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Dealing With Difficult Co-Workers

wolf-argument-Tambako-the-Jaguar-flickrDo certain co-workers drive you nuts? Drive you up the wall? Maybe even out the door and down the street? Do you wish you could understand your boss, co-worker, or friend? How about your spouse? Your kid’s? Your kid’s teachers?

“For many people, one of the most frustrating aspects of life is not being able to understand other people’s behavior.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Usually, once we understand the reasons behind someone’s behavior our relationship improves. Assuming Goethe knew what he was talking about, everyone would love to understand other people’s behavior. The good news is, there’s a way to do just that.

But understanding isn’t always enough. We have to adapt to another’s behavior for a real breakthrough to occur and the easiest way is to learn to use DISC. Adaptation begins with knowledge, has willingness in the middle, and is topped off by patience.

Try Using DISC To Understand Others

In 1928, the four DISC behavioral styles were identified by Harvard psychologist William Moulton Marston in his book, “The Emotions of Normal People.” Everyone has each of those four behavioral factors in varying degrees:

  • D-Dominant (how we handle problems and challenges)
  • I-Influencing (how we influence others)
  • S-Steadiness (how we respond to the pace of our environment)
  • C-Cautious, Compliant (how we respond to rules set by others)
Target Training International has researched and developed the DISC behavioral styles so that there are 384 different combinations, each with a distinct way of behaving in different environments under different conditions. TTI has furthered developed Marston’s research into eight styles with 12 varying behaviors but for this article, I’ll only deal with the original four.

Identifying Each Person’s “Core” Style

A core style is a person’s highest scoring factor and it will generally dominate a person’s behavioral tendencies. Granted some people have two very high core styles and some even have three that are relatively high and they all interact with each other (thus the 384 different combinations). But generally, people have one style that  takes center stage, especially in stressful times. That’s their core style.

Office ConflictPeople who have the core D and I styles are generally more extroverted; those with the core S and C styles are generally more introverted. High I’s and S’s are people-oriented while D’s and C’s are task oriented. Remember that everyone has at least a little of each style. Introverts have some tendencies where they’ll act more extroverted and extroverts have some introverted tendencies. Usually it depends on the situation and people can and do adapt. Unlike with many other assessments, there are no dichotomies.

After you believe you may know someone’s core style, you’re better prepared to communicate and relate to them, to build stronger rapport, and have an overall more positive relationship.

So, for the sake of simplicity, identify a person’s core style this way:

  1. Extroverted and task-oriented: Core D
  2. Extroverted and people-oriented: Core I
  3. Introverted and people-oriented: Core S
  4. Introverted and task-oriented: Core C
Can people have a High D and a High S? You bet. Are they introverted or extroverted? In those cases, it can go either way but that person will feel inner conflict. I’m a High D and a High C so I know what that’s like. 

Learn How to Communicate with Each Style

Core D: These are confident people who value efficiency and results, preferably quick results. They can be loud, boisterous, and opinionated. They’re very businesslike in most settings, but especially those of a professional nature. DO be clear, specific, brief and to the point. Stick to business, be efficient, be confident. DON’T waste their time, be wishy-washy, disorganized, or socialize too much. Never ramble. Many CEO’s and people in leadership positions are Core D’s.

Core I: They are people, people, people! They smile, talk, laugh, and put people at ease. They want to socialize and can be too trusting of people or ideas. DO be friendly and outgoing, let them talk about their experiences, smile more often and laugh with them, especially if they tell a joke. They have an inherent need to interact with others. DON’T be pretentious or patronizing, be too businesslike, cold, unfriendly or impersonal, and don’t take credit for their ideas. Many salespeople are Core I’s.

Core S: They want to slow the world down. They’re fantastic organizers and perform very well in support roles, Talk more softly and tone down your body language with them. DO be slow, patient, sincere, logical, soft-spoken, and non-threatening. Use “please” and “thank you” a lot more. DON’T be loud, abrupt or quick. Don’t threaten or pressure them, force quick decisions, touch or move things on their desk or in their office. Many support staff are Core S’s.

Core C: They need a lot of data, facts, and more time to make any decision. They will challenge almost everything (including this article), demanding evidence, links, research papers … but it still may not be enough to convince them. They’re very diplomatic, highly accurate, and want things done right. DO be straightforward, accurate, realistic, present specifics, be organized and follow through, give them space, keep your distance. DON’T be disorganized, messy, casual, informal, abrupt, chatty, or try to convince them with feelings and opinions. Don’t touch them except with a handshake. Many accountants and attorneys are Core C’s.

There’s a lot more to understanding how to communicate and relate with each style, but using these guidelines will help improve your communication with others.

Know Your Own Strengths and Weaknesses

Our goal is to focus on our strengths and strive to improve our weaknesses. Sometimes, a weakness or limitation is a strength that’s taken to an extreme.

It’s not what style you are:
it’s what you do with what you are. ~ Bill Bonnstetter, CEO of Target Training International

Core D strengths: Makes quick decisions (even in an ambiguous environment), very efficient, gets things accomplished, and wants to be out front and in control.

Core D weaknesses: Can be overbearing, loud, intimidating, impatient, abrasive, makes decisions without thinking through all the consequences, quick to place blame. May break rules if the end justifies the means.

Core I strengths: Good conversationalist, persuasive, friendly, optimistic, trusting, good at giving presentations and mediating conflicts between the styles, life of the party.

Core I weaknesses: Can over-control the conversation, forgetful, disorganized, a poor listener, rambles on and on, can be unrealistic, likes being the center of attention, talks without thinking, too trusting. May break rules simply because they were unaware of them.

Core S strengths: Quiet, helpful, team player, methodical, friendly, good worker, and patient to a fault. Excels in support roles and loves working behind the scenes.

Core S weaknesses: Avoids conflict, may clam up, can be slow, wants to work on only one thing at a time, may become passive-aggressive, resists change, slow to make decisions. May take criticism personally and may wait (patiently) for any direction or orders before taking action. May internalize feelings.

Core C strengths: Neat, analytical, logical, organized, works from templates, detail-oriented, precise, accurate, finds mistakes others may have missed, follows rules, very diplomatic, high standards.

Core C weaknesses: Too low-risk, requires too much data to make decisions, fearful, evasive, pessimistic, a perfectionist, will point out mistakes of others (even if they’re minor mistakes like spelling), experiences internal conflict making a decision without rules or precedent. May be defensive when criticized yet be too hard on themselves.

Being aware of your limitations is the first step. Pick one area right now that’s holding you back and begin improving this negative behavior.

Don’t Take It Personally

“People don’t get up in the morning thinking about how they can make it a bad day for you.” ~ Judy Suiter

We tend to find certain people more difficult to deal with and generally, it’s because they have a Core Style that’s at odds with our own. It doesn’t necessarily make them difficult, it’s just that we have a difficult time relating to them.

If you’re a full-steam-ahead, let’s get things done NOW type of person, you’re going to be unhappy with someone who wants to think things over for a couple of days. If you’re extremely precise and accurate, you’re not going to gel with someone who is disorganized. If you think out loud, and you’re dealing with someone who’s uncomfortable showing their emotions it will cause difficulty. Work to NOT ascribe intent to the impact another’s actions may have on you or your emotions. That’s tough to do.

Tell people how their behavior makes you uncomfortable. “Phil, I know you want to make a quick decision on this project but I’m uncomfortable doing that considering the new parameters the customer emailed to us this morning. Can we go over them a second time to insure we aren’t missing anything?”

“Jill, I know you don’t want to make a mistake on this but we’ve gone over the specs for two days with four different engineers. I’m uncomfortable delaying a decision any longer. What do you think?”

Adapt to Other’s Behavioral Styles

The way to improve communications with others is to do three things:

  1. Understand your own behavioral style
  2. Understand the styles of people who are different from you
  3. Adapt your style to theirs

Treat others the way they want to be treated and your relationship will flourish. People will naturally warm up to you and treat YOU better just as a by-product. True excellence begins when both people adapt their communication styles to each other.

Can you imagine how much better teams would interact if everyone understood these principles?

Don’t Criticize Another’s Style

Almost every sinful action ever committed can be traced back to a selfish motive. It is a trait we hate in other people but justify in ourselves.. ~ Stephen Kendrick

If you know someone is aggressive, how selfish is it to want them to change because you don’t like it? If you know someone is friendly and outgoing, how egotistical is it to expect them to tone it down when they’re around you? If you know someone is naturally a slower paced person, how inconsiderate is it to tell them to hurry up just to satisfy your desires? If you know someone is precise and attentive to detail, how conceited is it to tell them to stop and “see the big picture?”

It’s a symptom of our own selfishness when we get irritated or angry with anyone for being who they naturally are, even if their behavior isn’t the best at the time. Too often we assign intent where there was none based solely on the impact another person’s behavior has on us.

We think we can read minds … and we can’t. However, we CAN read behavior and adapt our own to secure a better communication.


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Certified as a Professional Behavioral, Motivators, and Emotional Intelligence Analyst, Ron Haynes specializes in using the science of TTI’s TriMetrix HD to help companies select and develop their top talent, create job benchmark solutions, and implement succession planning.

He has recently developed an auditing process to help organizations more accurately calculate true cost of employee turnover. It’s staggeringly higher than you think.

Need a solution to your employee challenges? Contact him at or at 870-761-7881.