7 distinct types of people and how to cope with them | Education Support Partnership

7 distinct types of people and how to cope with them

Here we outline the key personalities types you may encounter in your job and give advice on the best way to cope with them. 


Symptoms: Apparently very confident, the condescension implicit in this behaviour is hard not to resent. A know-it-all may actually know what he is talking about, but can equally fake or falsify knowledge to maintain the same aura of invincibility. The know-it-all, however, usually brooks no opposition or admits any other opinion.

Coping: Be prepared is the key motto here: make sure that you have a solid grasp of all key facts. State your position in a less dogmatic, more open way but be careful with correcting errors: leave him a way of saving face. This coping strategy is, at first sight, submissive, but the aim is to get the over-confident person to accept you so that you can work together. Controlling a situation does not always involve being dominant.


Symptoms: Complainers are usually easy to spot. They often are people who are very comfortable in the way they themselves do things but feel powerless to change the issue at hand. They may be very prescriptive, so that any deviation from their accepted norm is automatically a source of complaint. Complainers rarely offer solutions, however, as a solution may involve challenging their own perfection.

Coping: The best initial strategy is often to take the moaner at his or her own self-worth. Listen carefully to the complaint and summarise it back to show that you have understood it. You can then reflect the complaint back to the person by asking for solutions: “what do you want to happen?” “how would you handle this?” You therefore engage the moaner into the conflict resolution process and force the person to look for positive responses.


Symptoms: Delay and indecision characterise the procrastinator, but this does not necessarily imply weakness. Apparently indecisive people can often have a particular solution in mind and they use stalling tactics until they get their way, or they may simply be unable to represent their actual position confidently. Such people may be highly sensitive to external opinion.

Coping: Procrastinators will often need your active support to make clear the reasons for their indecision. You have to work to make communication easy for the person and instil confidence that they will be heard. Try to avoid putting such a person on the spot: having drawn them out, work actively with the person toward a solution.


Symptoms: Hostility, anger and selfishness are all qualities associated with the bully. They may be immediately apparent, or concealed behind civility and adherence to social norms. A bully’s attempts to assert dominance may sometimes take physical form.

Coping: Bullies try to overwhelm opposition, so you have to make your point cogently and with confidence but non-aggressively. Give them the opportunity to say their piece: let the bully run out of steam and take a more tractable attitude.

If you feel in physical danger, maintain eye contact and try to get the person seated. You will probably have to deal with the issue raised there and then. To that extent, the bully may be perceived as having got his or her way, but the key thing for you is to discuss rationally the point in a way with which you feel comfortable. Persistent or serious bullying is a form of harassment and is covered by legislation. If you have tried reasonable measures to cope with a bully and have had little or no success, you can take more formal action, either by yourself or with the help of colleagues. Keeping a record of your attempts to deal with the bully may be helpful later. If your school has an anti-harassment policy, you should read it before deciding the best action to take. With any such case, you can get guidance and support from Education Support Partnership and your union. Being on the receiving end of bullying behaviour is never pleasant and can be very stressful. You do not need to be alone as you consider your best options and develop your coping skills.

The quiet ones

Symptoms: These people handle difficult situations by shutting down, withdrawing all but the basic minimum communication methods. This can be aggressive as well as defensive behaviour, deliberately withholding a response to sabotage a process. The key difficulty is that because of the withdrawal of communication, you have less information on which to assess the behaviour and plan your tactics.

Coping: You need to provoke some sort of response, so you should ask open questions, ones which cannot be answered simply by Yes or No. You may need to invest a good deal of time in this process. When they finally do open up, engage with the person actively but sympathetically; let them steer for a while. If no response is immediately forthcoming, end the situation yourself and arrange another time for a meeting. Do let the person know what actions you intend to take as a result of the meeting.


Symptoms: Killjoys disagree with anything put forward, and sometimes even with the process itself. Often, such a person actively seeks to pick holes in whatever is presented, just for the sake of it. This person may have some personal issues, but in work-related cases, such an attitude is often linked to a feeling of powerlessness and disappointment.

Coping: The main strategy is to accept their pessimism while projecting optimism yourself. You can also raise potential problems and negative points yourself, so as to pre-empt negative comment. Make sure all points are discussed before promoting your own solution but ultimately, you may need to be prepared to take action on your own.

Nice people

Symptoms: Nice people cause difficulties too. Someone can be personally agreeable, apparently sincere and supportive, but will they deliver? For them, keeping everyone happy can be more important than dealing with solutions.

Coping: Since these people have a need to be liked, show that you like them. Then you can actually begin to address the issues. Often this means dealing with personal matters before the real issue at hand, such as enquiring after family. Often nice people make a lot of jokes, which can hide deeper issues, so listen carefully to them.