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Last updated on 5/26/23

Manage Difficult Personalities and Break Free From Psychological Games

Managing Difficult Personalities

Let’s face it: we’ve all been someone’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 adapt to different operating modes, depending on 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 when:

  • 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

  • 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.







irresponsibility, claiming

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

show fear, causing them to lose face, or be impulsive

be powerful, serene


worrying, constant tension

shoulders tense, restricted breathing, alarmed gaze

surprise, improvise, use bursts of optimism

be extra reliable to reassure them


fear of being alone, admires others

overly kind, submissive, “needy”

push forward or systematically help

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


pessimistic, puts themselves down

makes the most of their misfortunes

use excessive kindness or excessive positivity

show appreciation, give opportunities to succeed that they can handle


fear of disappointing, seeks approval

reserved, shy, blushes, stammers, hushed voice

rush or use irony, mocking, irritation

show gentleness and consideration


impatient, competitive, fast

wandering eyes, machine-gun voice, fidgeting lower limbs

require excessive reflection or analysis, pointless competitions

be available and attentive


lonely, isolated

vague look, seems not to be “there”

display feelings or have excessively close relationships

use logical, quantified, rational arguments


self-centered, charming

occupies the space without taking others into account

use systematic opposition or  non-renewable favors

compliment moderately and talk about others


perfectionist, obsessed

long sentences, recurring topics of conversation

rush, use irony or excessive recognition

reassure about their abilities


mistrustful, rigid

cold, behaves like a "commander"

improvise, use mockery or compliment

be solid and maintain contact


rebellious, obstructing

loud voice, withdrawn, sometimes aggressive physical proximity

be authoritarian, criticize or attack

be informal, simple, sensitive 


seductive, dramatic

strong vocal and physical expressiveness, seeks attention

use 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 Free From 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 behaviors.

  • 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 throughout 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:






  • 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 behavior

  • 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




To do if you recognize yourself as …

  • accept the contradiction

  • don’t judge, be tolerant

  • accept other people’s differences and limits

  • limit your demands and your need for power

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

  • practice 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

  • practice 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

  • practice active listening techniques

To do if you are confronted with …

  • let them unload their aggressiveness or anger

  • don’t criticize

  • 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

  • nicely cut their remarks short 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 behavior 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 upon them.

Strive for 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)

  • A good posture between empathy and assertiveness

Let's Recap!

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”

    • The parent/child relationship, defined by rebellion or over-submission

You know the right mindset and you’ve worked on yourself. Now you’re ready to organize yourself and boost your team performance! 😎

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