January 15, 2021

How to Deal With a Personality Clash at Work — Without Losing Your Professionalism

All workplaces are prone to occasional disagreements, most of which are due to simple miscommunication. Some, however, are driven by personality clashes between people on the same team. Such clashes have the potential to cause serious disruptions.

What can you do if you find yourself on one end of such a clash — or you are the manager dealing with opposing personalities on your team? Let’s take a look at why personalities clash and what you can do to keep disruption to a minimum.

Why Do Personality Clashes Happen?

Whether you run a business with a small team or head up a multinational company with a large international workforce of remote workers, you’ll encounter an array of personalities at work. This is a good thing: Diversity brings new ideas and fresh perspectives to the table.

Sometimes, however, these differing personalities can clash — especially when stress piles up. These disagreements can end up exacerbating the existing stress, causing productivity to dip and harming employee mental health in the workplace

Eighty-five percent of employees say they sometimes deal with conflict at work; 29 percent experience it “always” or “frequently.” Here are some of the main reason why clashes occur:

1. Attitude differences, such as when one person tends to be more cynical and another tries to look on the bright side. Sometimes, even small differences in the way people approach a problem can lead to conflict. 

2. Work style. Some people finish work days before the deadline, while others wait until the last minute. Organized people can clash with those who are more disorganized, while those who are spontaneous will drive more methodical colleagues mad. There is no one right way to work, but opposing traits can lead to conflict.

3. Backgrounds. We all come from different social, educational, and regional backgrounds. These factors affect our attitudes and the way we work, and hence, they can contribute indirectly to personality clashes.

It doesn’t help that many teams communicate exclusively through online collaboration platforms or email these days, where the written word can fail to accurately convey a person’s intended meaning. 

Another common reason for clashes is a change in the workplace, like new management, a shift to remote work, new responsibilities, or new additions to a team. Change is stressful for many people, even when it is ultimately for the better. If people don’t feel positive about the changes for whatever reason, that can lead to heightened tensions at work. 

Ways to Deal With Personality Clashes at Work

Personality clashes can be mitigated or avoided with strong mediation skills, which any employee can practice. That said, managers in particular have an important role to play in preventing and resolving conflict in the workplace.

Each year, $359 billion worth of work hours — that’s 385 million working days! — are lost due to workplace conflict. That proves it’s worth resolving issues proactively — and these tips can help you do just that:

1. Talk to Your manager, Not Your Coworkers

After a clash, you might feel inclined to approach your coworkers to find allies and band together against the person you believe to be the problem. Doing this only takes you further away from the main goal: finding a solution. Asking your coworkers to band together against a colleague will just create more disharmony, and people who are not involved in the clash may feel pressured to take sides even when they would rather not.

Instead, talk to your manager about the matter. This can help you get a neutral perspective, and it also ensures that, if the situation gets worse, the manager is aware of the origins and can step in to help resolve the conflict. 

2. Communicate to Resolve

If things get out of hand and tempers start to rise, try not to respond in the heat of the moment. This is easier said than done, but try to give yourself some time to think about your response. When you and the other party have had a chance to cool down, reach out with the genuine intent to talk through your issues. 

Communication can help deescalate a volatile situation and allow you to determine the origin of the problem. Invite the other person to a discussion with the express goal of finding a solution. The idea here is to create a neutral space where you can calmly discuss the issue. Use this opportunity to understand their perspective and build a healthier work environment. 

The best way to make sure the space remains neutral is to set ground rules before you begin, such as no raised voices or no interrupting one another. Now, enforcing these rules can be tricky — which brings me to the next tip.

3. Seek Mediation

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, the situation just gets out of hand, to the point that you can no longer control it. When this happens, it is time to seek mediation. 

Mediation is a structured discussion between the two clashing parties, overseen by a neutral mediator (such as your manager or someone from HR). You and the other person can voice your concerns, and having a neutral party in the room can ensure the dialogue remains calm and productive.

4. Focus on the Positives

Despite the clash, try to focus on the other person’s positive qualities. Remember the good that can come out of working alongside very different people.

Be sure to assess your own actions to see if there is something you could have done better. Remember that a clash, unless it is a clear case of bullying or harassment, is typically caused by two people’s actions. You shouldn’t expect only the other person to make amends. Chances are you contributed, too.

5. Create an Open-Door Policy on Grievances

While conflict is sometimes unavoidable, it can be stopped from escalating with the right policies. If you’re a manager, you should create an open-door policy that makes your employees feel comfortable bringing their grievances to you before it is too late. 

The same extends to the organization as a whole. Sometimes, conflict can occur between an employee and their manager. In these instances, the employee may be confused about where they can turn. For these reasons, HR departments and organizational leaders need to be active parts of the open-door policy as well.

Small arguments escalate to major clashes when the conflict is allowed to fester. If you’re a manager, avoid sweeping arguments under the rug. Instead, deal with them as they occur. Take proactive steps, especially if you see that the disagreements are increasing in frequency or intensity. 

6. Avoid Public Showdowns

At all costs, you must avoid a shouting match in the middle of the office floor! And yes, I’ve seen this happen on rare but memorable occasions. Apart from being hugely unprofessional, it brings down the morale of the entire workplace.

Sometimes, avoiding public conflict will mean walking away when the other person starts to escalate the situation. Doing this gives you time to process your feelings and make your case in a composed manner. 

You cannot control how other people behave, but you can ensure that you do your part to create a happier workplace. Deescalate in public, then request a private meeting to sort the situation out. 

For those of us who hate confrontation, The Muse has the perfect line to calm things down: “I understand that sometimes we all lose our cool. But, the way you reacted made me feel very uncomfortable. Can we talk about some ways that we can better communicate with each other when we disagree?”

7. Find the Real Cause of the Clash

Sometimes, personality clashes are merely symptoms of a far deeper problem. Has the team been under a lot of stress? Has there been a significant change in operational policies? Is a particular project causing problems? The only way to know for sure is to ask the people involved what’s really going on.

If it is not just a personality clash but something deeper, you can be sure the problem will recur and intensify unless action is taken. Try to resolve the underlying issue. In other words, treat the root cause, not just the symptom.  

Occasional workplace conflicts are unavoidable, but with better grievance channels and a solution-focused mindset, they can be managed. Personality clashes take a toll on the entire team, add to workplace stress, and hamper productivity. That means it’s in everyone’s interests to resolve them quickly and professionally.

A team with diverse personalities and perspectives can be a huge asset, but when something does go wrong, there are steps you can take to handle it calmly and professionally. People with very different personalities — and even different conflict styles — can nearly always learn to work harmoniously. Finding effective ways to work together can help you create a collaborative space where different perspectives can flourish, strengthening the whole team. 

Jimmy Rodriguez is the COO and co-founder of 3dcart.

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Jimmy Rodriguez is the COO and cofounder of 3dcart, eCommerce software for building SEO-friendly online stores. He is dedicated to helping internet retailers succeed online by developing digital marketing strategies and optimized shopping experiences that drive conversions and improve business performance.