No matter how careful you are, difficult situations in the workplace are going to happen. They are unavoidable. Unlike your friends, you can’t choose who you work with. Unlike your family, you won’t have the same experiences or share similar values with your co-workers.
People from all different backgrounds are being asked to work together. There will be differences and there will be conflicts from time to time. For many of us, we will spend more time with our coworkers than anyone else. That’s 8+ hours per day, 5 days a week, over and over again. You are stuck together, you have to work together, and you will not always see eye to eye on everything.
In our social lives, we can simply distance ourselves from those that are creating friction in our lives. Friends, acquaintances or strangers that cause more problems than they are worth can be removed from the complicated equation that we call life. At the workplace, however, it is not that easy. When you are working with difficult people in the workplace, you are stuck with them. You can either ignore it or take it on face to face.
To add further complications to the situation, the environment that you are in expects you to be able to maintain a professional demeanor, regardless of how unprofessional your coworker may be acting.
There has been a growing trend among employers assigning teams to projects as opposed to individuals. The idea is that a group of people will be able to specialize in the areas of the project that best fit their skill sets, allowing other members to work on portions of the project that they themselves may not excel at. This, in theory, will lead to better results for the employer and project.
The downside to the growing trend of teams in the workplace is that it places certain personalities together that may not be compatible. This leads to conflicts in the workplace within the team which can hinder efficiency and slow down progress.
It’s hard to tell who will thrive in a team environment and who will struggle. Often, it will come down to the personality traits of each member and how well those traits complement (or clash) with each other.
There are four main personality traits that show themselves in a group setting. These main traits are impulsiveness, skepticism, willingness to accept others and their ideas, and their systematic approach to the task at hand.
Most team members will demonstrate the traits of two of these personality types:
People with a dominant personality are direct and confrontational. They will address an issue head on, sometimes too quickly. They are impulsive and will have a tendency to go “all-in” with something they feel strongly about.
They are skeptical people. If they do not see eye to eye on something, they are going to be hard to convince. They don’t have a lot of patience, but they will keep the group pushing forward.
People with a conscientious personality are just as skeptical as those with dominant personality traits. They are set in their ways and difficult to convince otherwise. Conscientious people take a systematic approach to everything they do.
They are more patient, sometimes a fault. They are detail oriented and very logical thinkers. They are less likely to rush things or leave any mistakes, but they can really drag down the timeline of a project within a team environment.
People with an influential personality will feel at home in a team environment. They work well with others and show enthusiasm for group settings.
They act impulsively. They are quick to take an idea and run with it. They will have some trouble turning down conflicting ideas, often leading to difficulties when those ideas clash. They are great support members within a team, but they will often lack in the leadership department.
People with a steady personality are consistent and predictable. They will not cause distractions within a group atmosphere. They prioritize group harmony above all else.
Much like influential personalities, they are great team members but lack leadership skills. They don’t push projects along very effectively, but they don’t create distractions or issues that could slow progress down.
Between these four personality types, the conflict will often arise in group settings between the opposite types.
Steady personalities will not respond will those with dominant traits and vice versa. Steady personalities will be more passive-aggressive while dominant personalities will be more assertive and aggressive.
Likewise, conscientious people will not always work well with influential people. Influential personalities are too impulsive. This will not sit well with a detail oriented conscientious person.
On the other hand, a conscientious person may nit-pick at things that aren’t needed, sometimes slowing the project down to a halt. This conflict in the pace of the project will create friction between the two sides.
Impulsive and methodical approaches do not alight with each other. This will often create conflict with the speed vs. attention to detail that the group is applying as they progress through the project.
Skepticism and acceptance will have contradictory effects. While skeptical people will be hesitant to accept new or alternative ideas until they are thoroughly convinced, more accepting team members will be eager to implement new ideas as they come.
Understanding these personality types will help you handle conflicts more effectively. By knowing what to expect, you will be less likely to be caught off guard when there is a conflict and you will be better equipped to diffuse the situation and work in harmony with one another.
Think about the traits that your coworkers have displayed in the past. How do they handle conflict? How do they express themselves? You can profile their personality traits based their past behavior. Expect them to exhibit the same traits going forward.
Are you an assertive person, or more passive? If things aren’t going the way you want them to go, will you speak out or will you let it fester? When an idea that you know is wrong is brought up, is your first instinct to try and figure out how you can implement it, or will you shoot it down quickly? Think about these questions and try to figure out what traits you display in a group setting.
Be critical of yourself when you are doing this. It’s easy to give yourself the benefit of the doubt and place yourself above all of these categories. Of course, most people will fall somewhere in the middle of all of these traits, but chances are, your personality will skew more one way or the other.
If you are truly stumped, think about the personality traits of the people you don’t get along with. You are probably the opposite of them.
The first step in managing these conflicts is to accept that they will occur. Even if you’ve never had an issue with a team member in the past, it is always better to err on the side of caution and assume they will occur eventually.
Best case, no conflict occurs at all. Worst case, your personalities clash and you will know what is happening. Either way, it’s better to be prepared than unprepared.
Understand that it is not anyone’s fault. No one can change their personality. When personalities clash, it’s usually not a matter of who is right or wrong. Instead, it’s a simple fact that your natural personality traits will clash in a team setting.
If you look at it that way, it’s no one’s fault. If you are caught up in a conflict with one of your coworkers, don’t focus on defending your actions or criticizing them. Instead, recognize that it is simply a matter of your opposing personality traits clashing and focus your energy on finding a middle ground that you can both use to move forward with the work.
After establishing why these conflicts occur, don’t spend your energy trying to change them. It won’t work. The natural response is to battle it out; defend your actions and criticize theirs. This will never lead to a long-term solution.
The best way to handle conflicts like this is to understand that people make mistakes and everyone won’t always get along perfectly. It may be due to poor communication, confusion, or it could simply be that one of you has misinterpreted the other. In any case, conflicts will often stem from a place where neither party is completely at fault.
Focus on finding a way to move past the problem and prevent it from affecting the project. Don’t take it personally because it is not an intentional attack towards you.
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