Dealing With Difficult Personalities at Work: The One Who Seems Awkward, Abrasive, and Aloof

Kyle’s avatar

Do you know someone from work who keeps to themselves, as if they can’t relate to – or don’t care – what’s going on in anyone else’s hearts or heads? People like that can cause headaches at work. You can’t always avoid them, and it’s hard to know how to deal with them appropriately. Well, I’m going to help you with that, like a soothing mental aromatherapy stick for that headache.

Certain personality types don’t put much effort into the social side of the workplace (something I know well, as an Architect – INTJ). But I’m talking about something else here. Look, every personality type has a “dark side.” Some people express their personality traits in problematic ways, more so in certain situations. We’re talking about rarer, statistical-minority stuff, not general type-related behavior.

(It’s also important to note that some concerning behaviors can relate to mental illness or personality disorders – things beyond the scope of what we cover.)

There can be many flavors of “ugh” from various personality types, but we’re focusing on one stereotype here – those who are so weirdly out of sync that they rub others the wrong way and are difficult to work with. It may be tempting to dismiss them as oddball loners, but that can just increase the disconnection and make things worse for everyone.

Luckily, when you understand people’s personalities, it’s easier to get along with them, even those difficult few. Heck, you may be one of them and need a reality check. So yeah, let’s consider a glance in the mirror but not throw any stones (I like my shiny glass abode) as we examine this troubling archetype together.

What Are We Talking About, Exactly?

Let’s go over a checklist to establish what we’re dealing with. Do you know anyone in your workplace who fits this description?


When something bad happens, these characters seem more interested in pointing out what’s wrong or what could and should have been done differently than comforting anyone or expressing sympathy. They seem critical of not just people’s mistakes but also their misfortune.

This can be really irritating, right? For one thing, it tends to highlight the negative side of events. It may also make people feel blamed or ashamed, as if they’re responsible for the problem. Even when that’s true, being harsh about it helps nothing. Yet being the one to trumpet the negatives seems to give these folks some kind of satisfaction.

Acts Superior

Sometimes you might also get the sense that these people want you to know how smart or capable they are – which is a totally normal human impulse, in general. It’s just that they may not have any grace or tact in how they do it, so it comes off as arrogance or bragging.

This often takes the form of a response. You know, where you say something about yourself or your experience, and they ignore what you say and tell you something vaguely related that calls attention to themselves. Talking about oneself is fine as part of an equal give-and-take, but it’s boring when it’s one-sided. These people might act as if your experiences don’t matter or as if they need to stick theirs on top.

Oblivious to Emotion

If it seems like these kinds of people don’t pay attention to other people’s feelings, you’re probably right about that. It can seem as if there’s a level of communication taking place that they just aren’t picking up on, even when it’s obvious to everyone else. They just speak bluntly about whatever, without any sensitivity to what’s going on with other people.

This can be bad enough when it seems like obtuseness, but it’s even more upsetting when it seems like they notice and don’t care. It’s as if they get a whiff of someone’s emotions and just…retreat, like they’re escaping a bad smell. Or worse, they may stay and act disdainful of people’s feelings, which can be especially hurtful during emotional moments.


People like this may lack the social skills to integrate, or they may deliberately keep their distance, avoiding gatherings, interactions, and social bonding at work. This might feel like a relief, because they’re difficult to be around, but it hurts working relationships, especially if other people take it personally. Good cooperation at work is important.

One person’s isolation could be seen as a rejection of everyone else, but on the other hand, that person may feel excluded themselves. They may not know that they’re the source of social difficulties, or what to do about it. When communication is poor, as it often is with people of the sort we’re looking at here, unhelpful assumptions can flourish on both sides.

But that can stop with you. Now that we’ve established a profile for this kind of person, let’s try to understand them – and their personality type.

Does This Stereotype Have a Personality Type?

It’s worth restating that every personality type has a dark side, and a few concerning individuals don’t reflect the type in general. But that said, if someone chronically and significantly displays all of the behaviors discussed above, chances are they’re one of the Introverted, Thinking personality types: Architects (INTJ), Logicians (INTP), Logisticians (ISTJ), or Virtuosos (ISTP).

You won’t know for sure unless you can get them to take our free test. Otherwise, you can read our type descriptions and make a guess. Even better, if you’re a member of our site, you can use our free Workplace Type Guesser tool.

Thinking personality types in general may have some of those tendencies mentioned above, but what narrows things down here is Introversion. It’s rare for an Extravert to be isolated and aloof but more likely for Introverted, Thinking types than any others. Most people with those personality traits don’t fit our “dark-side” stereotype, but pointing out that they might be at risk for it probably isn’t news, even to them.

Consider the following responses to the research statement, “Getting along with others is often hard for you”:

  • Introverted, Thinking (I_T_) types: 50% agreed
  • All other personality types: 19% agreed

It’s relative, though, and about half of Introverted, Thinking types don’t seem to find it hard to get along with others. Plenty of them are socially well-developed people you’d love to be around. (Like me – I’m batting my eyes and hurling huggy emojis at you.) But if you work with one of the difficult few (whatever their personality type), what can you do?

How to Deal With That Jerk

I think I’ve heaped on enough caveats and disclaimers to use the term jerk, not for any personality type, but for the dark-side stereotype we’re discussing. (And I guess that counts as one more disclaimer… Right?)

This article kind of assumes that you want to get along with such a person better, and honestly, I believe that’s ideal. I am a fan of trying to improve things. All the things. But in all fairness, you might be okay to just keep your distance and not let them bother you, like water off a duck’s back – if that works best for your professional goals.

On the other hand, there are more noble approaches to a difficult coworker than turning your back on them. (Yes, that’s me trying to leverage your idealism.) So if you want – or need – to improve your relations, I’ve got some ideas to help you. You’ll need to adapt these suggestions to your situation, your workplace, and the person you’re dealing with, but hopefully they’ll get you started in the right direction.

Get Your Head Right

Be clear about what your goals are. Your interaction with this person can be an opportunity to practice living your own character and values. Does that mean smacking them down cleverly when they act up? Does it mean being patient and kind, even if they might not deserve it? It all takes effort, and what you put energy into is up to you.

To “rise above” to some degree, it may help to picture the person as a child with underdeveloped social skills. You probably wouldn’t be snarky to a poorly behaved child or talk smack behind their back to your other coworkers, right? (But if you do, I kind of want to hear about it.)

Try to Be Understanding

Your colleague may seem unsympathetic because they’re oblivious to emotional needs more than they are truly uncaring. Some personality types aren’t as skilled at connecting with other people through feelings – nor as inclined to. For them, showing empathy may feel uncomfortable, like exposing a part of themselves they’d rather keep private.

And when these people seek attention in annoying ways, it could be an opportunity for you to be sympathetic. It’s deeply human to crave approval and status, and it’s unfortunate when attempts to appeal to people repel them instead. When you look at them in this light, some people seem more tragic than offensive, which might make them less fearsome and soften your reaction a little.

Give Deliberate, Consistent Feedback

One of the best ways to modify someone’s unwanted behavior is to offer zero reward when they’re being yucky and generous reward when they’re being cool. Ideally, you can tell someone plainly when they’re being inappropriate, but even respectful confrontation isn’t always realistic in the workplace. Luckily, being direct isn’t the only option.

There’s a difference between applying negative stimulus and withholding positive stimulus, but they’re both corrective. If someone says or does something jerky, you could rebuke them or just stare for a second and then move on, denying them any reaction. Either approach may work best in certain situations. (The latter may work better to curb those who seem to feed off of provoking responses.)

And, of course, positive stimulus can also be a good motivator – rewarding a difficult person for being nice. I know, you shouldn’t have to. Niceness should be normal, and you should be able to act normal. But to some people, a normal response can seem like neutral input and won’t motivate improvement. So consider giving them a vivid dose of the positivity you’d share with any coworker you like – attention, humor, kindness, praise, and respect.

(Feel free to print out the previous three paragraphs and tape them to your mirror. They’re a good, if rudimentary, people-training method in general. Seriously.)


If you think the best approach is to talk frankly with the person about their attitude or behavior, then do so, being mindful of the HR policies of your workplace. If you want to avoid hurting or provoking them, it helps to be very clear that you object to certain aspects of their behavior, not to them personally. It’s tough to build (or salvage) something genuinely positive between you if the other person thinks you simply don’t like them.

So if you can create a positive context for the discussion, it might help them hear you accurately. You might explain that if you didn’t value your working relationship, you wouldn’t be trying to improve it – seeking cooperation, camaraderie, and mutual respect is the opposite of rejection. Offering these things is appropriate in the workplace, and expecting them in return is no less so.

In the End, Goodwill Is Worth a Try

It may not be fun to put effort into improving your relationship with someone unpleasant, but there are many reasons why it might be a good idea in the workplace. Perhaps that person’s skills are valuable, or their position puts them squarely in your path. Perhaps you’re in a position to mentor them. Or maybe you’re just a strong, kind person willing to seek the silver lining in a cloud and the positive potential in everyone.

Things may not improve quickly, despite your best efforts – or at all. Some people are just jerks, and that’s not your fault. But putting your best foot forward lets you step onto the moral high ground, even if your toes subsequently get stepped on. Some of the nicest people have sore toes, each bruised little piggy a badge of altruistic honor. At least you tried, right? And you can always keep the door open, if you’re willing, by maintaining that feedback I mentioned earlier. That difficult, disconnected person might see the light – if you keep shining it.

Hey, if all else fails, check out our handy guide, The Double-Edged Sword: Weaponizing Your Dark-Side Traits to Skewer an Enemy, by Personality Type. Oops, looks like that link is broken. Sorry folks, you’ll just have to make do with the better angels of your personality type.

Have you worked with a notably aloof or abrasive personality before? Did you find other solutions for improving your working relationship? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Further Reading