Personalities in the Workplace: 5 Key Tips

What do you do when you find someone in your workplace difficult?  Ignore them, undermine them, placate them?  How can you get disparate personality types to work together productively?

Most of us have found certain people difficult to work with from time to time, and just being the boss doesn’t make managing these people any easier, so what can you to keep work productive and less frustrating all around?

  1. First seek to understand.  What do you know about this person?  What motivates them?  Where are their strengths?  In what areas are they an asset to the team or business?  In areas you find them difficult, what about your own preferences may be conflicting with theirs?
    How could you adjust your way of communicating and working with this individual to make them feel more comfortable and motivated?
  2. Develop common goals and teamwork.  It’s harder to have conflict when you are united with others around a common goal.  But big goals that are a year away or depend on so many other factors are not very motivating or unifying.  Under the “big” goals, a team needs frequent, small measurable goals that they can share.  Do you have a goal for how many calls to make?  Response time?  Meetings completing their agenda on time?  Anything that is frequent, measurable and requires the team to get it done will work.  Make sure there are some rewards and recognition associated, even as small as a “Well Done” sign where everyone can see, or lunch for the team at the end of the month.  It doesn’t have to cost a lot to be effective.
  3. Clarify expectations.  I know, you are always very clear.  But, really, are you?  Is the message you are transmitting being received the way you intended?  Are you being specific enough about what is needed and how it is to be delivered?  Spend time not only communicating your expectations, but also hearing them played back to you so you can make sure the message was heard clearly.  “Be more courteous” could mean more pleases and thank yous to one person, but mean always showing up 5 minutes early for meetings to another.  Which did you want to have happen?  Be specific and concrete.
  4. Give and receive feedback on the spot.  When you see a behavior that isn’t in line with your expectations, or have a communication or meeting that goes badly, don’t let 2-3 weeks or even 2-3 days go by before you sit down and talk about it with the people involved.  Take 5 minutes right then and there.  Cool down if you need to, but make sure you provide feedback or gather feedback while the incident is still fresh in everyone’s mind.  You may discover that you are someone else’s “difficult person” and that a few small changes will improve the environment for everyone.
  5. Don’t hesitate to let a bad actor go.  If you’ve tried to understand motivational and personality differences, built common goals, clarified expectations and given and received on the spot feedback and someone is still behaving badly or wrecking your team dynamics, sometimes you need to just amicably part ways.  There’s nothing harder on a team than watching someone else “get away with murder” with seemingly no consequences.In one client’s company I remember an employee saying “You can’t get fired from here”.  Well, if that doesn’t just encourage bad behavior, I don’t know what does.  Stop the bad actor or eliminate them, and morale will improve.

Workplace harmony begins at the top, and it isn’t about agreeing or hugging each other.  It’s about finding ways to leverage differences rather than letting them become barriers to growth.  Healthy disagreement and dialogue usually lead to better outcomes, but they need to remain goal-focused, respectful and based on data whenever possible.