This blog post is co-written with Alexandra White and Matthias Rohmer
In our experience, working in many different companies and contexts, there are – very broadly speaking and quite simplified – four types of people you will come across during your working life. For me, at least, being able to identify these archetypes has helped in understanding people and situations better. It’s given me leads for seeing what I can try to improve, but also to avoid particular situations before they become worse.
And just to stress this: it’s not about labeling people or simplifying who they are, and everyone will fall into a different bucket seen from someone else’s perspective. It doesn’t represent everyone, it’s about four types out of probably many more. This is rather about having the insight to appreciate the good things, address the things you can where there’s need for improvement, and finally to withdraw or avoid situations that will only bring you down.
1. Not necessarily the best but friendly and fun
Some of the people you get to meet are good at their job, but not necessarily the best. There might be many reasons behind that, and it’s usually not that they couldn’t be even better at it, but more that they’ve chosen to focus more on other things. However, this kind of people are the ones you really connect with! You have a lot of fun together, you bounce off of each other and being together really elevates the day. And when you are in a group of people where you have something like this dynamic, work and life is so much better.
Cherish it, hold on to it and in our hard-earned experience, be careful about leaving these people and contexts since you don’t know where you will end up.
2. Very competent but not very friendly or fun
With some individuals, they are very competent and experienced, but interaction with them is often intimidating or not very entertaining. In some cases, you may perceive their behavior as harsh for different reasons, but once you get to know them or find things in common, the relationship can be defrosted.
And even if you never really connect as individuals, I’ve always respected their trade and professionalism and then instead focused on just the work-related collaboration pieces.
3. Friendly and fun, and very competent
Sometimes, and if you are lucky, you get the opportunity to work with people who are both amazingly fun to be around and they are incredible at their work. They are the best combination of #1 and #2 above. These situations can truly lead to fantastic things and output! Being lucky to have this, though, is generally rare so hold on to it!
4. Nor competent nor friendly
And finally, there are the particular individuals who aren’t competent and they’re not nice people. Beyond just lack of people chemistry between you and them, from what I’ve seen, this often stems from insecurity on their part and leads to behaviors such as them seeing problems, threats and conspiracies everywhere. In summary, these people are toxic. And yes, I know, it has become fashionable to label someone toxic, kind of like a blanket statement that as soon as you disagree with someone or they question you, you can play this card to invalidate whatever the other person said. But no, in this case, I mean people who are truly and genuinely toxic.
And the more they get away with this behavior, or sometimes that it’s even rewarded by managers, it strengthens them and seems to validate that their approach is not just accepted but the way to get things done. In some cases, you might be able to get through to them, help them understand their behavior, but unfortunately it’s often a lost cause. You don’t need to be mean and you definitely shouldn’t retaliate, as there could be consequences. And then you need to just avoid them as much as you can. Sometimes the only way out is leaving the team or even the workplace where they are, since staying around will be detrimental for your mental health.
It can be challenging to know when to seek help or intervention with toxic personalities, versus when to leave it alone. This will come from experience and building relationships with people you trust. When in doubt, ask a mentor, and if you can, build a good relationship with a leader in your company (could be your manager, or someone outside of the team entirely) to whom you can ask advice.
All-in-all, no one’s perfect and a lot is in the eye of the beholder. Not everyone is social, and of course that is just fine. Try not to mix up people not being social with them not being friendly.
And an interesting reflection is how certain types of people can trigger you to be a certain type of person. If you are met with type 4-style behavior, that might make you respond in behaving as a type-4 as well. It’s a role that’s easily fallen into, but try to be aware and to avoid that.
Overall, though, I think everyone should think about how they behave towards others and how they could be perceived. Try and understand what things might be like in the situation for others, and be humble enough to know that you will never fully know what they are going through.
And just don’t be a dick, ok?
Life’s too short to be wasted on unnecessarily dramatic and hostile contexts and situations.