Handling Oddball Co-Workers

How understanding personality disorders can get you out of conflict in the office.

By Neil Parmar, published on July 1, 2004 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

The office can be a hot spot for personality conflicts. Next time you clash with a controlling boss or his rude underling, remember the problem may not be you. As many as 5 to 10 percent of workers may suffer from a personality disorder, according to research presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. And while people tend to choose careers based on the type of personality they have, that very career might reinforce their off-putting traits and fuel problems in the workplace. Here are the four most common types of personality disorders you're likely to bump into near the water cooler.

The Loner

Personality Type: Avoidant

They Likely...

  • hide inside their cubicles.
  • dread rejection.
  • chitchat mostly via e-mail.
  • prefer tasks to people.

May hold a job as a...

  • computer programmer
  • professor

How to keep your cool: "Help them come out of their shell by addressing their concerns.Try looking at a situation from their perspective."–Ben Dattner, adjunct psychology professor, New York University

The Mouse

Personality Type: Dependent

They Likely...

  • bend over backward to please others.
  • cry at criticism.
  • need too much help.

May hold a job as a...

  • supervisor's sidekick

How to keep your cool: "Don t baby them. Subtly boost their self-confidence by assigning independent projects."–Per Vaglum, psychiatry professor, University of Oslo

The Nitpicker

Personality Type: Compulsive

They Likely...

  • obsess over details.
  • plan but rarely complete tasks.
  • are never satisfied.

May hold a job as a...

  • librarian
  • event planner

How to keep your cool: "Try laughing. Don t let them get under your skin. And be thankful that you re not a perfectionist."–David Bernstein, associate psychology professor, Fordham University

The Office Stud

Personality Type: Narcissistic

They Likely...

  • fantasize about unlimited success.
  • carry pocket mirrors.
  • boss you around.

May hold a job as a...

  • soldier
  • police officer

How to keep your cool: "Respect orders but stand your ground. Pushovers are easily trampled. "–Paul Links, psychiatry professor, University of Toronto