Personality conflicts at work need to be resolved
We don’t choose who we work with. Tensions and disagreements that arise in the workplace can damage our company’s reputation, decrease our team’s productivity and impact our well-being.
A 2008 international study by CPP Global (the publisher of the Myers-Briggs Assessment) showed that 49% of workplace conflict stems from personality conflicts.
The earlier personality conflicts are dealt with, the less they affect business. What might start as trouble between co-workers can evolve into a divided culture as people pick sides or a stressful bullying investigation if a complaint is filed.
While there are benefits to having a diverse team (more innovation and better problem solving, etc.), it can also lead to more differences that need to be managed. Sometimes these differences are blamed on personality clashes that we take for granted – “Bill and Bob” are what they are, so we have to put up with them.
However, I prefer to take a more constructive approach. First, I ask if these differences can be exploited. Can the team play to each other’s strengths?
It is natural that people of different generations, cultures and backgrounds have different skills, values and ways of working. These differences can be exploited if they are appreciated and respected by your team.
Mutual respect and appreciation can grow organically if you publicly give credit to individual team members and organize team-building activities outside of work.
Mutual respect and appreciation can also be intentionally developed if you teach your team to understand how each acts and communicates with personality profiling (as with Myers-Briggs).
They learn to see that their colleagues are not difficult, just different from them. Once they understand and accept this, they can get along better.
If the differences can’t be appreciated, I look at other potential causes of workplace conflict, such as micromanagement, unclear job roles, and poor communication.
Sometimes a certain management style doesn’t fit the culture of a team. Sometimes overworked people don’t have time to explain tasks properly, plan projects properly, or treat others professionally. A whole team planning session with a common goal of improving the way you work together can help everyone talk about it and find solutions that work for everyone.
If you think the differences are caused by incompatible personalities, consider these tips:
1. Act quickly. This will reduce the risk of problems escalating into verbal abuse or even physical dust. Listen to both sides with an open mind and talk directly to the people involved. Keep this confidential to prevent the wider team from being affected and your own opinion from being infected with gossip.
2. Use a mediator. Let team members explore how to work together in a safe environment with the help of a neutral person. It’s not always as easy as locking them in a room until they get out on their own! Mediation helps you see if it’s a direct personality conflict or part of a larger problem. A mediator outside of your organization will help dispel the perception that a team member is favored.
3. Change work habits. Consider redeploying one or both of the team members in question, when/where they work or to whom they report. At a minimum, these are good short-term options until a resolution is found, especially if a person can work from home. The time for them to calm down away from each other gives them head space to act rationally, not emotionally.
4. Get workplace conflict coaching. This could be for the whole team if you don’t want to isolate individuals. Understanding that we all process information and communicate in different ways and changing the way we interact with our colleagues can help them resolve misunderstandings directly with each other. This type of training teaches people how to express their thoughts and emotions in a non-threatening way.
At the end of the day, business people don’t have to be best friends, but they do have to do their jobs.
A personality conflict can begin because a person is triggered by behaviors and feelings. A conflict is often as much about the person being triggered as the person triggering.
Although they may blame certain external factors for their behavior (such as high workloads), they must also take responsibility for how they react to what triggers them.
Triggers can come from something deep in their past or from their own inferiority complex. It is good practice to offer employees paid counseling so that they can resolve their own inner conflicts.
People also say that there is a law of magnetism: who you are is who you are attracted to. If we can learn to communicate better with our team members, then according to this law, they should communicate better with us.
– Kate Hesson is Director of Hesson Consultancy.