarian personalities are seen in people who consider themselves right in nearly all circumstances. They place "being right" at a higher priority than getting along with other people, and certainly higher than compromise and collaboration.

The authoritarian personality may be seen in any level of the business. We may encounter:

  1. Ruling peers.
  2. Micromanaging bosses.
  3. Subordinate staff.

These people are typically controllers who want everything their own way. For example, we may see a manager delegate a job, and then proceed to dictate how that job needs to be done without regard to the personality or needs of the individual assigned with the task.

Often authoritarian people will:

  1. Try to control WHAT gets done.
  2. Try to control HOW things get done.
  3. Ignore company or departmental procedures.
  4. Use given authority or use manipulation to make certain the work is done his or her way.
  5. Attempt to dictate expectations to their own manager.
  6. Take on an undelegated supervisory role with co-workers.


Another personality that may be encountered in the workplace is the manipulator. Manipulators use their behavior to get their way. The first two behavioral types listed below are rather obvious manipulative behaviors, while the following three are more subtle.

  1. "Guilt mongers," play on people's emotions.
  2. "Gossipers," spread criticism and distrust among co-workers.
  3. "Underminers," do things that harm the efforts of other employees.
  4. "Passive-aggressives" will:
    1. Outwardly agree to do something.
    2. Not follow through with action.
    3. Justify the lack of action, often using guilt and acting like a victim.
  5. "Lovable People" use positive words and amiable traits to persuade people to:
    1. Do their work for them.
    2. Cover for them.
    3. Not apply consequences for his or her lack of achievement.


Some people are unhappy and seem content to be unhappy. Negative attitudes and behaviors, like all attitudes and behaviors, are a choice. The pessimist:

  1. Notices everything that is wrong.
  2. Complains about the people and things they encounter.
  3. Tends to be grumpy and critical of others.
  4. May criticize others behind their back, or to their face.
  5. Automatically discounts new ideas.
  6. Can be a powerful barrier to creativity and productivity.


Drama queens and kings always add excitement to the workplace. The goal of the dramatic person is to get attention or to build up himself or herself. Unfortunately the effects of the drama can be costly.

Hero Syndrome

The hero syndrome is one presentation of the dramatic personality. The behaviors of the hero follow a distinct pattern:

  1. Through his or her own behavior, creates a problem.
  2. The problem eventually becomes an emergency and requires a "hero" to fix the emergency.
  3. The very person who created the problem then becomes the hero and fixes the problem.
  4. The behavior is reinforced by the gratitude of others when the problem has been resolved.

For example, a procrastinator postpones a project or delays the completion of a project until it becomes an emergency, causing worry or stress for others. The procrastinator then does an excellent job of completing the project, often sacrificing his or her own personal need to do so. Unfortunately, this causes other people stress and hardship when working around the procrastination, and may have detrimental effects on other people's work or on quality.

The Victim

Dramatics may play the victim role. When their own performance results in a consequence that they do not like, their reaction becomes extreme. They use drama to distract the focus away from the initial behavior, thus minimizing the impact of the real problem. They may:

  1. Act shocked about the consequence.
  2. Act persecuted, as though the consequence is unjustified.
  3. Blame others.
  4. Have an emotional outburst, such as crying or yelling.
  5. Threaten extreme action, such as quitting or filing a lawsuit.


Finally, there is the plain-old lazy person. The lethargic person is often able, but not willing, to put effort toward achieving a goal. A lethargic worker:

  1. Lacks motivation.
  2. Does not perform his or her share of the work.
  3. Will not take ownership of his or her responsibilities.
  4. Cannot seem to do what he or she is supposed to do to get the job done.
  5. Tends to be short-sighted.
  6. Cares more about his or her own mood at the moment.
  7. Does not consider the impact his or her behavior has on other people or on the future.

Recognizing Destructive Behaviors

Duration: 5 minutes.

In this exercise, you will respond to the following questions about destructive behaviors.

  1. Some behaviors are seen in multiple personality types. Which personalities use guilt?
    1. Authoritarian
    2. Dramatic
    3. Lethargic
    4. Pessimist
    5. Manipulator

  2. Destructive behaviors may cause which of the following:
    1. Anonymous complaints
    2. An increase in sick time
    3. High turnover
    4. Low productivity
    5. Customer complaints
    6. A and C
    7. B, C, and D
    8. All of the above



  1. B. Dramatic and E. Manipulator

  2. H. All of the above

Personal Application for Destructive Behaviors

Duration: 20 minutes.

In this exercise, you will consider the following questions.

  1. Fill in the chart below using people you have encountered at work or in your personal life who exhibits each of these destructive behaviors. Use yourself if you know you have destructive traits.
    1. Under Specific Behavior, describe what the offender does that is problematic.
    2. Under Replacement Behavior, describe behaviors that would make the workplace more effective and/or increase morale. If possible, include positive behaviors that will satisfy the needs of both the offending person and the offended person/people. For example, a person who controls processes may be willing to release control if they receive progress reports.

Destructive behavior Specific behavior Replacement behavior


  1. Remember that the purpose of this exercise is to learn to recognize behaviors in order to understand the actions of others and possibly your own. By identifying examples of the specific behaviors that fall under each behavior type, you can then figure out what a positive replacement behavior would be. For example, if you work with a Dramatic type, you may list a specific behavior such as "always finds some roadblock to getting started with a task", and a possible replacement behavior could be "refocus attention on what is going right and what can be done to begin the task at hand".

Understanding Motivation for Difficult Behaviors

Motivation initiates habitual, repeated, and new behaviors. Most motivation is, at its core, self-serving. While this sounds bad, it really is not, because often the resulting behavior serves others. For example:

  1. Philanthropists feel good after helping other people.
  2. Parents feel peace when they know their children are safe, so they sacrifice to protect them.
  3. Taxpayers get deductions for charitable giving.
  4. People volunteer services for organizations that reinforce their moral or ethical values.

Motivation will provide a person with any of the following:

  1. Self-preservation
  2. Self-promotion (attaining stature or power)
  3. Self-defense
  4. Self-stimulation
  5. Self-reward (the comfort of a habit, a happy feeling, etc.)
  6. Self-fulfillment (personal growth)

Difficult personalities are motivated by desires that disregard other people or the environment. These people place their own needs above those around them. More often than not, though, they believe they are doing the right thing for all concerned because in their own mind, they know what is right.

By default, we all believe that we are right in our thoughts, words, or actions; but we can be deceived by any of the following:

  1. A lack of understanding.
  2. False knowledge.
  3. Misinterpretations.
  4. Delusions.

These deceptions motivate us to act out in many ways to varying degrees. The following are example of how a person might behave given a certain motivation:

  1. Not acknowledging other people's opinions or ideas.
  2. Suppressing or invalidating ideas.
  3. Experiencing negative emotions.
  4. Speaking out compulsively or harshly.
  5. Believing delusions (beliefs held with absolute conviction despite superior evidence).
  6. Projecting behavior onto others.
  7. Lying to ourselves and others.
  8. Pretending to know something we do not know.
  9. Rationalizing our actions.

While we expect these behaviors in all people at times, the extreme personality will demonstrate these behaviors more predominately, to the degree that it adversely affects them or the people around them.

Understanding Motivation for Difficult Behaviors

Duration: 5 minutes.

In this exercise, you will match the motivation to the behavior that fits best.

  1. Motivation
    1. Self-preservation
    2. Self-promotion
    3. Self-defense
    4. Self-stimulation
    5. Self-reward
    6. Self-fulfillment
  2. Behavior
    1. Bragging about one's skills
    2. Playing a radio too loudly
    3. Taking excessive breaks
    4. Doing personal searches on the Internet
    5. Gossiping about a competitor
    6. Interrupting repeatedly in a disagreement



  1. A. Self-preservation and E. Gossiping about a competitor
  2. B. Self-promotion and A. Bragging about one's skills
  3. C. Self-defense and F. Interrupting repeatedly in a disagreement
  4. D. Self-stimulation and B. Playing a radio too loudly
  5. E. Self-reward and C. Taking excessive breaks
  6. F. Self-fulfillment and D. Doing personal searches on the Internet

Personal Application for Motivation for Difficult Behaviors

Duration: 20 minutes.

In this exercise, you will consider the following questions.

  1. Think about something you really like to do at work.It can be a task, a break-time activity, a committee responsibility, etc. Answer these questions in relation to that activity:
    1. What motivates you to be a part of that activity?
    2. Why do you feel good about it?

  2. Now think of something you really do not like to do, and answer these questions:
    1. Which motivating factor is causing you to feel the way you do about the task?
    2. Could it be possible that there are deceptions that might be heightening your dislike for the activity?


  1. Answers will vary but one example may be that you really like to participate on a committee because it gives you a chance to connect with your coworkers and do something other than work tasks so that when you return to work tasks you are refreshed.
  2. You may hate doing research for your boss. Maybe you've found yourself avoiding research-related tasks because you don't like doing something related to something you know little about. Perhaps presenting information to your boss makes you feel uncomfortable because you are afraid of being wrong and this causes you to pretend to know something you don't.