By Shonda Lackey, Ph.D.

According to CPP, Inc.’s 2008 study of 5,000 employees in the United States and eight other countries, 85% of those surveyed reported dealing with workplace conflict. They noted that workplace conflict negatively impacted individual relationships as well as the morale and productivity of their organizations. Participants cited personality issues as one of the main causes of conflict.

Although several theories of personality exist, personality generally refers to a specific pattern of thinking, behaving, and expressing emotion. At times, an employee’s personality might lead him or her to experience insurmountable distress or difficulty functioning in major areas of life such as work. These signs, combined with additional indicators, may suggest the presence of a personality disorder.

Personality disorders, which can only be diagnosed by a qualified mental health professional, are characterized by a fixed pattern of behavior that has usually existed for a long time. The behavior also occurs in various settings and differs from what is typical in an individual’s culture. In addition to difficulties in interpersonal functioning, individuals with personality disorders often experience disturbances in thinking, emotion, and impulse control.

Some people with personality disorders seek psychological help to overcome their interpersonal difficulties at work, but many don’t. These individuals usually don’t believe the way they relate to others is problematic and are often unaware of how their interpersonal style affects professional relationships.

Although some employees might not have yet sought treatment for their personality problems, you may be able to adapt to working with them. The following tips could help you recognize some of the most difficult personality types you may encounter at work. These tips are intended to offer you strategies to minimize interpersonal conflict with your co-workers so that you can work more efficiently.


Common Trigger: Perceived ego threat


1. Frequently uses the words "I", "me", and "my"

2. Rarely or never praises your strengths and almost always criticizes your weaknesses

3. Tends to dominate conversations and frames the discussion so that he or she appears important

4. Gives orders or proposes ideas, then takes the credit for positive outcomes and blames others for negative outcomes

5. Has difficulty empathizing with you and will most likely blame you for any problems you are experiencing

Rules of Engagement:

1. Don’t discuss personal accomplishments or losses – your co-worker can become resentful of your success and your losses may be used as fodder for criticism.

2. Express disagreement privately whenever possible – there may be times when you have to confront your co-worker, but public challenges can fuel angry verbal attacks.

3. Discuss your agenda as soon as possible and remain focused – this may circumvent your co-worker’s tendency to interrupt with long-winded and often irrelevant comments.


Common Trigger: Perceived rejection


1. Rapid mood changes

2. Asks personal questions and shares unsolicited personal information

3. Alternates between appearing to be your best friend and your worst enemy

4. Frequently contradicts himself or herself and blames you for the consequences of any misunderstandings

5. Often uses gossip to turn co-workers against one another

Rules of Engagement:

1. Remain calm if you are compared with another employee – by not reacting, you make it clear that you refuse to participate in this divisive tactic.

2. Don't get caught up in being idealized as you may just as quickly be demeaned – when Provocateurs believe you’ve disappointed them, they will become unreasonably upset and will rarely remember any positive feelings they held for you.

3. Communicate clearly and confirm verbal agreements in writing when feasible – a record of communication can help clarify miscommunications and may safeguard your professional credibility.


Common Trigger: Perceived loss of control


1. Has difficulty meeting deadlines because of perfectionism

2. Reluctant to consider alternative ideas

3. May take over the duties of co-workers instead of trusting them to perform their roles

4. May spend a lot of time organizing and focusing on details

5. Has difficulty balancing work with leisure activities

Rules of Engagement:

1. Clarify expectations and discuss concerns before beginning a project – this can help you decide how to invest your time and may decrease the chances you’ll be asked to complete unrealistic, last-minute changes in goals.

2. Present alternative ideas in an uncritical manner and focus on how goals and the quality of work will be sustained – your co-worker may be more receptive as this approach may quell some of his or her fears of failure.

3. Together, create a project checklist that can be used as a measure of quality assurance and agree to discuss your progress at specific intervals – you will have a clear list of goals and micromanagement may decrease.

Regardless of which challenging personality type you come into contact with, negative interactions may cause you to doubt your self-worth and ability. You may find comfort in discussing your feelings with a therapist or a good friend. You might also find it helpful to remind yourself of personal traits and professional achievements that challenge how a particular co-worker seems to perceive you.

Understanding your co-worker’s triggers can also put your co-worker’s behavior in context – the behavior is usually more about their distorted perceptions than it is about you. Still, in some instances, despite your best attempts at using certain engagement strategies, you may find it necessary to limit the time you spend with a particular co-worker. In extreme cases, you may have to consult with a supervisor to help you resolve a conflict.

From another perspective, you may have recognized signs that your own personality could be causing trouble in your relationships at work. If you are motivated to improve the quality of those relationships, you can get help by requesting a consultation with a mental health professional such as a psychologist.

Remember, although you can’t always control how your co-workers relate to you, you can control how you relate to them.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Shonda Lackey is a clinical psychologist in New York City. She helps filmmakers and authors create entertaining and realistic characters. For more information about Dr. Lackey, please visit her website and follow her on Twitter @ArtofIntrospect.