Personality Clash?

– how Type makes a difference

by Catherine Stothart

Personality clashCan you get on with everyone at work?

We’ve all had “difficult” colleagues – perhaps the impatient go-getter, the stick-to-the-rules pedant, the excitable attention-seeker or the indecisive procrastinator.  Personality clashes are the top cause of conflict at work[i]  and diversity in personality probably causes more problems than other forms of diversity.

So why do some people clash?  Here are a few of the reasons:

  • It’s easier to build rapport with people who are like ourselves. This applies as much to personality as to the more obvious similarities of race, gender and social class.  When people have different personalities, it’s more difficult to build mutual understanding.
  • We judge people by the impact of their behaviour on us. If we experience someone’s behaviour as aggressive, or irritating or frustrating, we may respond negatively, resulting in a downward spiral of unhelpful behaviours.
  • We overlook the likely positive intention behind their behaviour and so fail to find common ground for collaboration. For example, someone who delays a decision may be aiming to get the best possible result, not trying to annoy us by procrastinating.
  • Our beliefs about ourselves, about them and about the situation, drive our emotions and actions. When our beliefs about what is important are not shared, we experience this as a threat to our self-worth and we push our own approach harder[ii], leading to an escalation of conflict.
  • We lack self-awareness to appreciate how our behaviour affects them. How we are perceived is also influenced by our position in the hierarchy. Research shows that often we don’t even know when our behaviour is seen as considerate or rude[iii].

How can we manage these clashes?   

Getting on with people doesn’t mean you have to be “nice” or agree with them.  And conflict comes in many guises.  Conflict over the task might be the vital catalyst to get the best outcomes.  But personal conflict can undermine progress.

You can’t change other people’s behaviour, but you can manage your own and this will influence how they respond to you.  Here are some tips and techniques:

  • We tend to judge ourselves by our intention (“I didn’t mean to be rude, I was only….”) and others by their impact (“he was rude!”). We need to switch this around and judge others by their intention, and ourselves by our impact.   Knowing about personality type makes it easier for us to appreciate the intention of the other person and what might be driving their behaviour.
  • Make allowances for the negative impact of their behaviour on you and seek to understand their intention. The colleague who comes across as impatient and demanding might intend to get quick, achievable results.  Your peer who appears slow and inflexible might want to ensure there is a carefully thought-through plan.   If you can see beyond their behaviour, you might be able to find common ground and the opportunity for collaboration.  Sometimes we project on to other people aspects of ourselves that we don’t like, and type awareness helps to  counteract this.
  • Appreciate that when people react emotionally, it’s a sign that their needs are not being met – ask open questions to clarify what they want. Find out what people are feeling rather than what they think[iv].  Personality type gives us insight into what other people’s needs and hot buttons are.  It also helps us appreciate the beliefs that might be driving their behaviour.
  • Take a third person perspective to notice the impact of your behaviour on the other person – if you were a fly on the wall, what would you see?  Knowing about personality type enables us to be more aware of how others might see us and how they might experience our behaviour.
  • Be mindful of what is happening in your body – tension in the jaw and shoulders, faster heart rate, shorter shallower breaths, are all signs that your body is preparing for fight or flight. Take a deep breath, count to 10, move away while you gather your thoughts.
  • Use active assertiveness – say what you want clearly, use self-confident speech and body language. Type knowledge helps you choose the words that are more likely to work well when you communicate with people of different types.
  • Switch from the past or present to the future and use inclusive language – “how can we take this forward?”, “what shall we do next”.

Psychological type is a theory about how your mind works – how you perceive, think and feel and how this might be different from other people.  When you appreciate the diverse perspectives and approaches of other people, you have a much better chance of defusing personality clashes and being able to collaborate productively.

About the author

Closing the Influence Gap, Catherine StothartCatherine Stothart (INTP) is a Leadership Coach and Team Consultant working with Airbus, KCOM, the EEF and schools and colleges in Cheshire. She has 25 years’ experience of personality type and her first book, How to Get On with Anyone, was published by Pearson in 2018. Catherine joined the Board of BAPT in 2017 as Director of Board and Member Services. She lives in Chester, and in her spare time plays tennis, spends as much time out of doors as possible, and enjoys attending live sport, music and theatre.


A version of this article was published on the Management Today website in June 2019.

[i] CIPD Survey Report April 2015 Getting under the skin of workplace conflict: tracing the experiences of employees
[ii] Porter, E (1996) Strength Deployment Inventory
[iii] Sun and Vazire, University of California, (2018) “Do people know what they are like in the moment?”
[iv] Rosenberg, M (2012) Living Nonviolent Communication: Practical Tools to Connect and Communicate Skilfully in Every Situation

[Photo from Pexels]

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