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Which One of the Seven Dwarfs is Your Boss?

Updated on October 26, 2012

A difficult boss may resemble one of Disney's Seven Dwarfs

Do you remember the Disney movie based on the fairy tale, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" ? As I was preparing to write articles about coping with difficult bosses, I had an "aha" moment. Each of the seven dwarfs with their unique personality traits resembles seven of the ten "difficult" types of bosses you may encounter in the workplace.

When people are being difficult, their behavior is generally a result of the way they defend themselves when they feel threatened, or the mode in which they operate in order to receive the reward they seek. Note: Although I use the masculine gender in describing these "dwarf" bosses, be aware they come in all shapes, sizes and genders.


Doc is the Bellowing Bull boss that I have described in "Dealing with Difficult People." He is a natural-born leader who is forceful and is often seen as aggressive and intimidating by employees and colleagues. He has a strong need to prove to himself as well as other people that his view of the world or the issue is always right. He wants others to know he is in charge and has no difficulty offering strong opinions on almost every subject.

Grumpy is the Genuine Know-It-Owl. You can spot Grumpy easily because he is often negative, his arms are crossed over his chest, and he looks annoyed or irritated or exasperated. Grumpy really is an expert who knows it all because he has been there and done that. He is assertive and self-confident and puts great value on competence, efficiency, and quick results from his team members. Impatience is his middle name.

Dopey is the Bogus Know-It-Owl. People we see as “dopey” take life very seriously and are convinced they have all the answers even when most of the answers they have are very wrong. They often parrot whatever the Genuine Know-It-Owls say. They are difficult because they earnestly believe the erroneous and skewed information they provide. To help them save face, do not openly contradict their statements.

Bashful is the Uncommunicative Clam. He avoids eye contact with team members and others whenever possble, hoping not to be called upon, and wants to hear everyone else’s opinion before he speaks. He may appear to look away or down often but don’t be fooled by his behavior. Bashful is highly observant and deeply sensitive to the feelings and non verbal communication of other people..

Happy is the Pleasant Puppy. Happy is a smiler. He sends little smiley-face emoticons with his emails. He is warm, energetic, and very responsive to the needs of others. He may try too hard to please and to provide the “right answer” so that he becomes inauthentic in his input. He is passive rather than assertive but only because he finds it very difficult and almost impossible to refuse requests and say, “No.”

Sleepy is Calamity Chicken Little. You know you are reporting to a Sleepy because he is usually bored, staring out the window, or hiding in the middle of the group, and probably yawning. Sleepy can be rational and logical but he fantasizes frequently, and is prone to see the negative (the sky is falling, the sky is falling) rather than the positive in almost every issue.

Sneezy is the Complaining Crocodile. Sneezy generally acts sick He even looks sick. He lets everyone know he’s unwell, constantly interrupting with coughs, sneezes, or clearing his throat. He complains about the environment (“It’s too cold. It's too hot.”) and his favorite phrase is: “Yes, but …” Although he can be organized and methodical, his behavior often wears you down.

Whatever your behavior in response to the actions of difficult people, if they are the boss, do not cause them to lose face. You could easily win the battle and ultimately lose the war.

© Copyright BJ Rakow Ph.D. 2010, 2012. All rights reserved. Author, "Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So." Readers of my book say it provided the information they needed to write a dynamic resume and cover letter, network effectively, interview professionally, and negotiate assertively. Includes a chapter for older workers.

Graphics Credit: Walt Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"


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