How to work with a merciless person vs a compassionate person

Merciless vs. Compassionate Personality Traits

The working world is full of merciless and compassionate personalities, but it’s not a tale of cold-hearted mercenaries and selfless angels. These personality traits really do fall along a spectrum. So what do these traits mean in practice?

Learning more about these (and other) personality traits can help you hire, manage, and collaborate more successfully.

What is a merciless personality?

Someone who has a merciless working style tends to be focused on results rather than people. They’re typically not very concerned about consequences or hurting someone else’s feelings. Often, people with this personality trait end up doing hard tasks that others avoid, such as making an unpopular business decision.

What are the characteristics of someone who is merciless at work?

Here are a few signs that an employee tends towards the merciless end of this personality trait scale:

  • They do what they think needs to be done, even if it affects other people or causes trouble for themselves.
  • They may come across as tough, cold, or somewhat reserved. However, if it serves a purpose, they’ll pay more attention to those interpersonal dynamics.
  • They follow through with confidence on tough decisions.
  • Sometimes, they end up taking over tasks that others have avoided, such as finally firing a problem employee who has been passed from team to team.
  • They’re not as concerned with how they come across to others and aren’t afraid to say hard truths.

How to work with someone who is merciless in the workplace

People who have a merciless streak can make strong leaders who do the right thing under pressure. However, they may also find themselves unpopular or outside the circle of collaboration. It all depends on the person’s other personality traits, as well as the degree to which they tend to be merciless.

With this trait in particular, an applicant or employee’s overall personality type (A, B, C, and D in our tests) can reveal quite a bit about how the merciless personality trait might play out at work.

How to train someone who has a merciless personality
  • Emphasize the bottom line, the biggest values for your company, and the most important rules or procedures. Merciless employees can serve as a compass for the rest of your team when it comes to staying aligned with those touchstones.
  • At the management level, you may want to invest in training that focuses on how managers can help employees feel valued and motivated. Merciless managers can motivate their teams by continually driving towards success, but might lack finesse in addressing other needs for their team.
How to motivate a merciless employee
  • Don’t force them into cheesy team-building activities that will chafe against their personality. Focus on training and group activities that directly relate to the work at hand.
  • Put them in roles where their clear priorities and willingness to make hard decisions will be an asset.
How to give feedback to a merciless employee
  • Get to the point. Of course, be kind and respectful, but give the kind of unvarnished, honest feedback that these employees will value.
  • You may need to help your merciless employees understand the value of taking time to invest in their coworkers. This kind of feedback can be really valuable in helping employees grow.

What is the opposite of the merciless personality trait?

Compassion lies on the other end of the personality spectrum. Where merciless people can sometimes steamroll the feelings of others, compassionate people care deeply about those around them.

What is a compassionate personality?

Someone who is compassionate at work tends to be warm and genuinely interested in others. They tend to see things from others’ perspectives and want everyone to get along.

What are the characteristics of a compassionate person?

A few signs that a person tends to be compassionate in the workplace:

  • They come across as warm and friendly.
  • They have a lot of empathy and can anticipate the needs and reactions of others.
  • They’re attuned to the “human element” of any situation.
  • They may struggle when their role requires them to do something that disappoints or is inconvenient for  someone else.

How to work with someone who is compassionate at work

Learning how to support and encourage the compassionate employees on your team can make a big difference in their morale and productivity.

How to train a compassionate person
  • Explain not only how certain processes affect the business, but also how they affect other people. For example, does it save the finance department headaches when expense forms are filled out a certain way? Does it help the whole team go home on time when deadlines are met?
How to motivate a compassionate employee
  • Compassionate people thrive when they have the time and resources they need to treat people well. When compassionate people feel like they’re failing others, especially people who need help, they can go from being unhappy to giving up. This is especially crucial in “helping” professions, be it customer service, nursing, or even HR.
  • Compassionate people may be especially interested in moments of connection with coworkers, whether it’s  a few minutes of catch-up at the start of a meeting, the occasional team lunch, or email updates celebrating work achievements. Getting to know the other people on their team makes their contributions more satisfying.
How to give feedback to a compassionate person
  • Compassionate people are sometimes so focused on the relational impact of a conversation that they miss the point. Encourage note-taking or send a follow-up email outlining what you want them to take away from feedback sessions.
  • Give feedback frequently so that praise and constructive criticism feel normal. This will help normalize the experience of receiving feedback and make it clear that criticism, in particular, does not have an negative  impact on the working relationship.

Which is a better worker: merciless vs. compassionate?

Merciless and compassionate workers bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table. Most workplaces need all kinds of people: those who can make the tough business call, those who bring empathy and connection to the team, and everything in between.

If you know the personality profile of incoming applicants, you can use that information to ask interview questions tailored to finding out if their personality will be a good fit for the role. Has the compassionate manager been able to communicate expectations clearly and let people go when it’s not working out? Has the merciless nurse who’s laser-focused on positive health outcomes for her patients learned ways to connect with patients?

In the end, there’s no “better” worker, but by knowing more about your employee and applicant personality profiles, you can evaluate their fit and offer the right support.

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