In “The Manager’s Communication Toolkit: tools and techniques for leading difficult personalities”, Tina Kuhn identifies 10 difficult personalities in the workplace, and shows through examples the wrong AND the right way to deal with them.

The big idea

To accomplish pretty much anything, you need the work and help of others.  So you HAVE to motivate and inspire.  Top performers are consistently those who can get the most out of their teams.  And to do that, you’ve GOT to communicate effectively.

But how can you deal with people who are liars, gossipers, or manipulators?

When dealing with difficult personalities, your first reaction may be to confront them and demand that they stop their harmful behavior.  But that’s NOT going to work.  Instead, focus on identifying and then attacking the root cause of the problem… and the bad behavior will go away.

How to deal with difficult personalities

Take a gossiper for example.  Gossip is rampant in most workplaces, and it can be detrimental to morale, cause miscommunications, and create a toxic culture.

Sure you can pull the gossiper aside and demand that they stop immediately – you’re onto them!  You may think you’ve dealt with the problem but it will probably fuel much more gossip…

You can do much better by looking at WHY they’re resorting to gossip.  Maybe they’re protecting themselves from something, or maybe they want to feel more important.

How to eliminate the root cause of bad behavior

So how can you eliminate the root cause of the problem?  With a gossiper, it’s a good idea to take more of a coaching approach.  Make it clear that their behavior is harmful, and coach them out of that habit, one-on-one.

Or take the naysayer, who questions every decision and always comes up with reasons why things CAN’T be done.  They probably want to feel like they’re being heard.  So when you deal with them, keep the discussion on the facts and stay away from opinions.  Then, give them face-saving opportunities to change their minds, without feeling they’re being judged.

And what about the drama-queen – the person who thrives on attention and spins small issues into disasters?  Ask them to summarize what happened in one sentence.  That will force them to get down to the facts.


To become a great leader, you have to become an effective communicator first.  Between your team and your vision stand many challenging personalities that can derail communications.  But if you learn how to deal with them, listen to them, and understand what’s driving the bad behaviors, you can weed them out, empower your people, and align your team.