At some point in our professional lives, most of us will have to deal with people we just don’t like or can’t seem to get along with. A clash of personalities is most likely at the root of these conflicts. Despite our best efforts, we sometimes just can’t seem to make it work. The unfortunate result is that the quality and enjoyment of our work suffers, and our stress levels skyrocket. In most cases when personality conflicts happen in the workplace, the entire team is disrupted as well.
Different types of Personality conflicts
Work style differences – people work in different ways. That’s just a reality in the workplace. Some people work quickly, completing their tasks as soon as they are assigned, while others like the rush of waiting till the deadline is looming. Some like to work on what appeals to them first, while others prefer to work methodically down their checklist from step to step.
Background differences – gender, ethnicity, social economic status, political views, and religious backgrounds can cause people to view situations with different perspectives. Our perception is in large part determined by our personal experiences and beliefs. These differences in perspective have a major impact on how we interact with others.
Attitude differences – cynicism, arrogance, and irritability all contribute to an attitude of negativity. A negative attitude interferes with effective communication. Nobody wants to be around a terribly negative person. If you are a naturally upbeat, optimistic type of person, you may have difficulty dealing with someone who has a negative attitude. Some people constantly complain, looking for flaws, while others look for the positive and focus on finding solutions. This makes collaboration extremely difficult.
Competitive versus cooperative differences – some people feel the need to compete and compare constantly, while others seek to cooperate and work together, rather than against each other. It’s very difficult to work with people who are condescending, petty, posturing, and aggressive. The constant attitude of undermining and one-upmanship can be very draining. When the competitive attitude is taken to extreme, it can result in intentional sabotage, which puts the other person in a perpetually defensive state.
Consequences of personality conflicts
Personality conflicts exist, that’s a fact. It’s important however, to realize that there can be serious consequences when personalities clash.
Stress – having to deal with personality clashes causes a great deal of tension and anxiety. Being in a constant state of alert, preparing for the next unpleasant interaction, can cause both physical and mental strain. In certain situations, this stress can have real physical impact on health. Sometimes the level of stress is unbearable, causing workers to leave their jobs.
Lower productivity – when members of the team are in conflict with each other, that conflict has a negative effect on the entire project. Conflict drains energy and lowers productivity. The effectiveness of teams relies in large part on their ability to work in a cooperative manner. When that cooperation is disrupted, the progress of the whole team suffers. Whether the clash is overtly obvious, or subtle, personality conflicts affect the morale of team, and sometimes entire office.
Handling personality clashes
The good news is that while workplace conflicts are unavoidable, there are ways to minimize them.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Your way is not always the right way, and your personality is not necessarily the “normal” one.
- Except that, people have different perspectives. All are valid.
- Different personalities, if handled correctly, can strengthen a team by contributing different ideas and solutions.
- When personality conflicts have reached the point where they interfere with the ability to work, it’s necessary to deal with them.
Acceptance – sometimes all that’s necessary to defuse a personality conflict is a little bit of kindness and understanding. When we’re able to accept personality differences, it often defuses defensiveness and friction.
Stay professional – conduct yourself in a professional manner. Be calm and courteous during interactions. Even when personality differences exist, if both parties remain professional, confrontation can be avoided. It’s not necessary for coworkers to like each other to work together effectively. Remain professional and don’t take it personally. Watch your tone. It’s important to make sure the tone of your communications whether in person, via e-mail or over the phone is appropriate and not hostile.
Find the source – when personality conflicts do arise, it’s important to determine what the real issue is. Is it just a difference of opinion, or is there a more serious underlying problem? It’s a good idea to address the problem with the other person directly. It’s important for both parties to be aware and have an understanding of the conflict in order to have any hope of resolution.
Take it to management – if you have been unable to resolve a personality conflict that is interfering with your work, it may be necessary to bring it to the attention of management. Sometimes effective mediation by third-party is all that’s necessary to defuse conflict. Some companies offer workshops or training that teach coworkers how to navigate difficulties and learn to get along with each other, despite differences. When those strategies don’t work, it may be necessary for management to separate the parties involved in the conflict. Sometimes it may be possible to simply assign the individuals to different projects or teams. In extreme cases, it may be necessary for one of the parties to be transferred to another department or division to eliminate contact.
Personality conflicts can be one of the biggest challenges in the workplace. Conflicts can usually be diffused by acceptance, understanding, appropriate action, and professionalism. It’s imperative to remember that while you cannot control the behavior of other people, you can’t control how you react to it. When conflicts can be resolved, the result is a happier and more productive workplace. The important thing is not to let personality conflict and destructive work relationships interfere with your career. Address them, resolve them, or as a last resort move on.
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