Under the right conditions and in the right circumstances, having that larger than life character in the workplace can be very beneficial. People with big personalities often make good leaders and cope very well in times of crises, as they are able to crunch through a heavy and diverse workload.
However, they can also present quite a challenge for those who have to manage them, so it’s important to master the art of handling big personalities (and even bigger egos) in the workplace – if done correctly you can turn them into an asset.
1. Work to their strengths
Big personalities come in a range of shapes, sizes, learning styles and skills. As the manager of this bundle of usually positive energy, you have to learn what makes them tick before you can harness their strengths.
Lisa Messenger, founder and CEO of The Messenger group, has the motto, “hire fast, fire slowly”. She takes time and puts effort into getting to know new team members, or “unapologetically probing” as she puts it.
Although an “in your face” individual might put your back up straightaway, you have to unpick their skillset and make use of it, so take time to get to know them. You will soon find out, for example, if they are someone who enjoys the sound of their voice, is articulate and gets the message across; if they are, use this.
Give them the task of presenting at a conference or public speaking event. If they are a completer-finisher, then give them the responsibility for a project that is detail driven.
What you will get back is the fact that you have recognized their talents or strengths, which is what a big personality loves. Giving them a range of challenging work will also suit their needs but you may have to be prepared to lose them to another department if they work well in marketing or sales, for instance.
2. Turn down the volume
An old (but effective) trick that is similar to the management tool of “mirroring” is to adopt the same position as the person you are communicating with in order to make them feel comfortable.
Next time you are in a meeting, try sitting back in your chair and adopting an open but relaxed stance, then watch as others unconsciously do the same. With big personalities, adopt the same technique but use your voice instead to do the mirroring.
Individuals with a big personality often tend to be, as Disraeli said of Gladstone, “inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity”. However, verbal diarrhoea needs containment.
So lower your tone and volume in order to encourage your staff member to do the same. It might take a little while but they will eventually accept this redirection with consistency and persistence on your part.
3. Set ground rules early
Be clear and consistent with all staff members, not just the big personalities, about setting boundaries. Policies and procedures should be in place to help reinforce codes of conduct. However, sometimes the bigger the personality, the less they feel this may apply to them.
Outgoing individuals learn very early on how to judge by the initial reaction of others as to whether their behaviour is acceptable.
For those who have not got this fully embedded in their psyche, a calm and consistent reminder is your mantra. If they constantly chip in at meetings in an inappropriate time, just acknowledge the comment but state that you will take any questions or comments at the end of the meeting, session or presentation.
You also need to reinforce that at the workplace there are other individuals who may not shout the loudest but are quietly working away in the background. Acknowledge their contribution and skills, and the fact that not everyone wants to conduct a conversation across the office or working space.
Show equal appreciation for all and reinforce the message about respect across the whole company. Endorse those who are successful and who “listen more than talk”, to quote the example of Janine Allis, founder of Boost Juice.
4. Encourage teamwork
Sometimes the dominant or big personality forgets what impact their behavior can have on others around them. You are the one who needs to remind them of this and not be afraid to tackle issues head on; however, by fostering teamwork you can use their strengths to support others who, in turn, will balance out the bigger personality.
Get big personalities to work in a team and assign specific roles (it is worth carrying out personality testing for everyone with tools such as Belbin). This empowers each staff member with a job that works to their strengths and show the bigger personality there is definitely no “I” in the word “team”. It will also help each of your team members to learn more about themselves and how they work, enabling everyone to build a better relationship.
5. Meet on common ground
This is not a “face off” but you do need to be able to address them in a confident manner. Those with a bigger personality do tend to have a degree of self-confidence and they are assertive. They can make quick decisions and are robust so they are good at dealing with difficult situations and managing stress levels.
However, if their behavior impacts on others around them, you have to bring this to their attention and do so in a way that will command their respect. Keep calm, don’t ramble, and avoid small talk.
Maintaining good eye contact and working through what you are putting across to them in a logical manner is very important. Keep notes and back up what you are telling them with hard evidence, and keep the conversation targeted and to the point in order to keep their attention. Above all, don’t let them talk over you but ensure they listen to what you have to say.
Big personalities and bigger egos might be difficult to manage, but people like that also have definite strengths that can be an asset to any company. The key lies in knowing how to handle these types of personalities. Do it right, and not only will you earn their respect in the long run, but also their loyalty.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Grant Wigney is the owner and director of National Waterproofing and Industrial Flooring (NWIF), one of the leading waterproofing, epoxy flooring and commercial/industrial flooring companies in Melbourne, Australia. With more than 25 years of experience in construction and building under his belt, he has dealt with people from all walks of life, and certainly knows a thing or three about handling big personalities (and bigger egos)! Connect with @nwif_australia on Twitter.