When Feathers Get Ruffled, Here’s How to Help

Sometimes rock stars morph into toxic, difficult colleagues. Spurred by some unmet need, the strengths of their personality intensify until they become weaknesses.

Whether you’re in management or HR, you can’t wait for problematic team members to about-face on their own. When you do nothing, you condone the negative behavior and consequently lose credibility with your team.

To deal with problematic colleagues, we have to understand the healthy and unhealthy versions of their personalities. At work, there are four main personality styles:

  • Eagles are direct, confident, and results-driven.
  • Parrots are enthusiastic, social, and optimistic.
  • Doves are harmonious, helpful, and compassionate.
  • Owls are logical, detail-oriented, and accurate.

Each personality has admirable traits that complement the others. The best teams include all four types, and the most effective leaders treat people based on their personality style.

When your bird becomes a beast

I’ll explain why these traits can become destructive and discuss how to address it:

The Commander: If you have an eagle who has become bossy, insensitive, and aggressive, that person has become what I call The Commander. Eagles are driven by a need for achievement and respect. Under stress or when they feel like they’re not successful enough, they often turn into commanders.

To bring back the Eagle, explain to the Commander that they will not get the desired results if the people around them feel disrespected. Remind commanders of how much more they achieved when they treated their coworkers in a healthy way.

The Promoter: When Parrots flap out of control, they become distracting, self-absorbed, and aimless. They talk to hear themselves speak. Parrots need to be liked, so when they feel ignored, they try to recapture the center of attention.

Give Promoters positive feedback as you refocus their energy on something productive. “Hey, we need you to present this new initiative to the rest of the company,” is music to a Parrot’s ears. Give them a spotlight so they don’t feel compelled to steal one.

The Martyr: Doves derive self-worth from service to others, so they often take on unnecessary burdens, hoping for acceptance. If no one recognizes their grand sacrifice, they will suffer in silence as The Martyr. Rather than ask for help, Martyrs turn passive aggressive.

When Martyrs overload, you must talk them into unloading. Voice appreciation for their unsung work and identify the source of their extra load. Are they creating it from thin air? Are they taking tasks from their coworkers? Guide them to take back control of their time and workload.

The Critic: When Owls go overboard, they become The Critic, an unpleasable, distrusting curmudgeon. Driven by a need for perfection, the Critic shoots down every new idea and process. No one else’s work merits the Critic’s trust or appreciation.

Article Continues Below

Critics feel like they’ve lost control over quality. Perhaps they’re hearing about new ideas too late, or maybe they’ve been cut out of the conversation altogether. Counsel them to seek excellence not perfection.

Energy Vampires: When healthy Eagles, Parrots, Doves, or Owls become disengaged, the Energy Vampire emerges. Uniquely able to see the worst in everything, Energy Vampires dampen the spirit of their healthy coworkers. They don’t want to be at work, and their apathy is contagious.

Waste no time. Find what has disgruntled the Energy Vampire – it will affect others, if it hasn’t already. Discuss with the Energy Vampires a way to remediate the situation. However, accept that some Energy Vampires may just need to move on no matter what you do.

Difficult personalities are manageable when you understand the source of their dysfunction. Find the strength behind the weakness and help bring them back into balance. Helping people capitalize on their natural gifts can turn even the most problematic employees into superstars.