“If in workplace after workplace you are the only one who’s right and everyone else is a jerk, schmuck or idiot, take note: there’s a common denominator and it’s you,” says Foster.

A Taxonomy of Troublemakers for Those Navigating Difficult Colleagues | First Round Review

Here’s a list of eight difficult personality types — and how their behavior can manifest positively or negatively in the workplace.

Narcissus – thinks highly of oneself, ballooning self-esteem
  • As a positive trait: willingness to try new things with any possibility of success
  • As a negative trait: entitled, condescending, self-centered, attention-seeking
Venus Flytrap – very appealing initially, eventually brings chaos
  • As a positive trait: incredibly persuasive and relatable to many people
  • As a negative trait: shifts expectations/emotions, creating unstable relationships
Swindler – systematic and charming, but dangerous and self-propagating
  • As a positive trait: magnetic, influential, savvy and resourceful
  • As a negative trait: no regard for rules, laws, or for other people
Bean Counter – controls quality, but becomes a bottleneck
  • As a positive trait: focused, persistent and involved
  • As a negative trait: obsessive, paralyzed, blocks progress
Distracted – a nutty professor, can’t time-manage, organize or finish tasks
  • As a positive trait: brilliant, curious and informed
  • As a negative trait: procrastinating, preoccupied and noncommittal
Robotic – process-oriented, but struggles to connect with people
  • As a positive trait: structured, focused, rule-bound
  • As a negative trait: rigid, aloof, disconnected, mechanical
Eccentric – unique individual, but with peculiar ideas
  • As a positive trait: original, strong beliefs, big thinker
  • As a negative trait: difficult to understand, detached, irrational
Suspicious – Self-protective, but paranoid, often with a conspiratorial world view
  • As a positive trait: vigilant, prizes loyalty/trust, confidential
  • As a negative trait: insecure, fearful, always at war

Regardless of which disruptive colleagues you may encounter, she recommends taking agency with the following five steps:

  • Check yourself. “When someone is causing you trouble or you’re having difficulty with someone at work, check yourself. Have you ever just disliked somebody because they reminded you of somebody else you disliked? It happens. Take a beat and make sure that your reaction is calibrated.”
  • Name the beast. “It’s very easy to call someone a jerk or a schmuck. But people aren’t necessarily schmucks at all — there’s a mismatch between their personality-driven behavior and the situation. Define exactly what it is that’s causing trouble because once you can define the behavior, it can really help you with your intervention.”
  • Empathize with their anxiety. “Take what you know about people. People love to tell you about themselves. Listen. If they’re having interpersonal trouble, figure out which bucket they might fall into and try to empathize with the anxiety that’s causing them to act that way.”
  • Call out the behavior. “Decide whether you’re going to call out the behavior or not. Some behavior’s so egregious that you absolutely have to call it out in the moment. Other times when you notice the behavior recurring, schedule a private meeting to talk about that pattern.”
  • Keep it short. Be direct. “If you do call out the behavior, keep it short, be concise, and be direct. And try to do this feedback or intervention as close to a recent event as possible to give the other person the best chance of hearing the message.”

If all that fails, Foster has one final tip. “If in workplace after workplace you are the only one who’s right and everyone else is a jerk, schmuck or idiot, take note: there’s a common denominator and it’s you,” says Foster. “If and when you figure this out about yourself — or if you’re lucky enough to have somebody point it out to you — consider yourself fortunate. You have been given a roadmap for self-betterment. Eat humble pie and take it under advisement. Do what you need to do to make changes. It’ll improve your life — in and outside of work.”