In a perfect world, you’d get on with all your co-workers and managers. In the real world, you’ll inevitably bump up against people with different work styles, opinions and personalities. You may really like the person you’re in conflict with yet, for some reason, the two of you just can’t seem to get along.
Unfortunately, these clashes can wreak havoc with morale. So, how can you get past this problem and foster a work environment that’s productive, fulfilling and even enjoyable?
Here are 8 practical steps to help you find common ground and prevent personality clashes from ruining your work life.
#1 Don’t let small disputes escalate into something gigantic
When you let the little things slide, you’re giving them space to grow into something much more contentious and stressful. It's better to plug the leaks in the dam now before it bursts and causes a raging flood.
More often than not, you just will have gotten your signals crossed because of the differences in your communication styles. Talk it out over a coffee before you're both getting too hot under the collar.
#2 Don’t presume the worst
In your relationship with a vexing co-worker, you may have fallen into the habit of seeing anything they say or do as motivated by bad intentions. That's a recipe for ongoing conflict, especially if the other person is interpreting your behavior with the same skeptical eye.
When you’re interacting with someone whose personality clashes with yours, it is important to practice empathy and generosity. Try to give this person the benefit of the doubt instead of automatically assuming the worst. This could set a good example for your antagonist who may begin to see you in a new light as well.
#3 Learn to read the other person’s body language
Prevention is better than cure, and one way you can head off personality clashes is to be aware of subtle signals that might mean trouble. Look out for the body language signs that someone is agitated such as crossed arms, angry glances or raised eyebrows. Pay attention to how their body language changes as the conversation progresses and take steps to defuse the tension if you see signs of discomfort before it turns into an outright conflict.
#4 Defuse conflicts by asking non-confrontational questions
If you’ve had repeated run-ins with someone in your workplace, your interactions probably follow a predictable pattern. This is unfortunate, since your mutual role-playing can prevent either of you from stepping back to see the bigger picture.
The key to changing this dynamic is to stop reacting so much and start asking questions instead. When you sense your co-worker’s agitation peaking, ask them to clarify what they want or need from you. Or ask them what specifically is upsetting them and what you can do to help. This simple tactic changes the nature of your dialogue by giving the other person a chance to express themselves without worrying that you might interrupt them to defend yourself.
#5 Speak with other co-workers and ask for advice
While you may not get along with particular co-workers or managers, some of your colleagues will have good relationships with them. If you can, try speaking to these people outside the workplace to discuss the difficulties you’ve been having with their friend.
Make it clear you’re not looking to gossip or trying to dig up dirt to use against the other person. You should let your colleagues know that your intentions are honorable and you want to build a better working relationship with your antagonist. When you're sincere, you can often get some valuable insights into how to make this happen.
#6 Get together at lunch with the whole group
If you're determined to make things better with a troublesome co-worker, a smart logical step is to invite them—and several other colleagues—to join you for lunch. It's much easier to interact in a friendly and informal setting, in the company of others who like and respect you both.
Don't expect your shared colleagues to act as mediators, though. They would simply be there to take the pressure off. It would be entirely up to you to strike up an amiable conversation with the person you’ve been in conflict with, to see if this will ease tensions and help create a more comfortable workplace environment for you both.
#7 Study personality types to gain some insights into the reasons for the conflict
Personality tests can reveal fascinating information about your most fundamental preferences, tendencies, communication style and working style, each of which will impact your relationships with your work colleagues. Once you’ve taken your Myers-Briggs or Enneagram personality typing test and found out more about your essential traits, you may finally be able to understand why your co-worker or manager’s behavior triggers your anger or frustration so frequently.
Naturally, you aren’t going to know what your manager or co-worker’s personality type is based on distant observation alone. And you won’t be able to ask them if they’re an ENTJ or an Enneagram 8 as long as your relationship remains frosty. But as you study the Myers-Briggs, Enneagram or DISC personality systems in-depth, you should be able to identify at least some of their defining traits and primary motivations. These insights may help explain the behavior that bothers you so much.
By interpreting your prickly interactions within the context of personality typing, you’ll be relying on a powerful analytical framework that can enlighten you and make you more tolerant and self-aware.
#8 Do a deep and ruthlessly honest self-examination of your role in the conflicts
If you ask anyone about the arguments or personality clashes they’ve been involved in, it’s a pretty safe bet they’re going to blame the other person for most of the trouble. This is human nature, but it is an attitude that can make true reconciliation virtually impossible.
It does take some courage to look at yourself candidly to figure out how your behavior has escalated the conflict and prevented you both from burying the hatchet. But if you can look at yourself in the mirror and be totally honest about what you see, it can empower any effort you make to fix your broken workplace relationships.
When you’re honest with yourself you can be honest with others. Your estranged colleague will likely be impressed by the modesty and self-reflectiveness you display when you approach them to hash out your difference. They may even decide to own up to their role in creating the conflict, in which case you might be able to move beyond peaceful co-existence to something resembling mutual respect and understanding.