Leadership

10 toxic character types you'll meet on the job

You know that obnoxious, manipulative, picked-last kid you used to play with? He's all grown up and making life miserable for his boss and co-workers now.

No doubt you've run across the kid who doesn't play well with others. There's the kid who cheats in sports. There's the neighbor who came up with bizarre ways to play Monopoly and claims "house rules" so he can win. Those kids eventually grow up and, unfortunately, may haul their interpersonal baggage with them.

In a previous article, I listed 10 things that define a true professional. It is a pleasure working with professionals. It is a pain having to work with adults who behave like children and who are disguised as professionals. Think of the 10 toxic character types listed below as the antithesis of the true professional.

1: The poor sport

Photo credit: ©iStockphoto.com/PeskyMonkey

Just like the kid who picks up the football and goes home, the poor sport sulks and runs away, or threatens to. He is angry and hasn't gotten his way so what better way to punish those involved than to remove himself from the game? In this kind of game, everyone loses.

2: The spoiled brat

The spoiled brat has always gotten his way in the past. He sees little need to put in his time to climb the ladder of success. Although he has little experience, he believes he has been mistreated because he has not been promoted. He resents those above him who tell him what to do. Good luck to the boss who has to ask any task of him. The spoiled brat is likely to have a temper tantrum unless and until he gets his way.

3: The wizard

The wizard is knowledgeable and clever. He's good and he knows it. Input from others is just a waste of his time. His hubris is so ingrained that there isn't the slightest possibility that he could be wrong -- that kind of thinking went away with his humility long ago. He never explains how he accomplishes his magic because there is too big a risk that his mystical, wizard-like aura would be destroyed in a moment. He dare not allow reality to intercede and remove him from his lofty perch on the pedestal of misguided perceptions.

4: The dead weight

Occasionally, a team member doesn't want to perform to his full capacity. There are many reasons why a person could be unproductive. He could have problems at home, be overwhelmed with the task at hand, or simply be lazy. Whatever the cause, the whole team can be dragged down to the level of the lowest common denominator. It hurts morale when the other team members have to work extra hours to make up for the poor performance of another.

5: The righteously indignant

The righteous person has been wronged, or believes he has been wronged, while on the job. He is unable or unwilling to forgive and forget. He has been unfairly treated and wants everyone to know about it by sharing his misery. Perhaps he has yet to learn that work, like life, isn't always fair. After all, injustice can never happen to him.

Photo credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Angel Herrero de Frutos

6: The lone wolf

Not only does the lone wolf prefer working alone, he would rather not share his thoughts or collaborate with his peers. Perhaps you know of the programmer who equates his code with state secrets. Heaven forbid that someone else should benefit from his work.

7: The anarchist

Teams often have to choose a course of action from a number of competing ideas. When a decision is made, one or more team members may not have bought into the final decision. The anarchist revolts and follows his own agenda, even though it is counterproductive, because he is right and the rest of the team is wrong. He is too bull-headed and stubborn to accept the team's plan because it will only be a matter of time before he is proved right. The dissention that his actions breed within the team simply doesn't matter to him.

8: The politician

Photo credit: ©iStockphoto.com/tacojim

Usually a manager, the politician tells others what hethinks they want to hear. He has no problem promising project completion two weeks ahead of schedule. The politician makes promises he knows can't be kept because he's more interested in his wellbeing than in yours or the company's. He doesn't mind telling the influential how wonderful he is and has no problem taking credit for other's work.

9: The debater

A team member who plays the role of the devil's advocate can be beneficial during group-think. The problem arises when the devil's advocate turns into the debater and argues just for the fun of it. He knows the position he is arguing is not viable. He has just gotten so good at playing his role that he doesn't know how to back down without his pride getting hurt.

10: The bad apple

The bad apple has a poisonous, negative attitude. The Osmonds may have opined that "One bad apple don't spoil the whole bunch, girl," but they were wrong. One rotting, disease-infested apple can spoil the whole bunch. A bad attitude in the workplace is as contagious as the flu and at least as damaging. Do you have a bad apple at your workplace? It's hard, but try to inoculate yourself from the bad vibes and keep a positive attitude despite the desire to dwell on the negative. In this sense, all the toxic character types mentioned above are bad apples since their toxic behavior inevitably leads to negative attitudes in their peers.

Photo credit: ©iStockphoto.com/WillSelarep

The bottom line

These toxic character types share one thing: They make the job of their associates more difficult. Some managers are blind to toxic behavior. Other managers ignore it in the hope that it will go away on its own. It rarely does. If it's not identified and dealt with, negative attitudes can quickly spread to others. Toxic behavior is most destructive in a team environment, but it can spread regardless of the offender's role in the company. Humans seem to have a sixth sense that picks up the toxic behavior of those they come in contact with. Once picked up by their toxic behavior radar, their own behavior can become negatively affected.

Toxic character types exhibit behavior that can lead to:

  • Lower quality and quantity of work
  • Bad attitudes
  • Lower morale
  • Discontent
  • Resentment
  • Dissatisfied clients
  • Increased turnover

There is hope. Identify toxic character types and correct their behavior before they wreak havoc within your organization. Once the toxic behavior is removed, you may discover the professional hidden within.

Other characters?

Have you run into some of the character types described here? What other personalities would you add to the list?

About

Alan Norton began using PCs in 1981, when they were called microcomputers. He has worked at companies like Hughes Aircraft and CSC, where he developed client/server-based applications. Alan is currently semi-retired and starting a new career as a wri...

159 comments
csr2
csr2

I think everyone has been one of these characters at some point, perhaps all of the characters at different times. 

denzcam
denzcam

So according to your logic....don't trust anybody!  This describes the character of every kid in your neighbourhood.  So which one were you Alan?

ShrykeAbysmal
ShrykeAbysmal

Yeah. I'm also the database guy, and the network guy. You know, the one who has to terminal into a client company's mail servers after running them down on WhoIs and get the name of the antispam program they run that's blocking all of our mail coming to them and then screenshot it and put it into a 5 page email to send back to my own idiot Director of Sales because she's too stupid to understand that we don't block our own outgoing mail and she's too much of a coward to ask her client to tell their IT guys to put down their damned sandwiches and check their own logs.

Meanwhile, I'm on the phone to their ISP trying to get an exception put into their white list for our company only to find out that they have to do it themselves and then I've got to talk them through it. And then the same thing happens again with the same Director the next month and half the company is emailing me because they realize that and she threw us under the bus in front of all of them. Both times.

Would you like to know more? About where these types come from? Right then on your way...

ShrykeAbysmal
ShrykeAbysmal

Sorry but most of these people, if they can be called toxic, are not born. They are created, and almost always by bad management. People who are that bitter due to lack of recognition only get that way after they accomplish. It's called being used. Update your notes.

And I am that lone wolf programmer. Trying to explain what I am doing to some haughty CFO who is always too busy to listen, always wants you out of her office and never tests programs when asked but then wants to come back a year later work no no idea what she asked for or what the program does and yet has plenty I'd mouth for the CEO about what didn't get done right and no accountability for the communication breakdown.

Keep dreaming that these people in this list come out of the bottom of a Cracker Jack box.

deneventer
deneventer

This is a really bad episode of the OFFICE. 


WHY IS 

  • Increased turnover

A BAD THING? 

samb2006
samb2006

Anyone that gives you list of (n) is an idiot. Don't waste your time and career reading this. 10 toxic characters... 5 secret tricks to strong flat abs... 7 ways to get rich... all this rubbish is written by idiots.

Kostaghus
Kostaghus

I hate working in teams. I hate cooperating with others. The really good guys are usually lone wolves too. So I did well and became the boss. Now I'm better. Usually, I don't have to cooperate, don't have to give pep-talks or reward losers. Just need to get the job done. How do I do it, is my own business. Normally, I do it myself. And that's good for everyone. The losers I'm heading can bide their time and do their insignificant... what ever it is they're doing. That's why being the lone wolf is great. You only answer to your bosses. And all they care for are results. Which one way or another I WILL provide.Watch it, sheeps! LOL!!!

andrew232006
andrew232006

These two sound the same to me and I think sometimes people are forced into this role. Collaboration can be great, when you have other people around knowledgeable about the subject. But otherwise it is just a waste of time. The same goes for input from others. Have a plumber explain to an experienced programmer how to write a program and the programmer isn't likely to be humble, nor should he. And when it comes time to explain the program to the user, the programmer can explain what it does but not how he did it. He can simplify it to appease the user. But that knowledge is rarely of any use to the user. Here's one I would add to the list The know-it-all He can do everything you can do or at least he thinks he can despite having none of the skills and experience. If he can't understand something it is a result of your poor communication skills and not his inability to understand and mistrust of your opinion. He can't understand why that major construction project is taking so long since he built something similar with legos once and it didn't take him long at all. He always has valuable ideals that you need to consider right away and never seems to notice how much time you spend explaining why his ideals won't work.

tunstals
tunstals

The one who runs after the director(s), simpering and laughing at their crap jokes, offering to buy them coffee etc.

ColinFromTheCrypt
ColinFromTheCrypt

I'm impressed. But if any more than 10 were included it would be far too depressing. hehe

mike21b
mike21b

"Dealing with difficult people". At the beginning of the seminar, the speaker outlined the characteristics of "difficult people". Before going further, he asked the question: "How many of you would put yourself into at least one of these categories of difficult people?". About 5 raised their hands. I was one of them. Recognizing that you often have at least one toxic characteristic is the first step to dealing with, and ultimately fixing the problems.

margiemellinger
margiemellinger

I think it's hard to deal with the manipulator, bully, insecure, spoiled brat turned VICTIM. After all becoming a victim just might give this toxic character the means to get his or her own way. They complain to HR claiming a hostile work environment when they are the ones causing the hostile environment for everyone else. Everyone who works with them sees it, but if the HR folks lack the appropriate people discerning skills, they will fight to give them their own way, just to quiet the squeaky wheel. This toxic character is very difficult for managers who want to be fair to the rest of the team and not be manipulated by their bullying. Managers who care enough to correct toxic behavior need support from their superiors...this is very important!

dimonic
dimonic

The guy who keeps sending out memos and updating schedules and agendas. He is always updating "burn down and burn up" charts, holding meetings and discussing project statistics like sports-fans discuss baseball statistics. He has come to believe that the statistics are the work of the project.

LBean
LBean

Well heck. I read that and thought "sounds like me." There are a few exceptions I'd like to throw in here. If I'm writing some complex code I tend to concentrate on that effort to the exclusion of everything else. That includes social conventions like conversation and the morning greeting ritual. Then there's the "state secret" jab. Unless I'm working with a team with similar knowledge, any interaction I have with non-technical types tends to be, well, strained. They have no idea what I'm talking about. I cannot begin to relate how many times I've excitedly described what I was doing only to be met with blank stares.

grh
grh

I work and have worked with this type. If it's not their idea it's doomed. They will spend money, and waste money - especially if not theirs to prevent you doing your job right. They would rather it was done badly by someone who has no idea rather than let you do it well; especially if they can't do it themselves. What is wrong with people. can they not just see the finished project; do they have to have pats on the back and 'ooo it was all my idea' gratification? It reached a point once where I would under perfom just so my boss wouldn't feel threatened and I asked peole not to single me out as having done a good job. I just don't get it.

OldGrayWolf
OldGrayWolf

I had to take early retirement resulting in a huge hit on pension and social security and suffered severe health problems because of a coworker who lied, slandered, manipulated, and constantly made life miserable. I was lucky; another coworker died from a stroke as a direct result of this woman's harassment.

RJ.2000
RJ.2000

Sometimes you run into a combination of toxic traits. My personal 'favorite' was a combination of the spoiled brat, wizard, righteously indignant lone wolf. These types are extremely toxic, but are usually perceived by management as too valuable to lose. As it turns out, that was not the case. No one person is irreplaceable, and even if you think they are, sometimes the group is better off without them.

GregDP
GregDP

I found that I changed jobs, a contractor that any secure environment that attracts people insecure, so you can be pre-warned of the behavioral traits associated with longevity of these positions in order to protect this position..Testking 350-001 || Testking 640-802

gloria
gloria

Yoy've probably read abuyt anarchism in Bush's memoirs. The anarchist follows the majority on work. He loves democracy and will fight "evil leaders", but will also keep peace with his co-workers :)

SAStarling
SAStarling

I have one co-worker who has to be THE funny one in the office, and if you make a joke and you're not her friend (for that day anyway), she looks at you like you're a fool and rolls her eyes. She constantly parades around the office with other co-workers, and cozies up to the boss, flaunting these "relationships" in front of other co-workers who are just there to work. BUT... if the boss isn't in and she's not happy with something the boss has said or done, now she's your friend and can't wait to complain about the boss TO you now that you're her friend (for the day, at least). In reality, she's very insecure but covers it up with bravado, and if you are not her perceived friend, you cannot say anything even nominally critical to her or make any suggestion about anything to her because surely you wouldn't have the nerve to make the mistake of criticizing a minority now, would you? /sarc Oh, and when she's buddy-buddy with the boss, she's uber-giddy in the office and over-the-top in her showing off that they go off to lunch/bathroom/break room together... WITHOUT YOU! It's almost laughable and her transparency is obvious, but only to me. Nobody else appears to even see the manipulation.

mtrieweiler
mtrieweiler

Every office has at least one person who has managed to convince management that he/she is irreplaceable, even though that person does about 1/5 the work the rest of the employees are doing. As companies economize by getting rid of positions and adding the work to the remaining employees workloads, this backstabber gets work taken away from his/her plate because management has been convinced that person is so overworked. All the while, this person is actively working to undermine everyone else in the company who isn't in a position above him/her, and will lie, cheat and steal to make himself/herself look good and someone else look bad -- most likely, the person actually doing the work. The backstabber always seems to be coated with teflon, because they never get caught undermining and underworking everyone else in the office. Why? It's a mystery.

morris.levy
morris.levy

Spot on target. All of them seem dead-on.

debbiegraham
debbiegraham

The "I'm too busy to explain" character. Tells you to do something for them but is far too busy to answer any questions you may have regarding the task thereby turning it into a guessing game and making the task either next to impossible to achieve, or it take far longer than it should to complete.

rastr
rastr

There's another category- the Judge. These people (perhaps the author?) think they see some behavior patterns, think they're accurate, and then judge someone as a "type". Most of us are in this category... If you think you've encountered one of these "types", and it's a problem for you, take responsibility for your problem and talk to the person about the specific action. Did you judge it accurately? Maybe it's rare. Maybe it's common and a habit, or a way of dealing with a deficit. And talk to your boss. Decent managers know all about these and compensate for them or otherwise handle them, even give some training. And none of these traits are made by others. I have some and they seem to be made by others- I have lots of evidence and reasons, that's what keeps the traits in place. We all act appropriate to the world we see. What's difficult is taking responsibility for the characteristics of one's own view of the world. We don't see the world, we see the world filtered by our meanings and moods and emotions and experiences and knowledge and language. We make it up and then blame others. It's just the way we are... Thus mine, that seem to be created by others and the world, just seem that way- they're made by me (and thus I have some power to change them). Decent managers can also talk to you constructively about your own world view. And if you need some training, it's available...

ITsupportCOC
ITsupportCOC

Sometimes Lone Wolves are made by others. Espc when you put in your ideas, you try to work as a team player and the other dogs at the food dish take what you say and trash it--only to find out that what you told them was true and/or 6 months later throw the same idea/fix/project out on the table and take credit for the whole thing. It isnt worth the stress/frustration when that happens. easier to just sit there and let them make their own mess and be drone. Get the job done, get a paycheck and go home until a better food bowl comes along.

dankasnitzel
dankasnitzel

Folks! Unless you're the type of I.T. that's locked in a back room, away from the rest of the world, or you are forced to work directly with a person, you should know all of these character types and more. As I.T. it is our job to always figure out a way to handle each and every chracater type. A good day is when you have dealt with a wide array or personalities and problems and walked away with the issue handled and the user feeling like they where taken care of. Some people respond to sterness, some to sense, some to nothing...doesn't matter. At the end of the day, they are your flock and you must tend to your sheep.

BillT174
BillT174

What's the problem just deal with it.

JJFitz
JJFitz

We all know what a Gossiper is and how he or she can undermine productivity and management. The Champion of the Downtrodden is related to the Gossiper. He takes up the cause of the guy who didn't get promoted or the guy who just got fired. They commiserate with the guy, spread rumors about "the real reason" why he was stepped over or fired yet they usually know very little about the him or his performance and rarely interacted with him before the event. They are also the first to give the guy a glowing review on Linkedin. :)

glennes
glennes

This character thinks he is brilliant, but actually is a dunce. He claims to know everything but actually is inept at his job. God protects these people. They are not often fired. Moreover, they are often irrational, incapable of offering a reasonable, logical defense for anything they do or propose to do. There is no cure for this syndrome, which also includes the trait of pure stupidity. It may be an IT associate or it could be a manager, executive, or self-anointed user 'expert'. Given their position in the organization, they have to be placated and endured, but generally wreak havoc on the rest of us in the course of doing our job.

margoob
margoob

There's always someone who goes by the book and out there to point fingers at others who doesn't follow to the letter. These guys usually have a mid-level productivity but they are the cause of lower productivity of their co-workers. They bring stress and negativity in the work environment. Some are a bit to the extreme - they think that they're so perfect that they do not require to be co-operative with others who're not perfect like him.

mark
mark

I have read some of the main points , skimmed others and i swear ive met almost all of these types......currently self employed after being retrenched yet i constattly catch myself tryign to re-enter the corporate workplace, longing for the extra money and "security" tks for remindng me to stick it out as a freelancer, i can adjust to less money anything is worth being free of these personalities Mark

dryflies
dryflies

This is the person that sits in the meeting saying nothing about the straw man you've put up only to loudly badmaouth the idea to management the minute you are not around.

Desert Dave
Desert Dave

Someone who constantly drinks the Kool-Aide offered by a poorly performing organization???s top management in order to always be politically correct and promote reinforce the lessons from the "Emperor???s New Clothes.??? After all, one would want to be considered as someone who is not a "team player".

djed
djed

At the last place I worked I was once employee of the year. Two different supervisors said I was the best they'd ever known at my job. Yet I'm sure my boss at my current place of employment would put me in more than one of these categories. The reason for that is that 1) she has an MBA but knows nothing about managing people or workload and 2) she has little idea what my job is. It seems talent is more important than education in being a manager. In any case, toxicity runs downhill.

bklynchick
bklynchick

I work with a dead weight, manager doesnt notice, since he is in another state. Sucks that the other team members have to work harder as the dead weight surfs facebook most of the work day!!! Our first manager was notified of the behavior, dead weight pulled a lil weight, our current manager is blind. Dead weight takes on the easy tickets, nothing that takes brain power. ARGGGHHHH!

DSG7
DSG7

A pressuriser is someone who, through a mix of the previously mentioned character types, makes it your mission to save your own hide. This is typically from a situation he created to better himself at the expense of anyone and everyone, by using "information" that favours his position or twisting your information to suit his needs by misinterpreting the data or confusing the issue with extraneous information. All this will be done with little to no time before that important customer/management meeting, so while he's had weeks to prepare for this you have days/hours. The only way to get him off your back is to either: 1. Provide cast-iron evidence that you're right, which he criticises and decries at every opportunity (because then he would be wrong), at which point you would have to reprove your evidence after he has moved the goalposts/confused everyone with more "information", until such a point as he loses interest in that particular "crusade" and he moves to another one - don't worry though, he'll revisit this when the embers have died down and you have to reprove yourself again "because that information is old". Notice its only your information being scrutinised, not his. He'll usually take your information, misinterpret it, and use it against you, or take the word of suppliers/customers/other people when it suits him, without any basis for confirmation. 2. Agree to his version of information/events - "tow the line", which runs the risk that he will make you the source of the information because you agreed with him, meaning that when he is proved wrong, he isn't - you are. Another risk is that, you may "tow the line" for one version, but when you're being hung out to dry you apparently supported a completely different version, either by him manipulating the information or using information you didn't previously have. Meanwhile, his actual job isn't getting done, as he's busy micromanaging you to get the answer *he wants* because you're "incompetent" (doesn't turn things around fast enough, leaves everything to the last minute, information is unreliable/conflicts with "information"). The above also includes what I would call the "FUD-spreader", whos only contribution to the company is to make people so confused about the direction of the company/the quality of the materials/the ability of the process/etc. that they agree to what he says simply because he's the only one thats allowed to make sense, due to his control of information/misinformation. When confronted with proof to the contrary of his say-so, only that proof is questioned and forced to be re-examined, making the contradictory proof look unreliable, strengthening his position.

cabanossi-21666366011136960807907799337173
cabanossi-21666366011136960807907799337173

i suppose any character who does not fit the current management schools thinking is a misfit - how poor a view. encouraging diversity and finding the best in people instead of sorting them into pigeon-holes and attaching clich??es to them might be foreign to this particular prophet but it has helped many a successful entrepreneur (as against "manager")

jsaiya
jsaiya

@deneventer Because it's expensive and disruptive to hire and train new people to replace the ones who are leaving.  It's especially bad if the ones leaving are valuable and are only going because they are disgruntled due to working with (a) toxic coworker(s).

Odipides
Odipides

@samb2006 I wouldn't say "idiots"; they're just blogging journalists trying to scrape some copy out of nothing on a slow news day. 


The problem as I see it is that everyone's looking for a "silver bullet" set of rules without putting in the time or effort learning about things properly and this class of articles just appeal to the lazy minded. 


Maybe the author should add another one to his list: "The lazy git who believes (n) things articles"

ownerandceo
ownerandceo

@OldGrayWolf Sorry but you didn't HAVE to do anything.  You chose to.  Refer to # 5 above.  

PS:  No one dies from a stroke due to the actions of others.  They have health issues. 
progressivescan1
progressivescan1

Had the same, once I had my lawyer on the phone things settled down.

OldGrayWolf
OldGrayWolf

Exactly the situation with the coworker who forced me out; she retired with the President's Award despite being the root cause of much unnecessary turmoil for coworkers. She was a good (meaning well-practiced) liar and basically dishonest in all matters if she thought it served her (personal) purpose.

gechurch
gechurch

I haven't seen anyone quite that blatant, but have seen similar types. I actually quite like these types; they are so transparent and pathetic that it's humourous. The thing that gets me is, like you say, no-one else seems to notice. I've always hoped that others recognise their act and would rather ignore it than bitch about it, but I'm not convinced that's the case.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

The reason is because "The Backstabber" is one of the most toxic character types you will run across. Thank you for adding one of the worst!

JJFitz
JJFitz

In IT, the ByTheBook guy is the one who will not fix a simple 5 minute desktop issue until after the user puts in a help desk ticket. They don't seem to understand how inefficient this can be. You can fix a problem and then log it into the help desk system after it was fixed.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

I couldn't have said it any better myself. "she has little idea what my job is" Let's admit it, the better you are the less likely your manager is likely to understand the brilliant design, engineering and coding that you have implemented. I know from experience that managing people is a tough job.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

I have always had a problem trying to determine when, if ever, you should report problem people like the the dead weight co-worker. I have learned, like you have said, that it rarely helps to rat out a co-worker. Anyone else with different experiences?

SAStarling
SAStarling

She is so transparent to me, and nobody else seems to know they're being manipulated for her little power plays. I do find it amusing, but sometimes it's very annoying because it's just so blatant. The funniest thing is she has no clue that I know what she's doing. Some days I think she kind of does because she'll get that "wait, what?" look after she tries to get something over on me but I just ignore her, and it's like I catch a glimpse of "crap, that didn't work." Like you said, I just wish others would notice, too. It would make work simpler if they did. She wouldn't have any pawns to play her stupid games with.

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