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Supervising the Personalities

By Mario Rapetti, Assistant Director of Residence Life, Elizabethtown College

The art of supervision is an integral part of most of our positions in student affairs. In our role as supervisors, we encounter many different employees with unique styles and personalities. To be effective supervisors, both the employee and supervisor need to adapt to each other’s styles, but as supervisors we need to help guide, teach and challenge our employees to be the best that they can be, even with the distinctive type of personalities they add to our teams. To assist our employees, it is important for us as supervisors to know how to respond, listen and guide them with their distinct personalities in mind. Learning about some of the types of personalities that you may encounter on your staff will help you as a supervisor respond and work with your employees.

With the world being as diverse as it is, each employee brings their own piece of invisible diversity to the table with their personality traits and professional characteristics. The top three personalities that young professionals are coming to our staffs with are: arrogance, complainers, and overachievers. To help us understand and relate to our young professionals, here are some characteristics and techniques for coping with their behaviors and personalities.

Employee Personalities Traits and Suggested Techniques:

Arrogant/Conceited Employee:

The know it all! Arrogant people are single minded; they either think that they are superior to others or inferior to them. The arrogant person, who is intimidating, may feel inferior to someone else because this is how his or her mind works. This arrogance may be nothing more than a way to cover the feelings of inferiority they experience when dealing with someone else. Arrogant employees believe that they are always right and do not like to listen to feedback, advice, or criticism. Most arrogant employees become very reactive to different conversations leading other people to feel that they are wrong with their information, causing conversations/meetings to turn into debates, rather than developmental conversations.

Techniques for Coping with the Arrogant/Conceited Employee:

It is important to know that arrogant people are really quite insecure. They seek to dominate and control situations because they are afraid of being dominated and controlled by others. When working with this type of employee, you should always go into your situation with confidence, keeping your mind set that there is nothing they can do to undermine you. Until you and your arrogant employee have gotten to know each other well enough, you will see that most of these employees won’t listen to what you have to say. A simple smile and nod, and being the more secure person is the best way to handle these situations. Other suggestions include asking your employee some of the following questions: "May I ask how you became such an expert on this subject? Did you study? Did you learn this from having a bad experience? Is there anything you know nothing about that I might be able to help you with?" Just always remember, don’t get mad at an arrogant employee; that is what they want to happen so they can take control over the situation. Let them speak their mind and listen intently to their very interesting perspective on matters. Overall, your experience as a supervisor with an arrogant employee will increase your own tolerance and listening skills!

The Complainers:

We all do it, but some more than others, COMPLAIN about their work and job. Complaining employees can hurt your team and/or your organization which is something many supervisors do not want to see happen. Some people are never satisfied with anything or just aren’t happy unless they have something to complain about on a daily basis. On the other hand, complainers seem to not be happy until people around them are miserable. No matter what the case, the complaining employee can do a lot of harm to colleagues or staff members. It is not until they can see the other perspective of the work or organization and understand more than they agree or disagree to decisions will they get to their satisfaction at work.

Techniques for Coping with the Complainers:

As we know, complaining may never end, but instead of trying to stop it, focus on moving these individuals towards a greater understanding of the decision making process. The biggest advice as a supervisor is to listen to your employee. Some of the best ideas or suggestions can come from complainers, but it is how you react; listen and breakdown the idea to role model to your employee how much you listen and empathize. For others, getting your complaining employee to help solve the problems at hand can get them to begin understanding the bigger picture. Giving them the opportunity to see why something is in place or works the way it does and looking at their perspective will open their eyes to understanding situations. Since complaining is something we will never get rid of in the work place, offering a 15 minute “sound off” time once a month at a meeting can go a long way. As long as you know your limits to facilitating the conversation you can then switch the intended conversation to making solutions, which is more productive for everyone.

The Overachievers:

You know them, the employees that move many projects forward at the speed of lightening. For many overachievers, they set unrealistic expectations, work long hours and always try to make their work more noticeable than others. Some basic characteristics of overachievers consist of their intense drive, high expectations, or impatience with others and their work. It is not a bad thing to have someone on your team achieving a lot of great work and moving fast, but at times you will need to help your overachiever and your average staff member find the balance to avoid frustration.

Techniques for Coping with the Overachievers:

In order to manage overachievers well, you need to understand their personality type and build a relationship on trust, so they know you have their best interest in mind. Becoming a mentor to your overachiever will help them understand their role and see their role through another lens. By supporting your overachiever and finding the right balance of projects, initiatives and teaching opportunities, they will flourish in their own capacity with their work. Overachievers just want to do their work to the fullest with the passion and dedication they have for their career. As a supervisor, finding out what motivates them; working with them to find balance, and providing support will be the initial steps in building a relationship

Supervision of employees is a never-ending role we play in our work. To be effective supervisors, understanding our employees for whom they are, what they do and what their skills are is what we are here to do. The more we care about our employees to help them grow and develop in the profession, the harder we will work with them to ensure success for their next step. When we give up on our employees for their traits, it sends the message that we do not care about them and where they are headed. With any role of supervision, uncomfortable conversations need to be had. Understanding each other’s values and opinions can lead to trust and respect and great rapport can be built. Enjoy your work as a supervisor as you have the ability to shape and develop future leaders in the work you do.

About the Author:

Mario Rapetti began working in residence life at Ramapo College of New Jersey where he received his Bachelor of Science in Biology in 2001. In 2003 he graduated with his Master Degree in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. During his full time experience in residence life he has worked at Stony Brook University, Appalachian State University, Illinois State University and even traveled around the world with Semester at Sea during the spring 2008 voyage. He is currently the Assistant Director of Residence Life at Elizabethtown College overseeing residential education and is a graduate of the 2006 National Housing Training Institute.