When I think back through my 30 years of working with teams and consider what the most common Challenge I hear from team members and managers is, Personality Conflicts has made every list. It is easy too feel overwhelmed with how to help teams deal with the challenge of “fixing personality conflicts”.
If you think about it, what a daunting task to undertake! Is it even possible? What are the benefits and consequences if you even could?
First we have to understand what is meant by “personality” if we are going to try and influence change. “The word personality itself stems from the Latin word persona, which referred to a theatrical mask worn by performers in order to either project different roles or disguise their identities”. The Enclyopedia of Britannica defines personality as “The term personality has been defined in many ways, but as a psychological concept two main meanings have evolved. The first pertains to the consistent differences that exist between people: in this sense, the study of personality focuses on classifying and explaining relatively stable human psychological characteristics. The second meaning emphasizes those qualities that make all people alike and that distinguish psychological man from other species; it directs the personality theorist to search for those regularities among all people that define the nature of man as well as the factors that influence the course of lives.” https://www.britannica.com/topic/personality
Another more concise definition given by Kendra Cherry and Steven Gans, MD, 2019 states that “personality is made up of the characteristic patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that make a person unique. In addition to this, personality arises from within the individual and remains fairly consistent throughout life.” https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-personality-2795416
The most important addition in Kendra Cherry’s definition is that it “remains fairly consistent throughout life”. In a sense it is the core of who we are and is developed both genetically through biological inheritance and socially through our early childhood experiences.
I have come to believe that what we call personality conflicts are actually relationship conflicts. We are going to have an impossible and frustrating experience if we set out to change people’s personality. On the other hand, if we set out to improve relationships, I believe, and the research confirms, we can identify, discuss, and more realistically improve the connections between people and their different approaches to life . The goal should be to improve understanding of each others personalities and how best to connect our personality with the different personalities on our teams.
Understanding the diversity of our teams personalities can be assessed with tools like the Myer- Briggs, DISC, Iopt, Advanced Insights, and many others. The goal of these tools are self-awareness (give language to what you innately already know) and other awareness (give language to safely discuss differences and how to connect them for the teams good). These tools can help team members to not mis-label personality traits as good or bad and gain recognition that your own personality characteristics can be interpreted from many different perspectives. What we don’t understand about others, often get’s a negative label by team mates who’s profile falls on the opposite side from you on a measured personality scale. Research shows that many of us marry partners who are on the opposite side of these scales. What on the surface can seem like the perfect recipe for conflict can also be extremely complimentary if understood. They complete us giving access to information we might not even see if left to our own accord.
Relationship conflicts on the other hand have to do with how we behave with others. As humans we have been gifted with Self awareness, a Conscience, Free Will, and Imagination. We also have a genetic and psychological need to belong. If we use our human gifts we can learn to relate to all people regardless of personality. Relationship problems are usually created by misunderstandings and the difference between our intentions and others perceptions. We can often mislabel connection problems as personality conflicts.
The key to resolving “personality conflicts” in teams is to first recognize them as relationship conflicts and then build, maintain, and repair misunderstandings. Get to know each others intentions. It is about showing caring for others and the respect of understanding versus judging. Relationships are damaged by misinterpretations of negative interactions. Get to know your team at a deeper level. Seek to understand the core personalities and how to synergies them. Behave in ways that build, maintain, and repair relationships. Relationship conflicts need an environment of psychological safety for open communication mixed with humility, caring, and a desire for strong connections.