Managing Personality Conflicts

Posted on October 9, 2012.

I’ll admit it. I worked with people I really disliked.  It took years, but I managed to find a way to put my personal feelings aside, find some common ground and move forward.  But if you’re the one that has to manage the people that can’t stand each other, you just want to scream, “Can’t we all just get along?” Since that rarely works, try something different.

First recognize what Hermann Hesse once said, “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us.”  I’m sure you’ve said to yourself that you don’t understand why Dick and Jane don’t get along because they’re so much alike.  This recognition is the first step to solving the problem.

1.    Plan an activity that plays to their strengths.  Determine what great qualities they both share and develop a project, task force, team building or some other activity where each person can see the value the other brings to the table.  I was once forced on a task force with a colleague I really didn’t like.  We never saw eye to eye on anything.  But when we worked together on this task force, I saw that his reasoning was sound and thoughtful.  I didn’t always agree with his methodology, but learned to respect that we both wanted the same outcomes.

2.     Require regular feedback sessions.Get the two people to meet outside of the office and lay some ground rules for the conversation. 

a.     Always start with something you like or respect about the other person. (Make them dig deep if they have to)

b.     Keep all feedback to feelings, not action, i.e., “ When you interrupt me in staff meetings, I feel disrespected”. Not “ I hate when you interrupt me.”

c.      Try to find one thing you both like outside of work.

Make each party report back as to the outcome of these regular meetings. If they aren’t able to find some common ground, you’ll need to join them and act as a coach. But I think you’ll find that while they may not start vacationing together, they usually find a way to respect each other at work.

A big part of why people don’t like each other is lack of knowledge.  The more you can find ways to get them to know each other better, the faster the animosity is diffused and the faster they realize how much they’re actually alike.