How Emotional Intelligence training helps leaders deal with difficult personalities

Sep 26 2022 | Tags: Leadership Development, Emotional Intelligence Training

How Emotional Intelligence training helps leaders deal with difficult personalities

Modern-day leaders face a bombardment of different challenges. Our lifestyles and the way we work are changing. Technological advances are bringing both new opportunities and new pressures. And the traditional task of inspiring a team to its best possible levels of collective performance remains a major imperative.

For many leaders, the management of individuals within the team is the challenge they find most tasking. How do you manage a group of different personalities and help each one to fulfil their potential?

Some personalities will be easy to motivate and inspire. Others will be more challenging, and particularly dangerous to the overall performance of your team or even your business. So it’s essential that a modern leader knows how to handle difficult personalities before their toxicity spreads to other members of the team. Because your job is to get the best out of everyone. And that means managing difficult personalities well.

Understanding that challenge is one thing. Executing it is another. So how do you do it? How do you bring out the best in a range of different personalities? The answer lies in Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Making sure you have strong EQ skills is the single most effective tool at your disposal. Why? Because with strong EQ skills, you can adapt your response to each personality you encounter.

Here are three of the most common personalities that cause issues and challenges in today’s fast-paced business environment, as well as guidance on the EQ skills you might need in order to manage them to the best possible outcome.

The control freak


Control freaks demonstrate consistent emotional insecurities. They often have a deep anxiety or fear about any potential loss of control. They search for situations where they have a high level of certainty.

Feelings for ill-prepared managers:

Managers who have not recognised people with these characteristics can often be left with a deep sense of frustration or disempowerment after their interactions.

Effective responses:

Over time, most managers dealing with control freaks can experience feelings of exhaustion. So it is important to develop self-preservation strategies that help to prevent this. “Dealing with people like this is like running into a brick wall,” says Dr Martyn Newman. “It wears you down.”

First, aim to become less reactive in your day-to-day interactions. Try to ‘go with the flow’ wherever possible. This helps to govern your own emotional response. Next, the task is to manage the emotions of the person you’re dealing with.

Start by recognising their need for reassurance. Calmly and quietly saying things like “I’ve got this” lets the other person relax. You should also spend time setting firm boundaries about what the person you’re dealing with can and cannot do. This teaches the controlling person how you want to be treated.

Try to ask questions that might widen the person’s viewpoint. This introduces a degree of flexibility that helps them to broaden their perspective. Finally, teach them to pay attention to emotion. Ask them: “How do you feel about that?” Over time, this can soften a rigid thinking style.

Relevant EQ competencies:

Self-confidence, self-reliance, self-actualisation.

The constant critic


The constant critic can be very challenging for leaders and managers. Filled with cynicism, the critic tends to complain at every opportunity and, in effect, invalidates what you say. They are often suspicious, stubborn, and can hold grudges. Critics tend to get deeply entrenched in their position. They can be hard to move from a certain viewpoint, and they prefer to deal with facts and objectivity rather than emotions and theories.

Feelings for ill-prepared managers:

Managers who are inexperienced when it comes to dealing with critics can often experience feelings of anger. This is not surprising, because the behaviour of a critic can make you feel like you are under constant attack.

Effective responses:

The key to handling the constant critic is to take care to depersonalise your response. Dr Martyn Newman says: “The fear driving these difficult behaviours is, ironically, the fear of criticism, the fear of being attacked, and the fear of betrayal.”

Loyalty becomes a central part of a critic’s relationships. The challenge for leaders is that they must be able to manage their own egos and not fight fire with fire. Leaders with team members like this should not be defensive or lose their cool. At all times, the aim should be to exude calmness and straightforwardness.

Take care, wherever possible, to address issues directly and objectively. Spend time, too, empathising with their concerns. Acknowledge their concerns and ask them to clarify any areas they feel need it. Ask them simply: “Can you help me understand this?” This engages the critic and shows them that you are not there to attack them, but to understand their point of view. Finally, set your limits. Make it clear that while you understand and respect their position, ultimately you have to make a final judgement.

Relevant EQ competencies:

Empathy, straightforwardness, self-knowing.

The narcissist


The narcissist operates with a deep level of emotional discontrol. They often externalise their emotional needs in an attempt to get gratification. They can exhibit traits of arrogance and may put off others and reduce potential teamwork by displaying an exaggerated sense of self-importance. A narcissist’s constant need for admiration can lead to them becoming an exhibitionist and risk-taker, and can ultimately result in frequent errors of judgement.

Feelings for ill-prepared managers:

Managers facing their first encounters with narcissists may find it hard to stay calm. It can also be difficult to respect the person you are dealing with, and it can be easy to make judgements. This is counter-productive if you are aiming for long-term success.

Effective responses:

“The narcissist is quite a difficult character,” says Dr Martyn Newman. “The fear driving these difficult behaviours is the fear of losing admiration and potentially being exposed and shamed.”

You don’t have to buy-in to their need for admiration. Doing so is a significant mistake. So while you should listen and be attentive when they are speaking, do everything you can to ensure you avoid giving the narcissist any special treatment. Keep your responses neutral.

Never argue. Feelings of anger and shame lie just beneath the surface of a narcissist, and arguments can make a relationship instantly untenable.

Finally, don’t share anything personal about your life, don’t ask for advice, and provide any positive feedback with a degree of indifference.

Relevant EQ competencies:

Empathy, straightforwardness, self-control, relationship skills.

EQ training is the key to handling challenging personalities

Being a leader is a constant challenge. Many leaders simply focus on the endless objective tasks, such as securing bottom-line growth and improving productivity. But most of these goals can only be accomplished by bringing together a team of mixed personalities and helping it to succeed both collectively and individually.

Developing strong EQ skills is the single most effective way to ensure you are equipped to deal with all the different personalities in your team. And that, in turn, means better individual and collective performance.

Contact RocheMartin today to find out more about EQ training and how it can accelerate your professional performance.

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