I believe in libraries, and bookshelves, and old dictionaries gently decaying in late afternoon sunlight seeping in through stained glass windows. One day, I will own one. In fact, it will be a necessity, as I’ve been building and pruning my book collection since forever.

One of them is called “Difficult Personalities: A Practical Guide To Managing The Hurtful Behaviour Of Others (And Maybe Your Own)“. And because I’m weird about these things, I can tell you where I bought it (the Exclusive Books in the domestic terminal at OR Tambo), and what I was doing at the time (waiting to catch my Cape Town connection after a trip north for Greek Easter), and even when I bought it (April 2010).

I can still remember reading it on the plane, and being amused by the fact that the description of every single “difficult” personality the author identifies (apart from the sociopaths), starts with this line:

“XXXX people see the world as a dark and terrifying place, and they react to it by…”

Followed by a behavioural trait at the end there. The anxiety disorders react by being anxious about everything; the aggressive disorders react by lashing out; and so on.

But, like, whatever.

Sure – people have backstories and chemical imbalances and so do I. The trouble is that most of us get put into a confined space for 8 hours a day; and what with all the chemicals, it’s suddenly a pre-school parade.

Which brings us to my fun list of the day:

A Nursery School Playground Guide To Difficult Office Personalities

The Tattle-Tale

The tattle-tale is forever in everyone else’s offices/cubicles, engaging in the not-forgotten and not-so-noble art of ass coverage. I generally support this type of action as being a pre-emptive strike against other tattle-tales – but there is a fine line. Specifically, the line is crossed when everyone knows that your primary objective is to leave egg on every face but your own.

The Fat Kid

Sloppy in general: their desks bear all the signs of phantom (and recent) snacking. Fat Kids possess the uncanny ability to find the food at work meetings, and then disappear before the cleaning-up.

Nothing enrages them more than the milk running out in the communal fridge.

Mr Pants on Fire

Has perfected the face of sincerity.

The Little Madam

Demanding and belligerent. Deals in snubs, although will not deal with them when they’re returned.

Prominent Little Madams will almost immediately surround themselves with hangers-on, forming coalitions that become obstinate obstacles as soon as their opinion is ignored. Even if they perceive it to be ignored. And they always perceive it as having been ignored.

The Hanger-On

Usually found on the coat-tails of the Little Madam, this child spends a lot of time sourcing information, collating it, and then engaging in selective distribution.

Some might call this “gossip”. Others might call it “keeping tabs on the pulse”.

And if, sometimes, the pulse might need a little artificial stimulation to keep it interesting, then who are we to judge…

The King Of The Castle

These children are the possessors of dubious talent. After all, climbing to the top of the jungle gym does not mean that you’re better than everyone – far likelier that you’re just more physically mature. Either way, the Castle Kings claim their superiority, insist on having their own way, and then get red-faced and blustery when they don’t get it.

Be prepared to ego-stroke.

The Nose-Picker

These children seem innocuous; but somehow, after every encounter, you’re left with an ineffable sense of ick.

Whenever something breaks, or someone inexplicably hurts themselves, they always seem to be nearby.

Quietly picking.

The Cry-Baby

AKA the drama queen. You can’t be critical of them. At all. And if you do, prepare for tears, shakes and snot.

Victims. They’re always the victims. And it’s always someone else’s fault.

The Military Brat

Openly aggressive. I mean – openly. And not necessarily for any good reason.

Deep-down, you’d quite like to see what happens when you pair them with a Little Madam for a group project. Just to see.

The Know-It-All

This child is never wrong. And spends a lot of time offering opinions on topics that they have no clue about. But they do it with such forceful authority that the weaker members of the class are convinced.

They’re also highly irritating*.
*I fear deeply that this is my category of difficult personality.

The Child That’s Friends With Everyone


Super-sweet to your face, but driving the bus that they’re throwing you under.

You can’t be friends with everyone. It’s just not possible.

The Whiner

Actively complains about everyone and everything. Incessantly. Sucking up every last ounce of joy and turning it into grey.

The Goody Two Shoes

The fundamentalist observer of laws and regulations.

There is a dark side to this child – they are strangely content to impose eternal hell-fire punishment, and beatings, for even the most minor of indiscretions.

The Goody Two Shoes does not believe in compassion for the wicked, only in compassion for those that have no need of it.

The Neat Freak

Always in control.

Right on the edge of a tantrum.

Likes to form the other children into lines with sheer force of will.

Then we put these child-like personalities together in a meeting, mix them with the rest of us (who are rather plain and dull by comparison), add caffeine, and leave to stew until well and truly done.

Sounds like a recipe for success.

I guess it’s all in the way that you (try not to) stir it?