Resolving Personality Clashes At Work

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Effective teamwork is critically important for excelling in a highly competitive marketplace. Dysfunctional teams are bad for business. Not getting along with a team member at work is unpleasant for everyone and harms productivity. An ongoing personality clash may be unspoken but obvious, and the disagreements that result can cause other team members to take sides and sort themselves into cliques. The results can be troublesome for your organization.

With the proper skills, it’s entirely possible to turn this kind of thing around. Addressing it earlier is best, before things escalate. Let’s look at some important things to do—and not to do—in sorting out such situations.

Mike: So, Jessica, have you met that new guy, Rob Meyers, yet? Jessica: Yeah, I sure did. Mike: He seems like a really nice guy! Jessica: Well, I think he’s a jerk. Mike: You’re kidding!?!

There are people we just don’t like, and there are other people who just don’t like us. Sometimes that can change as we get to know each other, but usually it doesn’t. Well, that can be a real problem at work.

Paige: [exasperated] Jessica, can I get this order processed already? The client requested it almost a week ago. Jessica: [sarcastically] Sure, Paige … [and under her breath, rolling her eyes] when I don’t have anything important to do.

Personality clashes can lead to unhealthy rivalry, lack of cooperation, poor communication, an unpleasant work environment, and disputes and clashes in the workplace. The problem is that we don’t like to admit that we simply don’t like a person for no reason. How often, for example, do you hear something like this?

Paige: I can’t stand Jessica. Mike: Really? Why is that? Paige: She’s stupid! She’s lazy! And she’s always got an odd look on her face.

And, how rarely do we hear something like this?

Paige: I can’t stand Jessica. Mike: Really? Why is that? Paige: She does a good job. She’s always cheerful. And last week she helped me finish an important project on time. Mike: So, why don’t you like her? Paige: No reason, really. Just can’t stand her.

  • Skill Tip: The key to dealing with a personality clash with a co-worker is just to accept it for what it is: irrational.

It’s not easy to accept that we’re being irrational when we don’t like someone, so we invent things that are wrong with them to justify our point of view. And you can bet that people are going to do the same thing with us, too. Again, the key to dealing with a personality clash with a co-worker is just accept it for what it is: irrational. It doesn’t mean the co-worker doesn’t do a good job or that he or she needs to be your enemy, but you probably should talk about it with that person. But what to say?

  • Skill Tip: Talk to the person with whom you have the conflict privately to allow for honest communication between the two of you.

Paige: Jessica, do you have a minute for me? Jessica [brushing off the request]: I’m kind of busy. Paige: This won’t take long, but I think it’s important for both of us. Jessica [sighing]: Okay. Sure. What’s up?

Now comes the difficult part. It’s very tempting to say “we” seem to have a personality clash, or something like that. The difficulty with this is that there are two ways this can go wrong. Here’s one scenario that goes awry.

Paige: Jessica, I need to talk to you because I think we have some sort of personality clash. Jessica: I don’t. I think we get along just fine. Paige: Well, but what I mean is— Jessica [interrupting]: Look, if that’s all, I really need to get on with some work. Some of us have stuff to do.

And, if that’s not bad enough, watch this second scenario.

Paige: Jessica, I need to talk to you because I think we have some sort of personality clash. Jessica [sarcastically]: Yeah, well, I don’t think “we” have anything at all. I think “you” have a problem. Paige: Wait a minute! I’m not the one with the problem! You have the problem!

And now you’re in real trouble. How about this, instead?

Paige: Jessica, this is hard for me to say, but I think I might be responsible for some of the tension between us. Jessica: What do you mean? Paige: I think I might have been giving the impression that I don’t like you. Jessica: Well, I think you don’t like me. Paige: Look, we might not be cut out to be close friends, but that has nothing to do with how you do your job or who you are. I think there just were some things that caused problems between us, and I’m sorry about that.

You’d have to be pretty unreasonable not to respond to an approach like that. Chances are the other person will react positively, and you are on your way to a good resolution.

  • Skill Tip: You should admit your part in the conflict first. Say something like, “I seem to have caused a problem between us.” By first admitting your part in the conflict, you will be halfway to a solution. You’ve already defused the situation and paved the way for a productive conversation where both parties are receptive. 

Jessica: It’s not all your fault, Paige. I think I may have been difficult with you, too. Paige: Look, I have a lot of respect for who you are and what you do. I think we just seem to annoy each other sometimes.

Once you’ve started to talk, chances are the problem will solve itself.

Jessica [sounding relieved]: Well, this has been really helpful. Let’s just agree that we might not end up best friends, but that’s not going to stop us from working well together. Paige [smiling]: Okay. I can live with that. Thank you!

And you never know: They might even become friends in the future. So, what is the take-away? 

Key points

  1. Accept personality clashes for what they are: an irrational dislike of another person for no very good reason.
  2. Talk privately to the other person about this conflict and admit your part in it first.
  3. Admit that you realize you probably won’t ever be “best buddies,” but say that you respect the other person and would like to work effectively with them in the future.

Personality clashes are going to happen.  Having a strategy to work these situations out will help lower stress and improve relationships.

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