The 5 most difficult people in IT – and how to manage them

By Robert Half on 29 July 2014

Technology teams are known for their personality diversity. If you’ve done your job as an IT hiring manager, you’ve staffed your teams with experts, and we all know what can happen when you get a bunch of experts in a room.

Your biggest challenge when dealing with difficult people is to establish different management styles for each one. Here are five common personas you’ll find in an IT department and the management styles that work best to handle them:

1. Who: The Wallflower

This employee is a classic introvert, preferring to work quietly and with minimal intervention. You won’t see this person pitching new technology improvements in a staff meeting or actively socialising in the break room. In fact, you may not always notice the person is there at all, diligently completing projects.

How: Be understanding and accommodating
Don’t try to change The Wallflower because they don't have the loudest voice in the room. Instead, tap into their strengths. Rather than get frustrated that they never offer ideas in a formal setting, ask for suggestions in writing or in small groups. Don’t rule out this personality type for leadership roles, either. Those who are more reserved tend to be great listeners, well organised and thoughtful in their actions, making them effective at directing teams and staying cool when tempers get hot.

2. Who: The Know-It-All

The Know-It-All is a stereotypical – and self-described – “tech genius” who’s often short, impatient and frustrated that no one else has the same level of IT expertise. The Know-It-All may be one of the most challenging when dealing with difficult people, because this employee always believes he is correct.

How: Be firm
The Know-It-All may be a resident subject matter expert, but they may also be the one others dread working with the most. Since this person will dominate staff meetings if given free reign, you need to step in and make sure others get a chance to voice opinions or ideas. Also consider sending the Know-It-All to soft skills training and development to help refine interpersonal communication skills. If they really do “know it all,” think about whether they would make a good trainer. That way, the person’s knowledge can be transferred to other employees.

3. Who: The Panic Attack

When you think of this team member, you probably don’t think cool under the collar. They are capable and deadline oriented, but just the thought of that website overhaul makes them nervous. And when they get nervous, they bombard everyone on the team with emails and derail meetings with potential what-ifs. Now your whole team starts to feel anxious.

How: Be structured and realistic
This personality type thrives on structure and predictability. The more organised you are, the less likely the employee will freak out at the onset of a new initiative. Providing a list of key steps and citing all the resources available to support the efforts can alleviate fears. It can also be helpful to check in periodically on progress and provide feedback to reassure them that all is on track.

4. Who: The Laid Back Pro

The opposite of The Panic Attack is The Laid Back Pro. Think of the coder on your team who always dons headphones and downs Mountain Dew (or something heavily caffeinated). While they're no doubt skilled and competent, they often leave others worried whether the job will get done on time. Can someone who seems so relaxed really be committed to quality work?

How: Be direct but casual
The management style that’s ideal in this case is a straightforward one. Assuming the individual is meeting expectations and providing quality work, resist the temptation to micromanage. Motivate through trust by giving clear instruction and then handing over authority. The Laid Back Pro flourishes when given the freedom to tackle projects creatively.

5. Who: The Competitor

You finished updating software on all the desktop systems in four hours? This employee claims to have done the same in three hours. Maybe two-and-a-half as they recall taking a coffee break. Seemingly unimportant issues are big ones to The Competitor. This person views everything as a contest and sometimes steps on toes just to “win.” They’re sometimes less concerned with quality so long as they appear quantitatively superior in self-imposed competitions.

How: Be strategic
One way to tone down this unproductive behaviour? Give them more work. The Competitor can’t worry about games if there’s a full plate of projects to tackle. Also consider ways you can use the competitive mindset as an asset to your team. For example, you might charge them with the task of negotiating pricing with tech vendors.

Dealing with difficult people on your IT team is a fact of leadership. And being a strong leader means knowing how to adapt to different personality types as well as difficult ones. What difficult personalities have you encountered in your team?

This post originally appeared as "The 5 Most Difficult People in IT – and How to Manage Them" on the Robert Half Technology blog.

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