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    Dealing with Difficult Personalities

    When Getting Along Is Easier Said than Done

    by Noa Peri-Jensch

    This past Saturday, I was listening to a Bar Mitzvah boy at our synagogue. He spoke about the most important mitzvah of ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ He explained that we should love and accept others’ shortfalls just as we accept our own.

    Easier said than done,” whispered the man sitting behind me. “Easier said than done.”

    As a coach, I often hear from clients that life would be so much easier if only difficult colleagues, employees, customers and bosses didn’t surround them. And while it’s fair to assume that every workplace has a few challenging people, working with difficult people in your own Jewish community can be especially hard. When every aspect of our lives is deeply intertwined, from work to our personal relationships, we realize that the person we fought with at last week’s board meeting is now sitting next to us at Shabbat dinner.
    A “difficult” personality is better described as a “very different” personality from us. Even a great friend can be a challenging co-worker if your work styles don’t align. But before you deal with a difficult person, you need to deal with yourself first by asking:

    • Why does this person bother me?
    • What do I need in order to feel more comfortable dealing with this person? Do I need them to listen to me? Do I need to better understand their intentions? Do I need our work relationship to be more flexible? More stable? More task-focused or more people focused?
    • What can I do to communicate this need?
    • What about me could be bothering my co-worker?
    • Is our issue resolvable? Is it worth resolving?

    Early in my career, I was introduced to the Myers Briggs personality assessment. After taking it, I gained a great amount of insight into not only myself, but also my group of “difficult people.” Here are a few common examples of how our personality profiles can lead to a difficult relationship:

    Introvert/Extrovert: Some people are more centered and productive when they work alone in a quiet environment. Others cannot function on a task without bouncing ideas off other people. If a very social extroverted personality tries to “think out loud” with a very introverted focused on internal processing, they will feel rejected if the introvert does not show enthusiasm and make minimal comment. An introvert trying to focus their mind on organizing their thoughts will feel frustrated, resentful, and drained by a more sociable co-workers constant “interruptions”.

    Which one are you? Which one is your difficult person?

    Sensor/Intuitive: Some prefer to look at the facts and details, and others are more interested in the big picture and its general impact. When a sensor watches a co-worker’s eyes glaze over as he relays all the vital data he collected, he may assume that the other person finds his report boring or unimportant. However, it can be just the opposite. An intuitive personality is often so busy trying to turn these tiny facts into a big, meaningful picture that she can become overwhelmed, lost, and shut down in frustration. On the other hand, if an intuitive person goes directly to the end result, a sensor may become anxious without seeing the data that led to that result.

    Which one are you? Which one is your difficult person?

    Rational/Values: As if things were not complex enough, people differ even further in how they process decisions they make. Some people make decisions and base their opinions on rational, analytical thought. They are very comfortable in the realm of cause and effect. Other people base the same choices on their personal values and how the topic at hand will affect others.

    Which one are you? Which one is your difficult person?

    Organized/Spontaneous: Some people can change at a moment’s notice. They are constantly adapting and changing their work to reflect the needs of that exact moment. Other people, however, prefer stability and predictability. They want to make a detailed plan of action for the next six months. That spontaneous co-worker may wrestle with the needs and demands of their hyper-organized partner. They may even feel the organized person is too rigid.

    Which one are you? Which one is your difficult person?

    Clearly, neither side is right or wrong. However, these differences can create challenges in working with those who are different! This essential difference in perspective can lead to a difficult relationship.

    Working with difficult personalities does not need to be so challenging. Next time you encounter a difficult personality, remember that you might also be difficult for them! Look at your own personality profile and how it might be the reason for the clash.

    If working with difficult people still feels “easier said than done,” register for our webinar on Dealing with Difficult People on Thursday, May 21.


    “Deb has been a respected speaker and facilitator for a number of our JCC conferences over the past few years. While I've heard about her energy, hard work in preparing, and meaningful content, it took her recent keynote speech at our annual JCCs of North America Professional Conference to make me realize what an incredible asset she is. Watching her present a content-filled, energetic, and personalized session -- without using any notes -- was very impressive. Deb is a multi-talented, serious, and impactful presenter."

    – Allan Finkelstein, Past President and CEO, JCC Association of North America

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