“Tony. We have a situation where Sam and Aish are both claiming that the other is bullying them. But in reality, it’s just a personality clash.” Insert loud ringing Alarm Bells!!! To us when a client says this to us it’s code for “we’re not really sure what the conflict is about, it’s tricky, HELP!”
Blaming the personality is lazy
To be honest when Zandy and I hear this we put it down as a cop out response. In our experience it’s not about asking what are the personalities involved, but what’s gone on, what behaviors have been exhibited and then diagnosing the conflict. As Turner & Weed point out in, Conflict in Organizations, “Managers should avoid blaming interpersonal conflicts on personality clashes. Such a tactic is an excuse to avoid addressing the real causes of conflict”.
But their personalities really do clash!
Good old Myer-Briggs says there are 16 personality types (right now I know you are desperately trying to remember if you are ISTJ or ENTP or ESFJ….!) but what does “a personality clash” actually mean? Every person has someone they know, love, holiday with or have worked well with that is a different personality type. We all know of introverts who have worked well with extroverts or thinkers who have worked well with doers. By contrast we also know of ‘A types’ who have worked well with other ‘A types’. Different or identical personality types are NOT simply destined to clash and be in perpetual conflict.
Ben Dattner recently wrote in the Harvard Business Review most workplace clashes are NOT really about personality. The clash is really about some type of underlying cause and how different personalities handle that issue. Remember, where there is a Team that is humming along, highly functioning and delivering outstanding results, people in that Team usually have personalities that clash. Sometimes in a mega way, but never in a destructive way.
Back to Sam and Aish. Asking a few more questions this is what I discovered. Sam, the Project Manager, always insists on getting the job done on time and on budget (the business loves that). However Aish, the Team Leader, makes all of his Team follow the processes he has established, precisely and on every occasion. It’s painful but the quality of his Team is VERY high. This has led to huge arguments between Sam and Aish and the Team is just fed up with it.
Some people are difficult!
Yes, we agree, there are some very difficult people out there to work with… however it’s not their personality that causes the grief, it’s the actual behavioral experience, system or incident that matters. Sam and Aish are responding to different drivers and measures of success, their personalities can (and did) exasperate that difference however they can also learn to work together to make a balanced team.