The 5 most difficult office archetypes.

Let’s face it, we can all have an off day in the office. Maybe we’ve had a busy weekend, are feeling a little tired and grouchy, and have left our interpersonal skills at home on the kitchen counter. But for some, being difficult and exhibiting difficult behaviours at work is the default setting from which they rarely deviate. Office workers tip-toe carefully around these difficult types, anxious lest they unleash the darkness and a steaming vitriol aimed squarely in their direction. There is, however, an impact upon those left dealing with these troublesome office archetypes, namely anger, anxiety, stress, even the search for a new position. Some would say, ‘just deal with them’ but often the fear of exacerbating the problem hinders action, often coupled with a desire for conflict avoidance. Here are the 5 most difficult office archetypes, and how to deal with them.

The Complainer. This office archetype can exhibit negativity in projects, be extremely rigid in their approach and tend to highlight the areas in which things could go wrong. Dealing with The Complainer daily can lead colleagues to feel drained and frustrated with a common mistake being trying to shore up their mood, often resulting in the depletion of their own. The Complainer may be unhappy with their lot and their position within the company, and if you are managing this office archetype, this is an avenue of exploration. Alternatively, The Complainer may simply be risk averse, a cautious type who worries about doing or getting things wrong, in which case these are valuable skills to bring to any project, when channelled in the right direction.

The Aggressor. If you have The Aggressor in your office, you certainly know about it. They can rage, shout, blow up over the slightest thing and use the ‘bulldozer’ technique to get what they want, working on the premise that the loudest wins. Working with The Aggressor can cause anxiety as colleagues anticipate the next explosion, and some people will find this office archetype more difficult to deal with than others, particularly those who are more sensitive. Dealing with The Aggressor can even unearth subconscious feelings of powerlessness or inadequacy. When dealing with this difficult personality, it is important not to respond in kind with some anger of your own, explain that you are open to discussing the issue but that anger and aggression are inappropriate.

The Saboteur. The Saboteur can be quite difficult to spot. They may be outwardly friendly, even overtly so and keen to gain your confidence utilising their considerable intellect to do so. But when The Saboteur strikes, through manipulation, underhand practices or even passive aggressive behaviour, their colleagues can be left reeling. Because of their subtlety and inclination to play with your emotions, dealing with The Saboteur requires a gentle touch. Try to remain emotionally detached with this personality type, keeping things on a firmly professional footing.

The Controller. You may like The Controller rather a lot, they may be happy, affable and friendly but their desire for controlling everything, from the latest project to the Friday night out can be extremely tiresome. They know it all, have seen it all and certainly know the best way of doing things. Dealing with The Controller, whether as a colleague or boss can be frustrating and annoying, as those around them are not given the opportunity to show what they can do. On the surface, The Controller is an egotist, full of their own importance and they require the constant affirmation that being in charge brings. To deal with The Controller, put forward a different view, if it was the other way round they would have no compunction with doing the same. In fact, they probably expect it.

The Indifferent. In many ways, The Indifferent type is the most difficult to deal with, they give very little away in terms of feedback, or even communication at all, so colleagues have little material to work with. Having The Indifferent as a boss can be discouraging, never receiving that essential guidance and as a colleague, they can be dull and uninspiring. Behind the calm façade of The Indifferent can be a shyness or office experiences that have burned them enough to make them want to keep their distance. Let The Indifferent know, through your professionalism and behaviour at work, that they can trust you and that you are reliable. Sometimes The Indifferent is a better communicator by email, so consider this in your interactions. It won’t be a quick transition with this office archetype, but it will be worth it in the end.

We’ve all got our own unique hot-buttons and an office archetype that particularly riles us. The Indifferent may find The Aggressor far too overt, The Saboteur may be resentful of The Controller and the regular office worker may find them all just a bit too much . We may even recognise aspects of these difficult personality types in our own behaviours and if the flame of recognition is there, either for yourself or others that you work with, take the time to consider the situation, look at patterns and decide on a way forward.


About the Author

Paul Russell is co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London,, a multi-national private training company with offices in London, Delhi and Vishakhapatnam. Luxury Academy London specialise in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across a wide range of sectors. Prior to founding Luxury Academy London, Paul worked in senior leadership roles across Europe, United States, Middle East and Asia. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.