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Difficult personality types: How to deal with whiners and tanks

This article is based on the free eBook “Anger Management & Conflict Resolution”

Would it not be nice to know exactly how to deal with people who are ‘difficult’? Imagine somebody who is confrontational or on the contrary never says anything else than ‘yes’? There are lots of different personality types which you will have to deal with during your life and there are strategies for solving conflicts for all of them.

In the following you will find specific personality types who may need to be dealt with using a variation of anger management methods. Be prepared to solve the next conflict.


The Tank – Is aggressive, confrontational, angry and often abusive.


  • Hold your ground, don’t get angry, defend or shut down. Breathe slowly and deeply.
  • Interrupt the attack; say their name over and over again, firmly and clearly.
  • Quickly paraphrase or reflect their main point.
  • Give your point of view. Preface it with “From my point of view” or “The way I see it”.
  • Offer them the last word, but you decide where and when.


Know It All – This person has a high degree of genuine knowledge, low tolerance of others and may blame you if things go wrong.


Your goal is to open their mind to new information and ideas.

  • Be well prepared and know your stuff.
  • Paraphrase and reflect respectfully and frequently. They have to see that you have heard and understood them before you can redirect them to your idea.
  • Empathise with their doubts and wishes.
  • Present your information or ideas indirectly and cautiously. Use words like “maybe” or “perhaps” or “I was just wondering”. Use “we” and “us” rather than “I” and “you”.
  • Enlist their help. Acknowledge them as your mentor in some area. Recognise them as an expert and that you are willing to learn from them.


The ‘Yes’ Person – They are desperate to please and say “Yes” to tasks they have not got the time to do in order to avoid confrontation, forgetting earlier commitments.

They over-commit and run out of time, then become resentful. They are unreliable because of that.


This is another person anxious to be liked and you will need a lot of patience to help them. They lack organising skills and the ability to recognise that they have a problem.

  • Make it safe to be honest. Making them feel bad won’t get them to keep promises. Use verbal and non-verbal skills to establish an honest and caring relationship. Acknowledge the positive intent.
  • Talk honestly. Listen actively without contradicting or judging. Paraphrase and clarify, then appreciate their honesty.
  • Help them learn to plan. Perhaps look back at previous failures and see what lessons can be learnt.
  • Ensure commitment. a) Ask for word of honour. b) Ask them to summarise. c) Get them to write it down. d) Set an odd deadline. e) Describe the negative consequences.


The ‘No’ Person – Is very negative, says things like “That won’t work.” Always looking for hopelessness, futility and despair. Often appears as mild mannered and normal.


This is another person with whom you will need compassion and patience. They are capable of bringing whole departments down because of their negativity. They are actually perfectionists who can only see things not getting done properly because everything will go wrong. Your goal is to move from fault finding to problem solving.

  • Go with the flow. Trying to convince them things aren’t as bad as they think will only make them try harder to convince you.
  • Use them as a resource. They are often able to identify potential problems missed by others.
  • Use them to build your own character. The effort of remaining positive in their presence is a real challenge to be overcome!!
  • Give them plenty of time and offer them a later chance to come up with a solution.
  • Try a paradoxical intervention. Bring up the negatives before they do or agree with how hopeless it is and suggest that even they couldn’t solve the problem.
  • Acknowledge their good intent. Appreciate the negative person for their high standards, and their constant objections may be expressed in a more useful way.


The Whiner – Feels helpless and overwhelmed by an unfair world and unobtainable perfection.

They see problems as much worse than they really are. They will try to make others miserable too and offering solutions makes them whine even more.


Don’t agree, you’ll encourage them. Don’t disagree, they’ll repeat their problems. Don’t try to solve them – you can’t. Don’t ask them why they are complaining to you, they start again from the beginning.

Once again you need compassion, patience and the commitment to persist. Your goal is to form a problem solving alliance.

  • Listen for the main points, paraphrase and reflect. Write them down.
  • Interrupt and get specific. Ask them to help you and clarify specifically what the difficulties are. Gather information about each of the main points you have written down.
  • Shift the focus to solutions. Ask what they want. If they are unrealistic, help them to reality test. If they don’t know try the standard “Guess, make something up, if you did know, what would it be?” type of response.
  • Show them the future. Give them something to look forward to, keep them informed about progress.
  • Draw the line. If all the above has achieved nothing, bring it assertively to a close. Something like, “Since your complaints seem to have no solutions, talking about them isn’t achieving anything. If you happen to think of a possible solution or change your mind let me know.”


If you want to learn more about how to deal with conflicts and anger, you can download the free eBook “Cool It! – Anger Management & Conflict Resolution” written by Carole Spiers.