Managing Hard Personalities Doesn’t Have to be Tough

Management professionals are tasked with supervising and motivating diverse groups of employees, each of whom have their own individual goals, motivations, and personality traits. Some employees are productive, eager-to-please, receptive to criticism, and easy to lead. Other talented staff members may have difficult personalities, which can present a challenge to any management professional.

Managing employees with difficult personalities is not impossible, and many staff members who present management challenges can make valuable contributions to a team with the right leadership. The following tips can help managers to excel in getting even the most difficult staff members to perform up to their full potential.

Identifying the Challenges

The first step to effectively managing difficult personalities is to identify the types of personality traits that can exist in the workplace and make staff members more difficult to lead.  Difficult personality traits likely to create management challenges include:


The world revolves around a narcissist who cares only how things impact them. Narcissists often require constant praise and tend to react very poorly to criticism.  To effectively manage a narcissist and keep staff members with this personality motivated, it is important to frame instructions and assignments in terms of how the narcissist can benefit.

Passive aggressiveness:

People who are passive-aggressive tend to avoid direct confrontation and instead express their anger and annoyance in subtle but damaging ways. They may agree to perform a task but will fail to complete it on time or will provide unacceptable quality work. 

Anger management problems:

Employees with anger-management issues have the opposite problem of passive aggressive workers. They are quick to express overt anger over even the mildest of setbacks and can express anger in socially unacceptable ways. They may need more guidance on what is acceptable behavior in the workplace. Managers also need to recognize when anger is presenting an unacceptable risk and must take decisive action to address any concerns about angry workers.

Eagerness to assign blame:

Some staff members may be unwilling to accept responsibility for the outcome of their own actions. Blamers routinely try to point the finger at others to explain their own failures. This can make improving work performance of blamers a challenge for managers, who must ensure firm boundaries are maintained and clear, measurable goals are set.


Some staff members want to be in control of everything around them. These employees may try to interfere with the work tasks of their peers and can cause frustration. They may be unwilling to take criticism well or to follow directions effectively.   Providing clear instructions, setting boundaries, and praising effective contributions can be among the best ways for managers to cope with controlling staff members.

Even easy-to-manage employees may exhibit these tendencies on occasion. The key for management professionals is to recognize what is motivating employee actions and to find ways to provide the type of leadership each individual staff member is most likely to be receptive to.

Identifying an Appropriate Management Style

Understanding the personality traits of staff members is a key first step in effectively overcoming management challenges.  A management approach must be tailored to the specific problem personality traits that staff members exhibit.

When this is done effectively, many negative traits can be turned into assets. For example, narcissists tend to thrive in more powerful positions because they highly value their prestigious job and will work hard to protect and grow their scope of influence.  Passive aggressive workers may also be eager to advance and willing to do what it takes to excel.  Bossy workers and controlling staff members can channel their energy into work that requires a high level of detail and dedication.

To ensure that problematic personalities are an asset, not a detriment, it is important for managers to tackle any issues head-on and to address concerns with staff members immediately and effectively. Do not wait until performance reviews to provide feedback when employees allow problematic personality traits to impact work performance, as a difficult dynamic among co-workers and staff members can be hard to improve once it has been created.

Managers may also wish to put assignments in writing, and may need to establish firm boundaries for workers who allow passive-aggressiveness to impact their performance or whose bossiness and desire for control results in clashes with co-workers.  By ensuring each employee knows their role and understand their responsibilities, managers can facilitate more effective teamwork, even among staff with competing personality traits.

Finally, managers need to recognize when an employee's negative character traits outweigh any potential benefits that the worker could bring to the table. When the employee's contributions to the team are insufficient to justify the challenges of coping with that worker's personality traits, it may be time for a manager to decide the employee and company should part ways.

Are you looking for for a team of professionals to help you find talent that will blend well with your team and your leadership style?

The McIntyre Group can aid companies in finding qualified job-seekers who managers can effectively mold into productive team members. Contact us today to discover more about the assistance we can provide.