It’s inherent in the word itself—managing clashing personalities is a tough task to manage.
When you’re responsible for a team full of different motivations, expectations, and points of view, effectively creating a culture that brings the best out of each individual is a challenging task. And if your team includes some particularly demanding personalities or co-workers who just do not get along, the challenge of team management can become nearly impossible.
There are two primary reasons that you may face personality conflicts within your team: either because you have a few outright manipulative characters, or there are more subtle nuances in temperament between team members that just don’t naturally fit
Let’s start with the first of these: manipulation. Manipulative personalities are usually the easiest to spot and often have the greatest dysfunctional impact, so solving these overarching problems first may in turn cure the rest of your team dynamics.
As noted in Everett Shostrum’s Man the Manipulator, here are a few types of manipulative personalities you might come across in the workplace, either among your managers or those whose work you supervise:
This may be the easiest of the manipulators to spot, because it’s usually the most aggressive personality on the team. This person may or may not actually wield any power, but he or she is quick to use intimidation tactics, threats, or create an environment of fear in order to get their way. Although most often present in lower levels of management, the bully personality can also show up among more senior members of an established department or team, as they throw their weight around to show newer hires how it’s going to be—maybe even pushing off extra work in the process.
Perhaps the direct opposite of the bully, the weakling is someone who takes on a victim role within the group, possibly in order to get out of work. They build up a persona of being weak and powerless, and in turn use their helplessness to dominate relationships.Through sloppy performance, projecting a sense of being constantly overwhelmed, or building up roadblocks in the workflow as more detrimental than the reality, the weakling creates the sense that everything is impossible and nothing is his or her fault. This person may even over-compliment other team members or praise their capability as a tactic toward passing off assignments onto others.
This is the team member who can talk his way out of anything. He or she is quick to use what you’ve said before against you, and will use loopholes in procedure or company policy to get his or her way. Regardless of actual position within the organization, the calculator will exaggerate his or her control using lies and deceit, constantly trying to outwit other people. This manipulator might come across as either an intellectual logician or a hyper-salesman. But regardless of personality, the result is an air of superiority and infallibility.
Although individual cases can vary widely, in general the best technique for dealing with manipulators is to address them individually and directly. Manipulators need to be calmly but straightforwardly called on their games. They need to hear from a supervisor that their behavior does not go unnoticed and will not be tolerated.
Be warned: these manipulators will attempt to use their tactics on you in order to overcome the conflict. The weakling will list the reasons it can’t possibly be her fault, or the bully will become aggressive and try to back you into a corner. Use specific examples and avoid any conversation about other team members in order to keep the focus on the individual. By making clear your expectations of that individual team member, you’ll keep blame from being cast onto others within the group.
If you’re facing significant conflicts among team members, at least one manipulative personality is likely the root cause. But more subtle personality disparities among co-workers can also create a less than ideal environment. An introverted, number-crunching analyst may have difficulty relating to a more extroverted account manager. Or if you’re managing a multicultural team, these subtle differences in background can lead to misunderstandings.
As a manager, you’re not expected to help everyone on the team be best friends. This isn’t summer camp, and your employees do hold a personal responsibility to foster productive relationships with their team members. But if subtle personality nuances are affecting overall team performance, they should be addressed.
Start by making sure every team member has a basic understanding of the work that everyone else does, and why each person is uniquely suited for his or her role. By highlighting the strengths that different backgrounds and temperaments bring to the company as a whole, you can create a spirit of respect for the diversity among team members, instead of continued animosity.