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spike bullet September 2003 - Dealing with Difficult People (Recognizing & Working with Personality Dragons)

Definition of Personality Dragons
The Greed Dragon
The Impatience Dragon
The Arrogance Dragon
The Stubbornness Dragon
The Self-Deprecation Dragon
The Martyrdom Dragon
The Self-Destruction Dragon
Resources (links, books, articles, humor)

Recognizing & Working with Personality Dragons

This month's article is another in our occasional subject of Dealing with Difficult People.  We cover some of the ways you may feel or react to other people's Personality dragons, as well as how to change your communication style to work more effectively with them. 



Personality dragons are habits, behaviors and personality traits caused by underlying fears that keep people from being successful.  There are seven dragons.  

When out of control, they become self-fulfilling prophecies:

  • Greed � Lose everything you want
  • Impatience � Slows you down
  • Arrogance � People judge you
  • Stubbornness � Brings authority down on your head.
  • Self-Deprecation � Others put you down
  • Martyrdom � Provokes others to hurt you
  • Self Destruction � Lose control ultimately.

[For more details about the dragons, see the Resources section.]

The Greed Dragon dragon_santa.jpg (3014 bytes)

How you may feel or react when encountering someone with this dragon:

You may feel sorry for them and keep trying to give them things to compensate for them never having enough, especially when they panic, run out of money, lose their home, their car breaks down, they don�t get enough attention, etc.  Or, you may want to keep things from them � not leave valuables around, not allow them to attend meetings, not tell them things, feel invaded by their neediness, etc.

How it hurts the person:

Greed tends to fixate on something � money, time, attention, food, things, etc.  Symptoms can be hoarding things, binge/purge, anorexia/bulimia, lack of pleasure in what is accumulated, constantly looking for �more� of whatever they are fixated on.  People seem to look hungry all the time.

If they fixate on money, they may accumulate a lot, then lose it somehow.  They may always be asking for loans, cannot seem to pay their bills or may have credit problems.  If they fixate on food, they may be the first in line and last in line, always take the biggest piece, try to keep others from having what they want, etc.

People with Greed slide to Self-Destruction occasionally.

How it affects the workplace:

Poor decision-making, lost opportunities because they push too hard or want too much, low morale, lack of responsibility, bankruptcy, never being satisfied no matter what is given (time off, money, promotions, more influence, etc.), never being grateful for what they do have.

How to improve communication:

A person with greed is always afraid they will be left out, so may show interest even when they are not really interested.  Include them when it is appropriate.  Make sure they do not dominate all the time in meetings or grab all the attention.  They need firm limit setting.  Say no if appropriate.  Make them follow the usual procedures for advancement and not expect special treatment.  Treat them with respect and kindness, just like everyone else.

The Impatience Dragon 

How you may feel or react when encountering someone with this dragon:

People feel pushed by someone with impatience and tend to slow down � rather than hurry up � as the impatient person wants.  Managers may demand, �I want it yesterday,� which leads to disrespect by their employees who come to assume that all the manager�s demands are unreasonable.  Or, people may try to rush with the impatient person and make mistakes, or later find out that they should have waited.

How it hurts the person:

People with impatience are never in the present.  They are always thinking about what is coming up, worrying about being late, never enjoy what they have or where they are.

People with Impatience will slide to Martyrdom occasionally.

How it affects the workplace:

They make mistakes due to rushing, have accidents, interrupt other people, take on more than they can handle, are late to meetings or miss deadlines because they tend to over-commit.  They can offend others who don�t respect their deadlines or promises.  They miss what is in front of them because their mind is always somewhere else or worrying about something in the future.

How to improve communication:

Remember that people with impatience are afraid because time might run out before they get to do what they want to do.  Ask them to slow down when talking.  Make them repeat themselves.  Try to get them to look at you during communications.  Be patient with them and be a role model for them.  Remind them that there is plenty of time to do whatever is needed.  Help them make or set realistic deadlines.  If they take on too much, help them cut down their �to do� list.

The Arrogance Dragon

How you may feel or react when encountering someone with this dragon:

You may want to smack them for being so obnoxious.  You may want to criticize them, call them names or talk in disrespectful ways about them.  You may want to break through their arrogance and tell them how you really think.  People are rarely honest with an arrogant person.  They may tell them off or not give any clues about what you think � both are dishonest responses.

How it hurts the person:

Underneath their brave exterior, they feel inferior and insecure.  Arrogant people are very self-conscious.  Because of their fear, they have too much attention on themselves.  They can be very shy.  They want to be �special� but are afraid they will be overlooked or ignored so they feel they have to brag and strut to get approval from others.

They cover their shyness, self-consciousness and aloofness by trying to appear perfect so they will not be criticized.  They may have been subjected to very harsh criticism and have learned to defend themselves.  They can be very critical and judgmental of others.

People with Arrogance slide to Self-Deprecation occasionally.

How it affects the workplace:

They are very defensive, very critical of others, holding themselves aloof as a protective barrier from being judged.  They project a protective barrier between others and are afraid to relax.  That means all their energy is focused on themselves instead of the other person.

They don�t hear what you say and respond based on their own pre-conceived notions rather than on the actual situation.  They may make statements that seem to be full of confidence even when they are completely wrong.  They will refuse to accept the blame or responsibility for anything that is wrong or for being responsible for miscommunications.

How to improve communication:

Never humiliate them or put them down in front of co-workers.  You can praise them publicly, but criticize them in private if needed.  Give them your complete attention.  Gently remind them that they are part of the team.  Help them get the focus off themselves by asking them how they can support their customers, co-workers or team members.  Help them acknowledge the contributions of others in addition to themselves.  Never offer criticism without offering praise first.  Do not surprise them.  Give them plenty of time to give their best efforts.  Be warm and friendly even when they seem aloof.  Let them know it�s OK to be human.  Help them feel connected to others, the group, the team, etc.  Compliment them in a gentle and sincere way.

The Stubbornness Dragon

How you may feel or react when encountering someone with this dragon:

People will try to push the stubborn person harder to get them to move faster.  Or, they may become more stubborn themselves, leading to a stand-off.

How it hurts the person:

Stubborn people resist changes that threaten their sense of security.  They stall on giving answers and participating in their workplace as a team member.  They may grit their teeth or become upset easily when someone want to change something.  They tend to say �no� very quickly without listening to what is being asked of them.  When pushed or rushed, they get may angry and dig in their heels even more.

People with Stubbornness can slide to any of the other dragons more easily.

How it affects the workplace:

Stubborn people become known as roadblocks to progress, ridiculed or ignored until it�s too late.  Then, they become even more difficult because they are being pushed even more.  They can sabotage projects, avoid decisions and create havoc for others who need to get things done.

How to improve communication:

Remember that a stubborn person is feeling afraid that you might want to change something that they are attached to.  They may feel that that you are too controlling for them.

Give the person extra time to adjust to whatever is changing.  Don�t surprise them.  Never make sudden demands.  Give them options and choices.  Be casual in your approach.  Be calm with them.  Ask them for input on issues, rather than telling them what to do.

The Self-Deprecation Dragon

How you may feel or react when encountering someone with this dragon:

You may want to blame them or make derogatory comments about them.  You may ignore them, not feel sympathy for them, bypass them because they usually won�t/don�t participate, not want to embarrass them, not praise them because they always get flustered by it.

How it hurts the person:

They have a constant fear of failing or being embarrassed.  They will not volunteer for assignments or projects they are capable of handling.  They are always blaming themselves or putting themselves down,

People with Self-Deprecation slide to Arrogance occasionally.

How it affects the workplace:

Because they may feel unworthy, they may feel responsible for things that are not their fault, make excuses for their own failings or become defensive when questioned about anything, whether it is there fault or not.  It is hard for them be active participants on a team because they are also so defensive or apologetic.  They may not take on their share of the team responsibility.  They usually have trouble asking for help when they need it so others on the team may not know when they get into trouble.

How to improve communication:

Point out their strengths.  Thank them for their contributions.  Don�t let them engage in self-deprecating talk.  Don�t let them apologize unnecessarily.  Don�t make up things that are not true to over-compensate for their lack of confidence.  Never humiliate them in a meeting or in front of their co-workers.  Never shame them.  Try not to put too much pressure on them in front other others.  Provide them with a respectful, supporting, kind approach.

The Martyrdom Dragon

How you may feel or react when encountering someone with this dragon:

You may want to sympathize with their problems and go along with them that the world is out to get them.  You may feel exhausted after spending time in their presence because they are always so sad and unhappy.  You may want to run away from them, not invite them to meetings or events because their attitude is always so negative.  You may cringe when they start complaining.  They often have a whiney tone of voice that irritates people.

How it hurts the person:

They feel like they have no choices � that they are trapped.  It immobilizes them and keeps them from taking action or making choices that would solve the problems they seem to experience.  Disasters and bad luck seem to follow them around.

People with Martyrdom will slide to Impatience occasionally.

How it affects the workplace:

People complain a lot and are always talking about their problems, which are numerous.  They manipulate others into feeling sorry for them or taking on their responsibilities.  Their ability to work on a team is damaged because no one wants to work with them due to their bad attitude.  They waste an incredible amount of energy that could be directed toward productive endeavors.  They can drag an entire office down with their constant complaining and whining.

How to improve communication:

Remember that people with martyrdom are afraid of being victims.  They are fairly convinced that they will have to work too hard and that others will get away with things while they do not.  They try to be extra good and yet resent it at the same time.

Don�t let them volunteer for extra work.  Don�t take advantage of their hard-working nature.  Be kind and generous with them.  Don�t fall for their endless crisis, unending problems and apparent bad luck.  Hold them accountable.  Help them to see that they have other options and choices.  Help them to see their responsibility for a problem they are having.  Require them to take their complaints to someone who can help them.  Don�t bail them out.

The Self-Destruction Dragon 

How you may feel or react when encountering someone with this dragon:

You may feel a sense of impending loss of control when you are with them or thinking about them.  You may feel afraid for their safety or health and well-being.  You may feel a sense of hopelessness to help them.  You may have a feeling of being unable to help them, a feeling of pity, loss or confusion about what they are doing.  You may have a fear that they won�t be able to get through whatever is going on with them.

People have a look of panic in their eyes and give off a feeling of panic or desperation.  They may express that their life has no meaning or does not make sense to them.

How it hurts the person:

Self-Destruction can result in drug addiction, alcoholism, excessive smoking, suicide attempts, dangerous or illegal activities, brawling, recklessness and other self-destructive behaviors.  It can also show up as destruction of their own belongings or those of others, or physical/personal assaults on others such as fighting or attacking others in extreme cases.  Rock stars that do drugs are good examples.

People with Self-Destruction slide to Greed occasionally.

How it affects the workplace:

In the workplace, self-destruction results in sabotage, inattention, time loss, poor decisions and accidents, as well as losses due to substance abuse.  People with self-destruction are rarely team players.

How to improve communication:

Recognize the signs of self-destruction.  Remember that underneath the person feels desperate and out-of-control but may appear cavalier to cover it up.  Be firm with them and give a strong response.  Never cover up for them, hide their absence, drunkenness, drug use or theft.  If you are the supervisor, take strong and appropriate disciplinary action with warnings of future consequences.  Follow through.  They need to have strong limits set for them; leniency does not help them.


The name �dragons� comes from fairy tales.  Dragons are not invincible and can be defeated. Personality Dragons never want to be seen and they will do everything they can to disguise themselves or trick you � just like fairy tale dragons.  Facing them takes courage and defeating them requires extreme courage and persistence.

When you push for personal growth, the dragons resist.  Facing your own fears and insecurities is the first step.  Facing the dragon and telling the truth is what beats the dragons.  Only you can defeat the dragon and you cannot do it alone � just like in fairy tales, where you must gain someone else�s help to defeat the dragon.

Getting rid of personality dragons frees up tremendous energy and vitality that can be directed toward being more successful.  Moving beyond the dragons unleashes your natural gifts, talents and abilities.

Adapted by Barbara Taylor, a certified Power Path trainer, from the �Transforming Your Dragons at Work� workshops by Jose & Lena Stevens, Power Path Seminars, Santa Fe, New Mexico (2002).  The book Transforming Your Dragons: Turning Fear Patterns into Personal Power by Jose Stevens is available at major bookstores.

World Wide Web graphic  Internet Resources

  • Power Path Seminars.  Executive training, coaching and training certification. 

world wide web - articles  Articles

book graphic  Books   -  Disclosure: We get a small commission for purchases made via links to Amazon.

  • Transforming Your Dragons: Turning Personality Fear Patterns into Personal Power. Jose Stevens. Bear & Co; (July 1994) ISBN: 1879181177

An excellent book devoted entirely to the subject of the dragons.   The book covers how the dragons develop in childhood, how they affect your relationships, your life, your body, your health, your creativity and your spirituality.  In addition, it contains excellent exercises for slaying your dragons and recognizing the dragons in others. 

Other books with information about the dragons:

About our resource links:  We do not endorse or agree with all the beliefs in these links.  We do keep an open mind about different viewpoints and respect the ability of our readers to decide for themselves what is useful.

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