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Influence Matters 1: Resolving Personality Clashes

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Wed Jan 11 2017

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Influence Matters 1: Resolving Personality Clashes-c0a873c1ebc6b91cc87df0914aec24026b115626ba8dcd0dcdee654e36ae366d

Robin stood in one corner of the room and looked at Brad in the opposite corner. For the last six months, they had been at loggerheads. Disagreeing, arguing, and at one point, almost coming to blows.

Robin smiled at Brad. Brad returned that smile, and added a slow nod, acknowledging his boss with new optimism. Now they could start afresh. Working together, playing to their strengths, and delivering significant results for their company.

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This exchange happened during a memorable workshop I ran a few years ago. Robin had confided in me that relations with Brad were so bad that if this didn’t work, he was going to fire him. Mind you, when I talked to Brad, it seemed he was about to resign anyway.

That all changed when we started to explore the way they like to influence people, their typical behaviors, and their personal style. On one key dimension—Sociability and Networking—they had an extreme difference in style.

Brad is the sort of person who loves to be with people, having a good time. A “work hard, play hard” type of guy. He is happy to jump into any situation, getting to know people and using his humor and personality to get people to warm to him. He’s a people person, and people like being around him.

Meanwhile, Robin is a different person altogether. He much prefers to quietly absorb the facts and think things through, looking at all the evidence. He likes to let others speak while he listens carefully. Then, when he is ready, he will say what he needs to say, without wasting any words. People listen to Robin because of his considered approach and succinct way of talking.

The trouble is, Robin wasn’t warming to Brad, and Brad wasn’t listening to Robin. Their personalities were clashing. Big time.

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Robin thought that Brad was loud and overbearing, lacking in seriousness, and treating the tough issues in their work in an offhand manner. He desperately needed Brad to shut up, sit down, and talk business. On the other side, Brad wanted Robin to lighten up. Business doesn’t need to be boring. he would think, “Sure, we have some tough challenges in our work right now, but that doesn’t mean you have to be miserable about it.” 

During the workshop, standing along the wall of Sociability and Networking, they suddenly comprehended their differences. When we talked about it, they began to appreciate what each style (and person) had to offer. They started to realize that their differences were not so much about being different people, but merely preferring to use different behaviors. And that’s when their lives changed, for the better.

Often, personality clashes are all about different values and behaviors. Once people understand those differences, and are prepared to accept them, they can get on with figuring out how to work well together. You don’t need to change who you are to work well with people who are different from you. You don’t even need to agree or like the way they are. But you do need to understand and accept the differences.

Sociability and Networking is just one dimension of behavior that we measure when helping people to resolve personality clashes. The differences don’t have to be extreme to cause problems, and the first step in the resolution is always awareness.

Another common type of behavior that causes some difficultly between people is the degree of Tact and Diplomacy that they prefer to use. At one extreme, people like to say it as it is, often ignoring how hurtful their blunt words may be to the other person. Are they people rude, or are they just too direct for you?

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Someone who prefers a more sensitive approach (and this is a good thing in many situations) can easily end up on the verge of tears when they work with people who have a tougher, rougher style of behavior. And that’s not good for one’s motivation or productivity.

We also look at the levels of Determination and Emotional Control (but you can read about them another time). The important thing to understand right now is that if you are struggling to work with someone, thinking that you have a personality clash, the answer almost always lies in the lack of appreciation and acceptance of your differences.

So, to resolve a personality clash, you need to take a few key actions:

  • Understand your own behavioral preferences or “your style.”

  • Compare your behavior against the individual with whom you are clashing.

  • If possible, explore these differences with the other individual.

  • Find small ways to adapt your behavior so that there are fewer differences between the two of you.

If you do this, you will be amazed at the difference it makes. For Robin and Brad, it made a great deal of difference. When I spoke to them six months after the workshop, they were getting on like a house of fire. Well, almost. They still had differences but, they had found ways to accommodate each other. Nobody had been fired, nobody had walked out. In fact, they were enjoying working with each other.

Editor’s note: If you would like to begin developing your capability to assess and adapt behavioral styles, check out the Gautrey Influence Profile, offered in conjunction with the Association for Talent Development.

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