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How to deal with different personalities at work

By Emilly Parris

Most of us spend countless hours at work, and if you work full-time that probably means it’s normal for you to spend more time with your colleagues than with friends and family. 

Most workplaces are made up of a variety of different personality types, which is great for diversity, but it can also be challenging to deal with a personality that doesn’t quite mesh with yours. 

Learning the skills to cope with people’s different personalities can make your life (and others’ around you) so much easier.

To help you navigate and manage different personalities in the workplace, here are some strategies that may be worth implementing.

Understanding and managing different personalities

personality concept

The first step to dealing with any challenge is to make an effort to understand it. The psychology behind people’s different personalities has been well-documented and can give you an idea about the range of personalities you may come across in the workplace.

Breaking down the personalities

  1. The Playful.
  2. The Peaceful.
  3. The Powerful.
  4. The Precise.
The Myers-Briggs is one of the most common personality tests, and personality expert Allison Mooney has condensed these 16 personality types into four general categories:

1. The Playful.

Playful personalities are energetic, enthusiastic and extroverted. They thrive in social environments and enjoy expressing their ideas. While they are creative and great at coming up with innovative concepts, they can be disorganised and easily distracted.

2. The Peaceful.

Peaceful personalities are orderly and diplomatic. They avoid confrontation and do not make demands on their team members. Rather, they take a calm and measured approach to communicating with their peers. They tend to be more introverted and work well independently.

3. The Powerful.

Powerful personalities—as you might expect—are a force to be reckoned with. They are decisive, straightforward and results-focused. They are also fiercely loyal and hold strong values. This personality type brings focus and assertion to an organisation, making them great leaders.

4. The Precise.

Precise personalities value attention to detail and are highly conscious when it comes to completing tasks. That means they like to “knuckle down” and get the job done right the first time.

For this reason, they are an incredibly valuable asset to any team but they need the right amount of space, support and positive encouragement to thrive. Since they are perfectionists, they tend to be more sensitive to criticism than the other personality types.

Do you see yourself in any of these categories? It’s likely that you fit into more than one category and that is perfectly normal. Humans are complex and multi-faceted, yet on the surface you can see how some of these personalities may clash with one another.

Avoiding personality conflicts at work

conflict at work

Whether you’re a manager or an employee, the best advice to help you avoid personality conflicts at work is to keep an open mind and acknowledge the similarities and differences we all share.

It’s in human nature to want to be accepted and listened to. If you can show empathy and understanding, you’ll find it much easier to neutralise conflicts no matter what personality type you are dealing with.

It’s not about who’s right and wrong

Forget about winning or losing an argument. If you’re having a hard time with a colleague whose personality clashes with yours, take a step back and say, “this isn’t a personal attack, we just see things differently”.

This approach is empowering because it gives you a more realistic and well-rounded perspective that does not put the blame on anyone.

That being said, there’s a difference between personality clashes and outright abuse and harassment so make sure you’re aware of your company’s policies regarding this and don’t ignore the signs if they’re pointing to something more serious.

Let’s go over some strategies for dealing with workplace conflict from an employee and manager’s perspective:

Managing different personalities as an employee 

  1. Avoid gossiping or starting rumours.
  2. Verbally acknowledge your differences.
  3. Take a breather.
Personality clashes are one of the most common causes of conflicts in the workplace. Here are some tips to help tame the fire:

1. Avoid gossiping or starting rumours.

You may be tempted to recruit allies, but bad-mouthing someone you work with is never a good idea and will almost always backfire.

If you need to air out grievances, it is always better to talk to someone who can help you deal with it, such as your boss or HR manager. If you have a supportive company environment, this is the best path to take to resolve conflict.

2. Verbally acknowledge your differences.

Often people lash out when they feel they are not being understood or taken seriously.

Whether it’s a difference of opinion or a different method of doing things, communicating with the person you’re having a conflict with can bring you both down to a level where you can actually say. “I think we’re both right, but we’re looking at this differently, let’s come up with a solution together”.

3. Take a breather.

When emotions flare up, rational thought can go out the window and you risk saying or doing something you regret. Remember that emotions are never wrong, but the actions you take when you’re governed by them can be, so give yourself the space to deal with them in a calm and healthy manner. 

Managing different personalities as a manager 

  1. Treat your employees equally.
  2. Don't take sides.
  3. Report abuse or bullying.
As a manager, you’re in a unique position because you are in charge of keeping your team working cohesively. Therefore, any conflict (no matter how minor) can affect the entire team’s outcomes. Here are some things to keep in mind:

1. Treat your employees equally.

There may be members of your team that you get along with better than others but avoid engaging in favouritism, as this can not only create tensions but put your credibility on the line.

2. Don’t take sides.

Unless someone is being completely unreasonable, it’s always better to remain impartial and see both sides of the situation. Avoid letting your emotions get the better of you. 

3. Report abuse or bullying.

If you can see things are getting out of hand, it’s vital that you intervene before things get worse.

Whichever way you look at it, encountering different personalities at work is an opportunity for self-reflection and self-growth. Even the most difficult people to deal with can teach us how to be more tolerant and help us to develop the social skills we need to progress in our career.

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