How to Manage Personality Conflicts at Work

Three Parts:Understanding the Nature of Personality DifferencesIdentifying the Potential Sources of ConflictsImplementing Strategies to Reduce Conflicts

In many workplaces, people who work together can have differences in philosophy, disposition, or opinions that cause conflicts. Even when co-workers avoid discussing their personal lives, their religion, politics, or money employees still find their way into conflicts. Quite often those conflicts stem from personality traits. Once you understand how personality differences can contribute to conflict, you can effectively institute strategies to reduce personality conflicts in the workplace.

Part 1
Understanding the Nature of Personality Differences

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    Discuss with other managers and supervisors how personality conflicts are showing up in the workplace.[1] Not all workplace issues stem from a lack of proper training or following rules. Some conflicts arise as a direct result of individual workers' propensities toward certain behaviors or perspectives. Personality conflicts arise when personalities conflict with the demands of a worker's job. Managers and supervisors may be able to give you a good idea of where personality conflicts are showing up in the workplace.
    • Co-workers may have personality conflicts if they both approach the same job with different expectations. While both may know how to do the job, each may think of the task differently. Each person's perspective of their job performance is colored by their personality. When people do not see eye-to-eye, especially if each believes they are correct and the other should change, personality conflicts will ensue.
    • Personality conflicts between subordinates and supervisors can be troublesome if not dealt with quickly.[2] Personality conflicts go beyond efficiency expectations. When a personality conflict of this nature is not dealt with the subordinate may feel unjustly attacked and quit leaving the department or shift understaffed. Furthermore, this may hide the fact that the personality conflict existed in the first place. Exit interviews are critical to finding and resolving these issues.
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    Differentiate personality conflicts from other conflicts.[3] Some conflicts occur because employees lack proper training or are under performing. Some occur due to unrealistic expectations or bigotry. When a conflict is present but the employee is completing all of their work in a satisfactory manner, then a personality conflict may likely be the culprit. You should resolve the conflict before the stress of the conflict starts impacting performance. Depending on the duration of the conflict, some performance issues may be a direct result of the weight of a long-standing conflict.
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    Make a list of personality profiling tests and their potential results to share with other managers and supervisors. Even when you presume that employees want to do well at their job, personality conflicts can arise contrary to those desires. Take time to investigate how personality testing can reveal previously unknown aspects of your employees' approach to work and life. These tests are designed to show more detail about a person's propensities than a job interview. These tests often give you a starting place to understand each employee better. Make sure your list is as brief as possible because other managers and supervisors may not want to read a lot of material.
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    Discuss how each personality testing program could benefit the business and individual departments. Different personality testing programs have different costs and benefits associated with them. This includes having employees spend time in testing and supervisors and managers spend time in training. Training supervisors and managers to appropriately use results is critical to addressing personality conflicts. Misuse of results may result in legal action or a loss of trust. The training time, as well as cost to test all employees, needs to be discussed and clearly planned out.
    • You may find the programs are too expensive for your business. The up-front cost of testing everyone may be high if few personality conflicts currently exist. You may want to consider testing on an as-needed basis. However, you will get limited results this way. Try not to test less than an entire department if going this route.
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    Tell employees the benefits of the personality testing interventions you are considering. If you already have rampant personality conflicts negatively impacting employee performance, this may be a great start to smoothing things over. This lets employees know they are valued and respected. It also shows you are serious about resolving issues fairly.
    • Even if you do not notice any personality conflicts, your employees may benefit from testing and subsequent interventions. Many interpersonal strategies for resolving personality conflicts revolve around avoidance. Conflicting co-workers avoid each other and keep quiet. This can have a negative impact on performance and morale while appearing to be a non-issue. Unfortunately, avoidance leads to passive aggressive behavior if not worse.

Part 2
Identifying the Potential Sources of Conflicts

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    Pick a personality test to administer. One of the most important aspects of managing personality conflicts is to identify the sources of conflict. If you've eliminated the obviously problematic sources of difference such as politics and religion then personality conflicts may arise at a myriad of levels. Everything might be going smoothly if you are only looking at efficiency. So using personality tests will help pinpoint the sources of conflict you may not be considering.
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    Make time for all employees to take the test during regular hours. One of the most important aspects of the process is showing employees they are valued. This means using business time to administer and take the evaluations. Avoid giving them homework as this will make them feel as if you don't respect their private life.
    • When it is impossible to stop the clock for people during their shift to allow for the evaluation consider giving them additional paid-time to come in and complete the evaluation. Offer them the option to do it before or after their shift or during another time the office is open.
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    Report results to individuals and supervisors confidentially.[4] For employees to get the most out of the testing, you will want people to know the results. The results may show individuals areas they need to work on. They may also help supervisors see where personality conflicts may be impeding performance.
    • A critical element of successfully using these testing tool is training. Supervisors and managers should be tested and trained to understand and utilize the results in the most efficient manner.
    • Where supervisor and subordinate personality conflicts occur, distribution of results should be more cautious. Managers may need to be involved to deal with the department or shift if the supervisor's behavior is in question. Once the supervisor's behavior is addressed, they may better manage the personality conflicts of their subordinates effectively.
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    Draw social networks of people in your company. For example, write your name on a piece of paper. Then write the names of people you directly talk to daily, weekly, or monthly. Draw a line from you to them. Repeat for the the process for each person in the business. This helps you identify which people frequently communicate with each other and need to work well together. Many personality conflicts exist between people operating in different company positions. Different positions, by their very nature, attract people with different personalities.
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    Identify conflicting personalities within the networks.[5] Update your social network by including identity profiles by individuals' names. By understanding who communicates with who on a daily or weekly basis you can use personality profiles to predict where personality conflicts may exist. You are looking for places in your network where two conflicting personalities communicate frequently. This will highlight potential areas for improvement. Some personality conflicts are hidden by avoidance. Some potential conflicts may simply turn out to be frequent miscommunication. Others may be a powder keg waiting to explode.

Part 3
Implementing Strategies to Reduce Conflicts

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    Assess the status of any ongoing conflict. It is inevitable that there will be conflicts at some points in nearly any workplace. Not all are personality related.[6] Some will work out on their own, but some will not. If any conflict seems to be escalating or impeding performance you need to deal with it. Use personality profiles to identify potential conflicts. Then move toward addressing performance issues in light of that knowledge. If you see a personality conflict exists, your work toward mending the personality conflict may cause the performance issue to disappear. If you focus on the performance issue and ignore a personality conflict, the employee may quit when an improvement in performance is met with more conflict.
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    Address any potential conflicts within the social networks. When you evaluate the personality types within a social network you may see multiple areas where two different personalities need to work together. If these are conflicting personality types you will want to inquire if there is any conflict to address. Even when people are not yelling and screaming, a cold shoulder or ignored email can negatively impact the business. Use personality assessments to show you where you should be looking to see where hidden conflicts could be impacting efficiency.
    • Rather than openly discussing personality conflicts when they may not exist, ask workers to focus on areas of improvement. You don't want to create conflicts where they don't exist by highlighting personality differences. By using individual requests based on personality profiling you can ask quiet people to interact more with co-workers and domineering people to share more responsibility with their co-workers.
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    Establish reporting policies whereby employees may express grievances without fear of reprisal.[7] Some personality conflicts will stay hidden despite your best efforts if employees do not trust their superiors. Develop policies that help employees express their grievances in private. By giving employees an opportunity to voice their displeasure you may find patterns in department relationships. You may see that one person is creating a toxic environment. Keeping any discussion of issues anonymous is a must to avoid backlash and retaliation.
    • Reporting policies work best when third parties are involved. Human resource personnel are critical here. If subordinates and supervisors are conflicting, the subordinate can discuss the issue to a different department. When they human resources department steps in to resolve an issue, the subordinate's identity can be protected.
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    Develop team building strategies where the highest potential for conflicts exists. If you can see that certain personalities may be conflicting within a department or shift then team building exercises may help resolve potential issues. Team building exercises typically involve more communication than normal. This provides people with more opportunity to resolve personality conflicts by discussing differences in opinion during trivial tasks. Furthermore, you may see personality conflicts flare up you didn't notice before. Those conflicts you can then address later.
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    Move or fire employees who continue to create a toxic work environment. Toxic work environments typically involve severe personality conflicts that hamper performance. If employees at any level resist interventions to resolve personality conflicts and continue to stir up trouble it may be time to terminate their employment. Serious issues may turn into harassment and legal issues. Morale is driven low and good employees may quit for no reason other than to find a job they enjoy.
    • Interview employees who have witnessed unacceptable behavior regarding the conflict. Document issues and their dates to show whether the employee is trying to improve or continuing to engage in personality conflicts.
    • Write individual letters of reprimand to each employee, including exact details, and the company policy which applies to the situation. This documentation is vitally important to avoid a wrongful termination lawsuit. Check written company policy for the required number of warnings an employee may receive prior to dismissal from their job. Ensure that each employee is made aware of the policy and the legitimacy of each warning.
    • Have employees sign a statement of facts relevant to the situation, including their acknowledgment of the possibility of being terminated if the situation cannot be reconciled. Be careful of wording in these statements. If any wording is in question, have a lawyer review the wording to prevent wrongful termination lawsuits.
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    Have particularly troubled departments evaluated by a third party. When a group of co-workers develop a toxic work environment you need to address the issue more forcefully. Third parties (typically Employee Relations Specialists[8]) can come in and give presentations and interviews for the purpose of finding and resolving conflicts. As a third party they are neutral arbiters whose advice should be considered fully. Typically a toxic environment is created by issues at multiple levels (i.e., managers, supervisors, and employees) so improvements should be expected at all levels.


  • Do not take sides in a conflict. Personality conflicts should be addressed as breakdowns in communication on both sides. The emphasis should be on improving performance and not blaming employees.


  • Personality testing should be used as a guide to understanding potential issues. It should not be used to restrict employment opportunities. It may be illegal to do so in your location.
  • Don't assume all conflicts are due to personality. Some people have situational and medical reasons for their conflicts. Refer under-performing employees to Employee Assistance Programs or counselling.
  • Certain personality types may lash out when confronted. Address issues coolly with evidence and facts and never with anger or rumors.
  • Once terminated, an employee may still have immediate access to paperwork, company documents, and expensive equipment. You may need to have security or police present to escort the employee off the property.

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Categories: Workplace Conflicts Coping and Issues