The 12 types of obnoxious people in your office (rap star edition)

The author provides a field guide to the annoying and destructive personalities in the workplace, and gives each one a rapper name. Lil Whine, anyone?


Each of us has a bad seed buried in our psyche, a well-hidden neurosis or subtle twist that keeps the good and dutiful parts of our personalities in balance.

If it weren’t for that tiny heart of darkness, after all, we’d all be in the race for the Polly Anna award. Now that wouldn’t be very interesting for a workplace of personalities, would it? You have my permission: Let’s embrace the dark and ominous side of people. It’s where the funny stuff lives.

Take 50 or 200 or 10,000 people, each with a barely controlled quirk, and what do you have? The eclectic place we know as the office. And in the workplace, tiny behavioral quirks blossom into toxic, fabulous, exciting, and interesting personalities. It’s all good. And it’s what makes life more interesting for all of us.

On this list of 12 personalities you’re sure to recognize one or two (or maybe even 12) with whom you work or live. I will not strand you with a simple description; I will arm you with a suggestion or two to help manage personality quirks—in others and in yourself—to maintain relative harmony in the workplace.

To keep it fun and on-trend, let’s give each one a pseudo-rap name. That way, next time you look at one of your co-workers, friends, or boss, you’ll see more than a personality—you’ll hear the booming music too.

That is what I define as a talented culture. Wink.

1. The Gossip, a.k.a. Snoop Diig

IM, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, G+—some could say these social media sites were invented for Gossips, if they’re used for this unfortunate purpose.

Always on the prowl for bad behavior (in others), innuendo, rumors of salary differentials, and other time-tested wedges to use to create fear, uncertainty and doubt, the gossip lives to notice, document, and spread rumors. You can take a few approaches with a gossip: never say anything personal; listen but don’t do them the favor of spreading the current rumor; or feed them bogus information and sit back to watch the show.

Gossips are a destructive force, but oh so much fun to watch in action—as long as it’s not you they’re gossiping about.

2. The Manipulator, a.k.a. The Notorious P.I.A.

Some people just aren’t happy unless they are manipulating others. Did you do something today you didn’t want to do because Ms. Manipulator pushed you into it with suggestions of dire consequences if you didn’t follow her guide? You’re not a chump; you’re just the victim du jour.

You know which buttons were pushed—now deal with it and move those buttons where they’ll never compromise you again. Repeat after me: You are in control of your actions.

3. The Tattler, a.k.a. Sir Rats a Lot

You met this person in the first grade as the teacher’s pet, the one who would “tell” on anyone, whether it was about a play-yard push or a half-eaten lunch. People who run to the boss with tales of others’ shortcomings need to feel important and empowered. They demonstrate their loyalty by ratting out others. Treat them as you would the Gossip: Don’t give them the ammunition they crave, unless, in a moment of perversity, you decide to set them up. But be careful, you know they’ll tell on you.

4. The Complainer, a.k.a. Lil Whine

The Complainer is perhaps the most toxic person in the workplace. He or she is never happy and whines about everything to anyone who will listen.

Either don’t listen—you’ll feel used—or listen and then wash your hands as a symbolic gesture you’re letting the poison go. And never complain to a complainer; you’re only keeping their fantasy alive. Is it worth it?

5. The Narcissist, a.k.a. De La Self

Convinced it really is all about him, the Narcissist will interrupt your weekend story to make it his own, only with glitter. Did you ride your bike 20 miles? He went 50, had a flat, fixed it with spit and Band-Aids, and still got home faster than you. Did your child get an A? His is in Honors English and got an A+, but really shines in Physics. And so on.

The Narcissist is exhausting. Don’t even play the game; if you’re tempted, make stuff up to see how far he’ll go. It’s amusing to watch the terminally insecure twitch, and a useful lesson in the virtues of humility.

6. The Control Freak, a.k.a. Ya Rule

If you work for this person, you’re micro managed. If you’re on a team, you’ll feel inadequate or disorganized—or maybe just annoyed. Battle the Control Freak with lists, exhaustive detail, and a matter-of-fact attitude. With this person, subversive tactics are tough to pull off, but try to deliver everything in a deadpan manner. At least you’ll be amused.

7. The Tuned Out, a.k.a. The Lost Boy

Every office has at least one person who’s completely checked out, doing the bare minimum to keep the paychecks coming. You can take a couple of approaches with these types: talk to them to discover why they’re disengaged in an attempt to help them reconnect; or stay away and let them crater without taking you down as collateral damage.

Odds are if a person has achieved this state, it’s the way he or she is. Nothing you can say or do will change it. Don’t let that person’s bad attitude or terminal ennui drag you down.

8. The Martyr, a.k.a. DJ Drama-rama

Always the victim, the Martyr is convinced he or she is the target of the boss, or HR, or the Deity, or someone in management. The Martyr could also be the Complainer or the Gossip. Either way, this person loves a good down. Don’t satisfy this person’s need for drama or suffering. If you can’t escape a conversation The Martyrs in your office, use active listening techniques to reflect what they are saying back to them. Presto! It’s their problem, not yours.

9. The Bully, a.k.a. Treacherous Me

A close relative of the Control Freak, Manipulator, and Gossip, the Bully achieves results by pressuring people to do his or her bidding or threatening to reveal the inadequacies of others. Bullies cannot thrive in the open. Neutralize the power of the Bully by making sure everyone knows what he or she is doing and why.

10. The Smarty Pants, a.k.a. Inflawential

The Smarty Pant is like the Narcissist but with a better intellect, or perhaps just a better memory for facts. Smarty Pants is the one who always makes the most insightful comments in meetings and is most creative in brainstorm sessions. This person’s deadly secret: many Smarties have great ideas but absolutely no clue as to how to get things done. Partner with the Smarty to learn how to think more creatively. Be careful not to let the Smarty Pants cut off creativity in others, though.

11. The Dummy, a.k.a. Be Slow

This person needs to hear instructions 10 times to get something done correctly. He or she continually says, “Excuse me?” And their passwords are taped to the underside of their keyboards. They give their credit card number over the cell phone. You can’t help this them. If they’re on your team, do as much of their work as possible. Otherwise, avoid at all costs.

12. The Neurotic, a.k.a. 4 Eva Krazy

Eeyore lives in every organization. The contagion of negativity needn’t affect you or the workplace; just acknowledge this person struggles with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt and realize it’s not about you.

Be kind, but don’t wallow in or share the negativity. Be like Christopher Robin: gently guide them to the path of positivity, and when they won’t venture on, keep moving forward yourself. They’ll follow your lead, eventually.

How do you deal with the quirks and neuroses of others? Share some tricks for maintaining a healthy workplace. Even better, suggest alternate rap names. I’m all earz. Thanks for tuning in.

Meghan M. Biro, founder of TalentCulture, is a serial entrepreneur and globally recognized career expert in talent acquisition, creative personal, and corporate branding. A version of this story first appeared on the 12 Most … blog.

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