Personality Conflicts in the Workplace

Personality conflicts in the workplace may begin as work-related disagreements.
Personality conflicts in the workplace may begin as work-related disagreements. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Conflict in the workplace can foster free and often passionate exchanges of ideas that lead to innovation, improved productivity and stronger teams. In these conflicts, participants avoid personality-focused comments. But, when workplace conflict becomes personality-driven, it becomes destructive. It polarizes the workplace, distracts from the work, wastes time and energy and forces talented employees to leave. Ignoring a personality conflict will not make it go away.

Personal Conflict Description

Many conflicts are not, in fact, based on personality. According to human resources consultant Ronald H. Wean, “A true personality conflict is a diversity issue based on gender, age, and belief systems.” Typically, a conflict begins with a disagreement over a business issue and then degenerates into a personality issue. People can ask themselves two questions to determine whether a conflict is really personality-based. “Do I get frustrated or angry with the other person all the time or just with a specific work-related issue?” “If the anger is about work issues, it is unreasonable or out of proportion to the situation?”

Resolving a Personality Conflict

If the answers to these questions indicate a personality-based conflict, attitude changes on the part of those involved are required. Accepting individual differences is the first step in attitude change. Refraining from gossiping or complaining about the person to others helps defuse the situation and prevents people from “taking sides” in the conflict. Listening carefully to the other person, honestly considering their opinion and being courteous and flexible in all interactions builds respect.

Work-related Conflicts Identified as Personality Conflicts

Work-related conflicts often appear to be personality conflicts. To determine the nature of a conflict, authors Turner and Weed, in their book “Conflict in Organizations,” suggest that managers ask “what” and “why” rather than “who.” Workplace conflicts may be the result of unmet needs, overlapping areas of responsibility, conflicting priorities, organizational or role changes, or communications breakdowns. Identifying the "what" and "why" of the conflict gets to the root of problem and allows it to be addressed in a non-threatening, impartial way rather than as a personality issue.

Resolving Work-related Conflicts

Handling and resolving conflicts is essential to workplace effectiveness and employee retention and involves both managers and employees. Ideally, managers should encourage and support employees in resolving conflicts on their own by helping them develop the necessary skills. Whether resolution is achieved by employees or facilitated by managers, the process is the same. Address the issue face-to-face and in private. Begin by clearly stating, without blame, that a conflict exists, the cause of the conflict and why it should be resolved. Stick to the issues and refrain from personal attacks or snide comments. Identify specific situations or behavior, if appropriate. Listen carefully and don’t interrupt when the other person is talking. Communicate courteously and respectfully. Remember that conflict resolution requires compromise that is focused on achieving a desired end.

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