6 Personality Traits You Will Encounter and How to Respond

Part of what makes this blog unique is that we don’t just stick with technical topics like risk identification, risk response, or strategic planning. In my years of experience, I’ve come to appreciate how an ERM professional has to wear many different hats, and it’s inevitable that at least one of these won’t be someone’s strong suit.

One of these particular hats that can be hard to adapt to and overcome is a commonly overlooked challenge of ERM, relationships. In short, if ERM is going to be more than a check-the-box activity and play an active role in the organization’s decision-making, ERM professionals will need to understand the nuances of dealing with other people, whether in the C-suite or in the business functional areas.

Below are six traits I’ve encountered both as an industry practitioner and consultant, along with some potential ways to respond. Please understand this list is not comprehensive nor is it based on any officially endorsed manual or similar resource – it is simply my opinion.

  1. Stuck-in-a-rut

This trait is characterized by an unwillingness or hesitancy to change. Things have always been done a certain way, so why change? It can be easy to get comfortable doing something to the point that it’s second nature. However, shaking things up is one thing that makes companies resilient to inevitable change on the outside.

To respond, validate them in a calm, reassuring tone by saying something along these lines: “I understand. However, the company has changed over time, and we could really use your help in moving this forward. What has been done is no longer working and will only continue to be inadequate.” Reassure them that it isn’t about them personally not being good enough, but rather, that it doesn’t fit where the company is now and where it’s going.

A similar concept is trying to wear 20-year-old clothes. Your body, styles, and needs will change over time, so it’s important to go in, evaluate your wardrobe, and do some updating by getting rid of some clothes and adding new.

  1. Know-it-all

This personality trait claims they don’t need help or guidance and they know what to do. However, in reality, they probably don’t know, but they like to think they do! Persons who fall into this bucket can be arrogant, and it is usually counterproductive to debate or argue with them.

The best way to respond is to first say “That’s great! It sounds like you understand that I’m trying to ensure consistency across the organization, with executives supporting the changes we’re discussing. Do you have the tools needed to make this happen? That includes documents and system access.”

This way you’re being supportive and enabling them to go forward, even if they fully understand what needs to be done. But make it clear that if it is not done in the way everyone is doing it, then you will have to step in and re-do their work. Before the conversation ends, schedule a follow-up 1-hour meeting with this person (and any other designated individuals) to review the required documentation and plans at a high-level.

  1. Never-good-enough

This trait may seem similar to the know-it-all, but it goes a bit deeper. There are those people who will question everything you suggest. This person will always feel like they need to throw their 2-cents in. They will ask “why don’t we do it this way?” or “what about this?”

It’s in these situations that you need to be well-versed in what you’re presenting, and as Stephen Covey says in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “begin with the end in mind.” Executives and/or the Board are seeking a certain outcome and the process has been built to accommodate that.

If this person is that insistent, calmly explain that they have a great idea. However, you will need to consider the downstream impacts on what they’re proposing and get back to them. If they insist on discussing it now, you can go ahead and talk through their ideas with them while acknowledging this is an off-the-cuff analysis, which will be incomplete. This can be difficult to do, but it’s important for them to understand the negative downstream affects that will impact the final output(s). If they still can get the same output without creating negative impacts, then their proposal may work, but they need to understand why a particular approach was chosen.

  1. Helpless

This particular trait may require the same amount of effort as the never-good-enough or know-it-all ones, but it will be from the opposite direction. They’re not pushing you away – they can be quite supportive in fact.

No, the challenge with the helpless trait is they simply have no idea on what you’re recommending and will require lots of hands-on attention to make progress on the initiative. They will want you there by their side, which isn’t necessarily bad; you just don’t want the entire company to be like this. Otherwise, you’re going to need a much larger team!

The important thing to do in this situation is to not let them see you get nervous. Take a metaphorical deep breath, and tell them “It’s okay, I understand it is new and different. We are happy to guide you and your team through the process. How do you envision needing our help?” Then work to deliver this level of service to the business.

Again, it’s not a bad trait to have to deal with, but it does require a lot of explanation and close attention. On the positive, you should receive excellent outcomes and tons of support since you have been with them every step of the way. These people often become your biggest and most vocal advocates.

  1. Dismissive

These are probably the most challenging of all the traits on this list to deal with. They are dead set against anything you’re offering and feel any refinement to what they do would upset the apple cart. The stuck-in-a-rut, know-it-all, and the never-good-enough trait are at least open to the idea of working with you – the dismissive, on the other hand, will not be and will perhaps even be on the mean side.

These types of situations are when strong emotional intelligence skills are needed the most.

If you encounter this, simply say something like “I’m sorry you fell that way. However, we have to do this. Let’s make this as enjoyable for the both of us so we can gain value out of it.”  Acknowledge that you’re asking them to change the way they’re used to doing things but that the company’s leadership is asking everyone to do this. Assure them that they are being treated just like everyone else.

  1. Ultra-supportive

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone were like this? While the helpless trait is supportive but doesn’t know what to do, the ultra-supportive trait are those individuals who are excited about what you’re proposing and are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. They will enthusiastically ask how they can help and offer any support you need.

Again, this is the most ideal situation you could ask for, so don’t waste the opportunity! Jump right into planning and get them moving quickly! Don’t make them wait 5 months before starting anything because the enthusiasm could wear off, not to mention their availability may completely change in that time lag.

It’s also beneficial to work with these individuals first, if possible. With a smooth implementation, the ultra-supportive are those who will be your ERM champion, possibly motivating others to being more helpful.

Navigating a maze like the different reactions from people is not something everyone is natural at, but skills like this are just as or even more important than learning technical processes and so on, which is why any ERM professional needs to possess a growth mindset and always be looking for ways to improve.

What other personality traits would you include on this list?

Any insights based on your experience that you can share will be most helpful to everyone. Simply leave a comment below or join the conversation on LinkedIn.

If you’re struggling to deal with different personas and have seen progress stall, please don’t spend another day going nowhere. Reach out to me via my contact page to discuss your current situation and what can be done to get things moving forward.

Featured image courtesy of Cytonn Photography via Unsplash.com

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Meet Carol Williams, SDS Founder & Lead Strategist

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This blog was launched to provide strategy and risk practitioners with a go-to resource to better guide their efforts within their companies. Thank you for bringing me and my team along to be part of your journey towards better risk management, strategic planning and execution, and overall decision-making. Happy reading!

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