Posted in Company culture | by: Kira Deutch

Your Field Guide for Managing Quirky Work Personalities

Work is a maze of moods. People drop their scripts, quirks emerge, and things start to get real. Part of being a good manager means being able to navigate that mix of personalities, and then place a magnifying glass over which traits are holding people back. To expand your understanding of a few common types, we gathered advice from experts about four people who keep making office cameos.

The “me” person

How to spot them

People with narcissistic traits (and not the full-blown disorder) can sometimes feel like they’re the center of everything. These are the Carly Simon fans listening to “You’re so Vain” on repeat. They crave attention and can have an oblique view when thinking about how their actions impact others.

How to manage them

By understanding why they need that spotlight in the first place. Author Robert Weiss writes that selfishness stems from incredibly low self-esteem. To combat those feelings of inadequacy, find ways to build these folks back up. And in a broader sense, strive to make your office a place where people feel valued for their contributions. Since many self-involved people are prickly when it comes to criticism, calling them out on things won’t work. Instead, deepen their empathy skills by framing projects and behaviors around how they affect other people. Be descriptive with how others may feel, because that instinctual feeling may be clouded for this type. Researchers from the University of Surrey found that with proper instruction, people can learn how to be more empathetic. “If we encourage narcissists to consider the situation from their teammate’s or friend’s point of view, they are likely to respond in a much more considerate or sympathetic way.”

Keep in mind that a tinge of narcissism isn’t terrible. Some psychologists say that a spoonful of self-indulgence, called adaptive narcissism, can help shyer types become more assertive. It’s a spectrum. Weiss writes that people with narcissistic traits also have the propensity to be “incredibly warm, bright, engaging, thoughtful (when they are thinking about doing that), and creative.”

The “not me” person

How to spot them

This type loves throwing pity parties. It’s difficult for them to take ownership for their actions, which is why outside forces are usually to blame when things go haywire. They’re “the dog ate my homework” excuse in human form.

How to manage them

First, look for the real reason why they’re not owning up to things. Are they scared? Does your office have a culture where mistakes are shunned? Make it clear that there is no penalty for being honest at work. Talk about the traits that really matter to you in a teammate —  like integrity, bravery, and ownership — and then find ways you can help them exhibit those qualities through specific actions. Executive coach Beth Miller recommends that you give those who are ownership-averse opportunities to succeed by carefully defining their responsibilities. She says, “Be really clear about what the person should be doing, the quality of the work that should be delivered, and the time in which that should happen.”

Psychologist Nathaniel Branden says that people can feel liberated once they realize they’re not a princess in a video game, waiting to be saved. Remind this person that no one is going to rescue them — they alone are responsible for how they want to live their life. Tal Ben-Shahar, author of Choose the Life You Want, says it’s that intrinsic feeling of responsibility that not only develops your sense of self, but also inches you closer to solving whatever problems come your way. Ben-Shahar writes, “When I realize that making a positive difference in my situation (and even in the world) is up to me, and me alone, I am ready to take responsibility and make the most of my life.”

The “yes” person

How to spot them

These big-hearted types are empathetic to a fault. People pleasers are intuitive and caring, but prioritize the needs of others above their own. Why exactly? “Caretakers need to be liked and feel valued,” says Kaley Klemp, co-author of The Drama-Free Office.

How to manage them

Recognize (and applaud!) this person’s strengths: they care too much. Then, talk about ways they can protect themselves while still letting their kindness shine through. According to communication coach Preston Ni, “yes” people need to learn to how to detach themselves from the negative thoughts that come up when they’re not helping others. To help this type work through their feelings, give them examples of how saying “no” can actually be the best thing to do, and counter their guilt-ridden thoughts with “self-confirming responses.” For example, if they’re upset about not being able to help out, Ni suggests responding with a statement like, “If you allow yourself your own time, you can take better care of yourself as well as others.”

One of your jobs to remind them that they matter too. Nurture that feeling by setting up boundaries. Make sure “yes” people don’t exceed the scope of their work and help out when they can’t afford to. “Before caretakers are allowed to take on a project or pitch in to help a coworker, they need to run it by their manager,” says Klemp. “Managers need to teach caretakers that ‘NO’ is not a bad word.”

The “OMG” person

How to spot them

These are the people who are are on edge, all the time. Even the simplest task drives this stressed-out type into full on freak-out mode.

How to manage them

Calmness is the best antidote. Ask them why they’re feeling stressed, and what you can do to help squash their fears. This person may need something as simple as more clarification about a task or kudos for a job well done. By acknowledging their fears and offering your help, you can take them out of panic mode while assessing if the situation really warrants alarm. According to Jeanie Daniel Duck, author of The Change Monster, it’s crucial that you “lessen uncertainty and increase understanding… Uncertainty feeds anxiety; knowledge calms it.” Find opportunities to be more transparent about what’s happening in the company and on your team.

Therapist Kate Thieda also emphasizes the importance of using “I” statements when talking to someone about their anxiety. Bringing yourself into the fold shows that you truly care and don’t just want to pin the blame on them. For example, instead of saying “Your behavior is driving me crazy,” you can say, “I’m concerned about how your behavior is affecting your health.” When things get overwhelming, be flexible. Listening and staying calm will help the “OMG” person slowly erase “OMG” from their vocabulary.

When managing a mix of people, communication is essential. Absorbing your team’s take on things will enable you to relate in more ways while providing clarity around why challenges are happening in the first place. Dialogue will turn relationships into partnerships, and help people see that it’s everyone’s job to draw out the amazing.

About Kira Deutch

Kira Deutch is on the content team at Gusto, where she focuses on telling stories that empower small businesses across the country. She has a background in publishing and content marketing for startups. You can get in touch with Kira here.