The Pareto principle – also known as the 80/20 rule – follows the idea that roughly 80% of outcomes stem from 20% of causes. If you’re going through personality clashes in your personal or professional life, you may be surprised to discover that 80% of the conflicts and frustrations you’re experiencing come down to just 20% of the differences between you! 

This is good news. Applying the 80/20 rule can make it much easier to hone in on the source of the conflict and identify exactly what is causing tensions to bubble to the surface. Instead of a scattergun approach to problem-solving, you can be laser-focused on identifying the root cause of the conflict. 

Here’s how to use the 80/20 rule to build better relationships.

#1: First, step away from the conflict

If you feel like your relationship is turning into a battleground, it’s a good idea to take a step back from the conflict. This is an essential first step to give you space to let your emotions simmer down and give you some much-needed perspective on the issues you’re facing. You won't be able to identify the root cause of the conflict until you can view it from a detached and objective perspective.

Try to put physical space between you and the other person, like going for a walk or going to another room in your office or home. Then, ask yourself some questions to help you understand the conflict better, including: 

  • What triggered the conflict?
  • What am I not getting that I want to get?
  • What am I afraid of losing in this relationship?
  • Is my anger accurate or over-exaggerated?
  • What do we agree on?
  • How might this conflict be resolved? 

It can be helpful to try journaling or talking to a friend or colleague about the conflict. These strategies can give you a fresh perspective on the issue, as well as helping you to work out your feelings in your own mind.

#2: Take a personality test

To get to the bottom of the 20% root of your conflict, take a personality test. You might find it helpful to take Truity's TypeFinder test or Enneagram test - or both! - to see what your personality is like in relationships and what your core motivations are.

Ideally, you'll do this with the person you’re having issues with to get a clearer picture of your personality differences and similarities. But if that's not possible, then try making some educated guesses about the other person's personality type.

Personality tests can be really helpful to give you a map of your personality, including your strengths, weaknesses and potential areas to work on. They can reveal parts of your personality that you hadn’t considered before. This can help you to see where you need to be careful in relationships, for example being more open to being emotionally vulnerable, being more flexible, or being more reliable.

As a really simple example, someone who types as a Thinker in the Myers and Briggs system will come at problems using data, logic and objectivity. Someone who types as a Feeler will come at the same problem using emotions and relationships. You might actually want the same things; you're just coming at them from different angles. Knowing this can help you to adjust your approach when communicating with the other person and remove a lot of the conflict.

#3: Compare the results

The key to smoothing out personality clashes is to understand where there’s a divergence in your personality types in this relationship. When you’ve got your results from your personality assessment, take the time to compare results with the other person and use them as a springboard for opening up a conversation about your differences and conflicts. You can work on this on your own if you’re not able to talk directly with the other person, for instance if you're clashing with your boss.

For example, if your personality type reveals that you’re an Enneagram Type 1 who’s a perfectionist and puts work before play, but your partner is a spontaneous, chaotic Type 7 who puts play before work, you can use these results to start discussing your individual needs and expectations from the relationship.  This can help you to find a middle ground and learn how to compromise.

#4: Come up with an actionable plan

To avoid personality clashes that run and run, you need to work on coming up with an actionable plan to help you work them out together. Try to work with the person you’re clashing with to figure out what you could both be doing differently to help the other one. Use open-ended questions and needs-based questions to help encourage the other person to share their feelings and find ways to resolve the conflict.

Here are some ideas for open-ended questions:

  • What are your thoughts about [your need]?
  • How do you feel about it?
  • Can you tell me more about that?

Here are a few ideas for needs-based questions:

  • What can we do so you get [their need]?
  • What solution would you like to see?
  • What do you need from me?

Don’t assume that you know what the other person is thinking or feeling, instead try to create a space where they can share their thoughts openly and honestly. Give them time to speak and listen to their answers.

You can then work on finding an actionable plan together to help you see eye to eye. For example, if your partner or your roommate isn’t doing enough to help with chores, you can create a schedule that shares chores evenly between you. Write up a list of all the chores that need to be done and allocate them out equally - each week you’re responsible for your share and the next week you switch over and it’s their turn.

#5: Work on ongoing communication

Relationships take work. It’s not enough to just have one conversation and hope that all your problems will be solved. To avoid personality clashes, you and the other person need to work on ongoing, honest communication to help you discuss and find solutions to your problems rather than letting your differences take over. 

If you feel like conflict is starting to sneak back into your relationship, go back to the discussion step. Sit down and talk about what is bothering you. Then come up with another plan to tackle the conflict or circle back to your original action plan that you made together.

Sometimes people need reminders or a gentle nudge, but the important thing here is to avoid blowing up and spiraling the situation beyond the 20% root of the clash. Focus on calm, ongoing communication to avoid 80% – ideally 100% – of your conflicts.

Take steps towards healthier relationships

Nobody’s perfect and we all have aspects of our personalities that can create clashes and conflicts in relationships. Whether you’re struggling with a partner, friend or colleague, understanding the 80/20 rule can help you to put the problems into perspective. Personality tests, open-ended conversations and actionable plans can all help you pinpoint the 20% of differences that are causing 80% of the problems, so you can start to build bridges where there were once walls. And who knows – maybe you’ll even learn something new about yourself too!

Elizabeth Harris
Elizabeth is a freelance writer and ghostwriter. She’s an anthropologist at heart and loves using social theory to get deeper into the topics she writes about. Born in the UK, Elizabeth has lived in Copenhagen, Frankfurt and Dubai before moving most recently to Budapest, Hungary. She’s an ENTJ with ENFJ leanings. Find out more about her work at