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Last updated on 12/9/20

Manage difficult personalities and break free from psychological games

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Managing difficult personalities

In fact, we are all someone else’s “difficult personality” at some point! 😳 Given multiple constraints, relationships at work can be complex and require patience.

It takes time to understand each other and to adapt to people’s different operating modes, according to whether you are more “people-oriented”, “direct”, “analytical” or “creative”.

However, certain ways of operating are more “difficult” than others such as those that prevent cooperation despite repeated efforts. You can unmistakably identify a difficult personality because:

  • working with them leads to constant uneasiness;

  • you are constantly on guard , feel guilty or invisible;

  • you are exhausted from any exchanges; 

  • there are frequent disagreements, which occur in a tense or crisis mode; or

  • this person is on bad terms with many staff members.

Though it’s not possible to change a “difficult personality”, you can avoid certain mistakes and foster the status quo:

Category

Characteristics

Behaviour

Don’t

Do

Anti-social

irresponsibility, claiming

great self-confidence, great self-control or sometimes violence

show fear, causing them to lose face, impulsiveness

be powerful, serene, normal

Anxious

worrying, constant tension

shoulders tense, restricted breathing, alarmed gaze

surprise, improvise, bursts of optimism

be extra reliable to reassure them

Dependent

fear of being alone, admires others

overly kind, submissive, “needy”

push forward, systematically helping

trust with responsibilities they are capable of, encourage to be more self-reliant

Depressive

pessimistic, puts themselves down

makes the most of their misfortunes

excessive kindness, excessive positivity

show appreciation, give opportunities to succeed that they can handle

Avoiding

fear of disappointing, seeks approval

reserved, shy, blushes, stammers, hushed voice

irony, mocking, irritation, hurrying

show gentleness and consideration

Hyperactive

impatient, competitive, rapidity

wandering eyes, machine-gun voice, fidgeting lower limbs

excessive reflection or analysis, pointless competitions

be available and attentive

Introverted

lonely, isolated

vague look, seems not to be “there”

display of feelings, excessively close relationships

use logical, quantified, rational arguments

Narcissistic

self-centred, charming

occupies the space without taking others into account

systematic opposition, non-renewable favours

compliment moderately and talk about others

Obsessional

perfectionist, obsessed

long sentences, recurring topics of conversation

hurrying, irony, excessive recognition

reassure about their abilities

Paranoid

 mistrust, rigidity

cold, behaves like a "commander"

improvises, mockery, compliments

be solid and maintain the contact

Passive-aggressive

 rebellious, obstructs

loud voice, withdrawn, sometimes aggressive physical proximity

authoritarian, criticise, attacks

be informal, simple, sensitive 

Dramatic

 seductive, dramatic

 strong vocal and physical expressiveness, seeks attention

seduction, compassion, mockery

listen without falling under their spell 

Break free from psychological games

There are two types of dysfunctional relationships in which the protagonists find themselves trapped in an endless circle; sometimes changing “roles”, but never escaping from them.

The phenomenon sometimes occurs unconsciously, sometimes insidiously through manipulation. These psychological games work against your independence and are sources of unease:

  1. the first is the “drama triangle” (Karpman), which associates three interdependent roles: the “victim”, the “persecutor”, and the “rescuer”;

  2. the second, described by Transactional Analysis, is the “parent/child” model.

Identify the “drama triangle” and break out of it

The drama triangle involves a “persecutor”, a “victim”, and a “rescuer”. These three roles do not  necessarily occupy the same time and space. They describe the types of dysfunctional roles that some people play. Learn to spot these behaviours, as:

  • the “victim” will flatter the “rescuer” or “persecutor” in you

  • the “persecutor” looks for a “victim”

  • the “rescuer” seeks to rescue

  • sometimes a former “victim” becomes a “persecutor” or “rescuer”

  • the roles change round during a lifetime or a career

The table below describes the attitudes of the three profiles and offers ways to break out of this triangular relationship at work:

Triangle

Persecutor

Victim

Rescuer

Characteristics

  • sets excessive standards

  • implements them rigidly

  • attacks those weaker than themselves

  • judges without having the responsibility

  • issues imprecise rules

  • notices only negative aspects

  • is happy to find mistakes

  • is disappointed when there aren’t any

  • sends out calls for help

  • forgets when it suits them

  • may be confused in their behaviour

  • thinks they’re never good enough

  • does not give themselves the means

  • does not make clear requests

  • asks someone else about the problem before looking for a solution

  • always repeats that it’s not their fault

  • adopts a rebellious or submissive stance

  • helps without being asked and before they know the problem

  • helps without having the skill or the means

  • helps by doing more than 50% of the work

  • keeps the victim dependent in order to continue playing the rescuer

Unfulfilled need

Esteem

Security

Recognition

To do if you recognize yourself as …

  • accept the contradiction

  • don’t judge, be tolerant

  • accept other peoples differences and limits

  • limit your demands and your need for power

  • identify your  needs and express them rather than punishing or taking over territories

  • practise the techniques of positive communication and empathy

  •  recognize your fragility and be aware that it is temporary

  • look for solutions yourself before asking for help

  • ask without complaining

  • choose the right person: avoid a “persecutor”

  • if you need help, do at least 60% of the suggested solution 

  • congratulate yourself each time you assert your independence

  • practise assertiveness techniques

  • stop systematically helping

  • stop projecting yourself and taking care of other people’s business

  • learn to trust

  • stop constantly giving advice

  • listen more, talk less

  • only help if the solution is within your field of expertise, and don’t do more than 40% of the work

  • admit that other people are capable of getting by on their own

  • withdraw from an interaction that leads to dependence

  • practise active listening techniques

To do if you are confronted with …

  • let them unload their aggressiveness or anger

  • don’t criticise

  • don’t argue

  • don’t give advice

  • stay calm and set your boundaries if they go too far

  • stop justifying yourself, use short sentences

  • abide by your commitments

  • keep to the facts

  • cut their remarks short but nicely and refocus

  • ask closed questions (yes/no answers)

  • don’t feel pressure to trust

  • don’t be excessively positive

  • help only when it’s within one of your fields of expertise, and never more than 50%

  • get them to look for solutions

  • thank them for the help offered and say that you’re going to try your own solution first

  • remain vague about your solution to avoid criticism and demotivation

  • stop justifying yourself, use short sentences

Counter-manipulation phrases to say in a neutral tone and with an open posture

  • “What do you mean by that?”

  • “I don’t know”

  • “What do you want to do?”

  • “I prefer not to interfere. You decide”

  • “That’s your opinion”

  • “That’s possible”

  • “Don’t worry about me”

Changing the “parent/child” relationship into an “adult/adult” one

The “child” is a dysfunctional behaviour because the person refuses to be independent and rejects any responsibility, with two possible attitudes: rebellion or over-submission. The “child” is looking for a “parent”.

As for the “parent”, they are looking for a “child” they can keep dependent on them.

Seek to have an “adult/adult” relationship, which requires:

  • assuming one’s responsibilities;

  • accepting criticism;

  • the ability to identify one’s own needs and to express them (emotional maturity); and

  • a good posture between empathy and assertiveness.

Summary

Become a super-team-player by learning to:

  • manage difficult personalities (and acknowledge that we are all someone's "difficult personality");

  • identify and break free from psychological games, such as:

    • the "drama triangle", made up of a "persecutor”, a “victim”, and a “rescuer”, and

    • the "parent/child" relationship, defined by rebellion or over-submission.

You know the right posture and you’ve worked on yourself; now you’re ready to organize yourself and boost your teamwork performance! 😎

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement