How to Work With Your Polar Opposite

While you might find several coworkers you get along with at your job, there may be one person who just isn’t your cup of tea. You try to avoid them in the break room, cringe when you have to work on a project together, and dread team meetings where you know you're going to publicly butt heads with them, because you cannot seem to agree on anything.

Combining your approaches won’t be easy — in fact, it may be your biggest learning curve. But, once you figure out how to work together, you’ll find that your differences can actually complement each other and make for a more well-rounded team.

Like-minded doesn't always mean better

Sure, it feels great when you get along with a coworker who shares the same opinions and work style as you. You both agree on how to approach projects. They're okay with your check-ins and deadlines you're totally fine with their edits and feedback. It's a match made in heaven, right?

Not necessarily.

While working with someone who is on the same page can be easy and comfortable, it can also make your work stagnant. There’s a saying that “iron sharpens iron.” When you work with someone who is similar to you, you both may be limiting each other's growth by not challenging each other or offering new perspectives. Or worse, you may end up amplifying each other's flaws instead of correcting them. For instance, if both of you are meticulous, you may find yourselves trapped in a cycle of overthinking and perfectionism, slowing down the pace of work.

Just like having an opposite friend or partner might balance the scales, so may an opposite colleague. Here are a few of the reasons why you might benefit from collaborating with your polar opposite:

  • They serve as a checks-and-balances system, questioning your decisions and actions when you’re too close to see they might be faulty.
  • They stretch your communication skills.
  • They teach you to be more patient, adaptable and open-minded.
  • They help you develop your problem-solving skills by introducing different approaches.
  • Your collaboration can lead to more creative and innovative solutions.
  • It promotes diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

How to work with a polar opposite

Now that you recognize the benefits of working with your polar opposite, how do you make it work?  Here are a few tips to help you build a successful working relationship with someone who is very different from you:

1. Check your assumptions

Before anything else, take a step back and make sure you're not going into the relationship with any preconceived notions or prejudices. Just because someone has a different work style or approach doesn't mean they are less competent or harder to get along with. Sometimes, your perception of someone is just that — your perception. 

To start off on the right foot, arrange to sit down and chat with your coworker. You might invite them to lunch, grab a coffee together or simply take a few minutes at the water cooler.  Ask them about their background, interests and  approach to work. If you have at least one thing in common — say you both like family, cats or baseball — then you might have an open door to establishing a better relationship based on friendly banter.

2. Identify both of your strengths and weaknesses

Each of you has strengths. Maybe you’re a whiz at planning, graphs, statistics and logic, while your opposite coworker is more attuned to the “people” side of work and has high emotional intelligence. These are both useful, no matter what field you’re in.

But for illustration, let's say you work in advertising. When tasked with a project, you might bring your logic and problem-solving to identify the figures and needs for a campaign, while they might focus on the emotional draw for consumers. With you both working toward the same goal, you can each offer a different perspective that will aid in completing a successful campaign.

3. Communicate, communicate, communicate

You might feel resentful if communication feels impossible — especially when you’re working with someone who doesn’t talk, listen or express ideas the way you do. But to work well with your opposite, you’ll need to be open.

Ask your opposite about what they want, how they see things, and how you’ll approach duties together. Then, have your turn. Agree upfront that you'll both be patient and practice active listening as you make decisions together. This way, you’ll honor each other by truly hearing and valuing what the other has to offer.

If possible, take some time to figure out what makes your coworker receptive. Everyone communicates differently, and people understand you better if you communicate their way. For example, if your coworker prefers emails and you prefer in-person meetings, try to compromise by sending a brief email before meeting up to discuss it in detail.

There are some general rules for good communication that work for all personality types, so make sure you're leaning into those.  Be honest, clear and respectful. Avoid blaming the other person, focus on “I” statements, and avoid a defensive demeanor or tone of voice.

4. Don’t try to make them change; instead, seek compromise

With workplace pressure turning up the heat, you might try to bulldoze a co-worker into doing things your way, or you might try to adjust your work style to match theirs. Neither is a good approach.  Trying to change someone’s perspective or behavior outright will typically make them defensive and resentful. And that will only create distance and tension between you.

Instead, try to meet in the middle. Seek a reasonable compromise on things that matter or come up with a hybrid approach.

It’s okay to take turns when you can’t agree. Just be sure to pay attention so that one person doesn't dominate the conversation or decision-making process.

5. Pick your battles wisely

While you’re bound to have disagreements when working with an opposite personality type, it's important to learn when to let go and when to stand your ground. Don't just steamroll over every disagreement because you think you're right, but also don't back down on everything just for the sake of peace.

When you feel heated about something, think before you speak or act. Step away for 10 minutes. If a disagreement is worth pursuing after giving yourself space, you may want to continue the discussion. If, however, you feel less upset after removing yourself from the situation and you think you might reach a compromise, it’s likely a battle you’ll want to skip.

Most of all, remember everyone at work has an ego, but it’s important to set yours aside when the greater good of a project is at stake.

Opposite personalities can be an asset if you learn to collaborate

Although working with someone totally different from you isn't easy, learning to collaborate with them can be an enriching, rewarding experience. A polar-opposite working relationship allows you to challenge yourself in more ways than one. It may not feel like it at the time, but what you're actually doing is giving yourself the opportunity to grow and learn in different ways. You're opening your eyes to other skills and approaches that add business value in ways you might not have expected.

No workplace stays the same. So, don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and embrace the opposite personality in your workplace. You may find that, instead of being a barrier, they become an asset to your growth and future success.

Cianna Garrison
Cianna Garrison holds a B.A. in English from Arizona State University and works as a freelance writer. She fell in love with psychology and personality type theory back in 2011. Since then, she has enjoyed continually learning about the 16 personality types. As an INFJ, she lives for the creative arts, and even when she isn’t working, she’s probably still writing.