If I’ve learned anything from decades in the workforce – whether in uniform or out – it’s that the challenges and opportunities presented from place to place are frighteningly similar. That’s good and bad. Good, because experience is a great teacher and we’re able to adjust quickly when familiar situations present themselves. Bad, because in many cases, we see the same mistakes again and again. Lessons learned can be a misnomer – they’re only lessons learned if people actually learn from them.
In the same sense, the types of people we encounter are eerily similar. No matter where you go or what you do, the same personalities seem to exist. Again, that’s good and bad. Good, because the familiarity with certain personality types often makes it easier to maneuver the human terrain of the workplace. Bad, because, well… we get tired of dealing with the same types of personalities everywhere we go. Just once, you’d like to escape “that guy” in a new job.
There are, of course, variations on the theme, but in general terms, you can find the same ten people frequenting every workplace. It doesn’t matter if you’re working on the staff of an airborne infantry brigade, serving on the faculty of a major university, or earning your keep in a Beltway think tank. Those ten people are everywhere. And, no matter what you do, you can’t escape them.
The Girl Scout
Always selling something: cookies, popcorn, coupon books. It’s impossible for them to do any work since they spend most of their time working to make money for someone else.
The Boy Scout
If the biblical quote in the signature block isn’t a tip-off, hearing the refrain “Do the right thing!” to every question is a dead giveaway. You could be the reincarnation of Gandhi and it wouldn’t be enough for the Boy Scout. You’re just another dirty heathen.
Every office has one person with the attention span of a small rodent. They can’t hold eye contact, talk like a heavily-caffeinated auctioneer, dart back and forth between multiple projects, and produce little more than distraction and irritation.
No workplace is complete without the person who confuses the amount of time spent at work with actual productivity. They watch the clock, they watch you, and they remind anyone who will listen that they work longer hours than everyone else.
The Oxygen Thief
Automatically lowers the collective IQ in a room by half. Loves to use five-dollar words in a vain attempt to appear smarter than they really are, which is made all the worse by the fact they can be counted upon to say the dumbest imaginable thing at the worst possible time.
The Social Butterfly
Confuses “management by walking around” with roaming the workplace telling the same stories over and over again. When not drinking all the available coffee – and not making more – the Social Butterfly prevents others from working by filling digital inboxes with random email and what would pass for humor on any elementary school playground.
The “I Have a Secret” Person
The stereotypical “information is power” individual who guards critical information like Al Capone’s secret vault. Only divulges useful information when it is no longer of practical use or will cause problems for other people.
The Low Bar Setter
Always late, never performs an assigned task to standard or on time, and generally performs so poorly no one ever trusts them with important assignments. Unfortunately, doing even one thing right typically earns the Low Bar Setter lavish praise and recognition, much to the chagrin of everyone else.
The Good Idea Fairy
Every workplace has one. Sometimes, more than one. The Good Idea Fairy can always be counted upon to create an inordinate amount of work for others, usually at the proverbial eleventh hour after a final decision has been made. After which, of course, the Good Idea Fairy makes some excuse and vanishes into thin air.
The Teflon Prince
Only involves themselves in high-visibility projects, never contributes anything of value, and only appears when the boss is within view. Promptly disappears the moment work is mentioned or a project starts to go south, ensuring failure never sticks to them, but to everyone else.