The Difficult Person Test Is A Real Thing, And You Probably Know Lots Of People Who Should Take It

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Self

One personality test called…wait for it…the “Difficult Person Test” has recently gone viral online. The large number of individuals who have taken this popular test probably would not want to be associated with the difficult traits identified in the test, yet these traits are actually quite common.

Of course, we all know that one exceptionally difficult person we'd love to send this test to, just to be able to say, “See! Now you know!” 

For me, the bigger question is, what causes people to be difficult in the first place? Do these people know they are difficult? If so, do they care? Better yet, is difficulty something we can predict?

Imagine being able to foresee whether someone in your workgroup is going to be a pain in the associates!

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The difficult person test is based on real science. 

The difficult person test, which you can take online for free, is a real thing that's based on actual data. 

In a 2020 study conducted at my alma mater, the University of Georgia, researchers found that the characteristic of “antagonism actually fits quite well into the widely-accepted Five-Factor Model (FFM) of personality."

The FFM helps us to understand inborn behavioral tendencies by describing personality as a combination of five traits including openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, Agreeableness, and the need for stability or neuroticism (more easily remember by the acronym O.C.E.A.N). 

What causes people to be difficult in the first place?

60% of personality is inherited and 40% is dependent on our environment. So we're all born with different levels of agreeableness. Our heredity, hormones, and body chemistry all play a part in shaping our personalities.

More specifically, agreeableness (or lack thereof) is an inborn personality trait. However, when things come into play like childhood and young adulthood, experiences from the past 3 years, and trauma, then the level of agreeableness can fluctuate or even plummet. 

Another contributor to the behavior of some difficult people is something called the "Need For Affect." This is the inborn, measurable need to experience emotions, whether good or bad. People measuring unusually high levels of Need For Affect enjoy the experience of emotion and are sometimes labeled as drama queens.

For these individuals, nearly everything has the potential for being over-the-top, so this too can result in difficult interactions with other people.

Do difficult people know they're difficult? 

The answer is both yes and no. Some know. Some don’t. We know that both social media algorithms and social media audiences reward negative comments and difficult interactions with lots of engagement, higher placement, and more visibility. 

So for the most part, in these types of situations, difficult people are intentional in their trolling, antagonistic behaviors.

Even in my own observation of comment patterns on social media, I have found that even "feel good" posts like videos of puppies playing, happy photos of new college graduates, and service men and women returning home to their families, all are being targeted by difficult people.

I even saw a comment once where someone accused the author of posting “too may” happy posts! How is that even a thing? 

For individuals who don't realize they're being difficult, this is called a blind spot. It's something that assessments like the one used in the UGA study can help people to see.

I often use the analogy of the Titanic when discussing blind spots. The Titanic did not sink because of the part of the iceberg that they could see above the water line. It sank because it hit that massive portion underneath the water line that they couldn’t see. 

The job of a coach often involves helping people to see those things about themselves and others that they can’t see underneath the water line.  

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Do difficult people care that they're being difficult?

If we assume that a highly difficult person knows that people see them as difficult, the next question is; do they care? The initial assumption might be no. In fact, some people like the social media trolls described earlier actually wear it as a badge of honor. But we can answer this better by taking a look at values. 

Our values are another key component of our personalities, and they often regulate our behaviors because they regulate our actions and impulses. The scientific study of values is called Formal Axiology and it allows us to better understand and appreciate different aspects of our lives. 

Some people are highly appreciative of other people but aren't so good at understanding them. Therefore, a difficult interaction might simply be due to a lack of people skills, not a lack of caring. Again, a blind spot.

On the other hand, some people are really intuitive and great at understanding other people. They just have no desire to play nice and are really skilled at pushing other people's buttons.  

Can you predict this with a difficult person test?

With this awesome thing humans have called free will, we can never fully predict how people will behave. However, we can make educated guesses about what to look out for using assessments based on decades of scientific research. 

Particularly in the workplace, it's really a benefit to know if someone has rated extremely low on the agreeableness scale, or how many difficult person traits you have spread throughout your team.

A tool like the WorkPlace Big Five assessment that measures these inborn traits can help to discover that — not for the purpose of hiring or firing, but for the purpose of better navigating working relationships.

As you can imagine, antagonistic, difficult people tend to register stand-out scores on the Big Five's agreeableness scale, and not in a good way.

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Characteristics include: 

Low in the Big Five personality trait known as accommodation or agreeableness. 

More focused on their personal norms and needs rather than the needs of the group.

More concerned with acquiring and exercising power.

Follow the beat of their own drum, rather than getting in step with the group.

May come across to others as hostile, rude, self-centered, and not a team player.

We can also make educated guesses about how a person thinks and makes value judgments about situations using an assessment like the Hartman Value Profile (HVP).

The HVP uses a math-based system to draw a picture of how clear and attentive we are when it comes to people, tasks, and systems both in the external world around us, as well as in our own internal world within us. 

We each have difficult person tendencies inside us. That's one reason why the Difficult Person Test has gained so much traction online. Even professionals like myself who've been trained in human behavior, and make a living helping people to understand themselves and each other, possess some level of the difficult person traits.

After all, we're all human. However, the key to personality assessments is the ability to use the results to be more proactive in your everyday life. This way, you can develop yourself and hopefully improve your interactions with others. 

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Melanie Gallo, Ph.D. is a WorkLife Psychology coach and writer specializing in personality and thinking habits. Dr. Melanie helps today’s leaders and their team members define their WorkLifeJoy. Get in touch directly or download her free Coach2GO app today.