How to Be Successful Managing High-Conflict Personalities (Part 2)

In our last post we discussed the behaviors one can find in problematic personalities (Blaming, Extreme and Moody), and then we focused on the most common disorders (Antisocial, Borderline, Histrionic, Narcissistic and Paranoid). If you remember the story, Sean was incredibly lucky to be friends with Jimmy, because he was able to explain to him what had happened. Had it not been for their friendship, Sean could’ve gotten fired and his reputation would have been ruined. Now we’ll learn the best ways to deal with them.


The best approach to dealing with a problematic person is to avoid them completely, especially during the interview process. Having no problems at all is better than solving unnecessary issues.

Back to our example, Sarah was angry and decided to leave the company along with four more co-workers because the manager wouldn’t give them opportunities to grow in the company. That reaction seemed a bit over the top, as you would expect people to make a formal complaint first and then, if nothing happens, leave. Sarah, however, chose to quit the job on bad terms.When you interview someone, if you detect something unusual, keep it in mind and do your research to know what really happened. You can also ask this person to give you a list of references to support their job application. If you still feel unsure about it, ask for help or ask people you trust for their opinion.

In some cases, though, you’ll have to deal with people that are already working in the company. The best thing to do if they cannot be avoided is firing them. Yeah, it sounds harsh, but by doing that as a manager, it may be for the greatest good. Talk to your support network, explain the situation, validate your point of view: if the person is disruptive, letting them go will be the best solution. It was difficult for me to face a situation like this, but I learned my lesson.

Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.

Jerzy Gregorek


If the high-conflict person is your manager or a co-worker, you won’t be able to avoid them. If so, you’ll have to face them every day. It’s not the end of the world, though. Here are some suggestions for you to deal with these people.

Be close, but not too much

Being a manager means having time for the people who report to you. Hence, do not avoid them, but don’t be their best friend either. By being too close or by keeping your distance, you’ll end up triggering them. Stay somewhere in between.

React to misinformation

Most of the profiles we mentioned will lie to get what they want. You need to detect this misinformation by double-checking whatever you feel suspicious about. Then, if you find something untrue, let them know.

Use what you know about them

If you have identified the specific disorder, use it to your advantage!

Remember, you know that Antisocial people want to dominate you. They like power so don’t let them take over you. When giving feedback, always give them options so that they can choose and feel empowered.

You may not be aware of this, but if you keep being late every day I’ll have to fire you, it’s up to you. You choose”.

Narcissists seek respect. When you have a conversation with that person, use the word respect if you have the chance, but do not lie or it’ll only make things worse.

I respect you for thinking that, but I don’t agree with it”.

Furthermore, when setting limits to a Narcissistic personality, you will have to stick to these limits, otherwise, they’ll ignore everything over and over. Certainly, you don’t want to repeat yourself, but when dealing with a Narcissistic profile, you’ll have to do it all the time, or they won’t respect you anymore.

Histrionic profiles tend to be over the top. Their reality doesn’t usually match the real world, so you have to be skeptical or dig deep to get at the facts by asking someone else.

“Everybody is against me,”
“Well, just Colin”.

I gave you some examples, but there can be plenty of different situations. To be effective in this, be creative, think of what you know about them, try to be as assertive as possible, and don’t let them use their weapons against you. If they don’t manage to dominate you, they’ll be the ones avoiding you in the end. We’ll cover this when we talk about the DESC format in another post.


Mike was friends with Liam. They worked together in the same team, and they did really well. Mike was the manager and Liam was the star of the team: they had worked together for years solving problems the rest couldn’t even understand.

One day, Liam called Mike. “Hey, Mike, I know it’s your day off, but could you come by my place, please? I’d like to see you,” said Liam disappointed. Although Mike was spending the day with his family, Mike noticed his tone of voice and decided to drive up to Liam’s place. Little did he know about what was going to happen.

Mike, confused about the call, felt something was off and thought Liam was in trouble. He drove as fast as he could, parked the car right next to the house and knocked the door. Liam opened it. “Hey, come on in,” he said. “What’s up, man? You sounded different over the phone”. Liam didn’t answer. They walked through the door into the living room, where the fireplace was lit. Mike saw an open bottle of Scotch and an empty glass on the coffee table. “What are you doing here?” asked Liam. “I don’t understand the question,” answered Mike. “Are you in?” Liam insisted. “Am I in what? I really don’t understand what you’re talking about, man. You called me twenty minutes ago and asked me to come, so I did. Is everything alright?”. “I’ll ask one more time. Are you in the plot?” Liam asked. “I don’t know what plot you’re talking about. You’re scaring me,” answered Mike, terrified.

“Okay, so if you’re not in, I need your help. The rest of the team are plotting to hurt me! I’ve seen Susan walking down the street this morning and when I texted her she didn’t answer. She was avoiding me,” explained Liam. “Dude, it’s not that big of a deal. We all do that all the time! I even put my phone in airplane mode when I’m working sometimes, so that I can concentrate better,” Mike tried to calm him down. “That’s not all. I followed her and I saw she met Earl, then she looked at her phone and still didn’t answer me. That means they are plotting against me,” Liam said angrily. 

Susan and Earl were two members of their team. “Liam, what you’ve been doing is stalking!” said Mike. “It’s okay, I’ve been doing it for weeks. It’s not that big of a deal if I don’t hurt anybody,” replied Liam. “Wait, what? Weeks? Liam, I think it’s time for you to see a doctor. Something in you seems to be broken,” said Mike, trying to help. “I knew it! You’re also in the plot. Get the fuck out of my place, now!”

Mike left, feeling absolutely terrified. He didn’t know what had just happened, but he was determined to help Liam. He texted Susan to explain the situation. “Hey, Susan, I think something happened to Liam. He was acting weird today. Do you know anything about it?” Susan called Mike straight away. He explained everything to her. “It doesn’t surprise me. He’s been following me, texting me… for days. I even saw him staring at my window at 11 PM the other day. Can you believe it? I don’t know what the hell is happening to him, but he’s creeping me out,” Susan said.

Mike wanted to look for help, so he called a psychologist friend of his. After explaining everything to her, her response was very solid. “There is nothing you can do now. It’s better to step away, all of you, because thinking about it is gonna make it worse. You’ll get burned out yet you won’t be able to do anything about it,” she told Mike.

Suddenly, Liam left the company. Still to this day, the team doesn’t know anything about him. It was as if he’d disappeared into thin air.

If you’re like Mike and want to help out by listening to their stories or telling them what you think about their potential personality disorder, well, don’t do it. Yes, you might be thinking you are careful, having everything under control… but, again, DO NOT DO IT. It is not your job as a manager to do so. You are not a psychologist or a psychoanalyst, and it would only end up making things worse for you and the person in question. Believe me, I learned this the hard way.

Phew!, that’s a lot to take in.

If you find yourself in a situation like this, call for help. Talk to your boss or give me a call. Remember the first consultation is free of any charge.

And that’s it folks, I hope you like what you learned, hopefully you’ll be a little more aware of these people from now on. In our next post where I’ll give you the secret to handle any relationship. Stay tuned!

Thanks to my collaborator Noemí Peiró

Edition by Sergi Estorch

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