Understanding How to Navigate Personality Differences on Teams
Sylvia Lane

Do you love your job but struggle dealing with management? Do you look forward to getting together with your clients but avoid meeting with your co-workers? Are you partners with someone in business or in your personal life with whom you experience as difficult? Do you feel that you are ineffective in problem-solving with certain groups of co-workers or friends? Perhaps there is a personality conflict with you and your team. Often we write off personality conflicts because we can’t change someone else’s personality. However, there are strategies and approaches to help navigate situations where potential personality conflicts exist that I’ve outlined here.

Each time we work together in a group of two or more to accomplish a specific task, we are participating in a team. Each team member brings talents and skills to the group as well as inherent flaws or weaknesses in their role on the team. As coaches, we utilize personality assessment instruments, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the DISC Personality Test, to help others better understand their own unique preferences and approaches to communication, teamwork and decision-making and gain a new understanding and empathy for others’ preferences. Using these personality tools can also help us understand patterns of interaction within teams and how they change with challenges facing the team or when new group members join the team. The personality styles of team members vary, such as a logical analyzer to the compassionate supporter, and the team takes on its own personality based on the majority of the qualities of its members.

Conflicts can develop from different personality approaches when the goals are not clearly stated or results are not met. Sometimes, team members’ behaviors or activities may even be contradictory to the stated goals. These differences sometimes reflect the individual team member’s preferences for communication, action, and method of participation on the team. For example, some people enjoy brainstorming as a part of problem-solving while others want facts presented to support a position. Some team members want to have the authority to make decisions without others’ input while others approach decisions collaboratively and strive for harmony and consensus. It is helpful to understand our preferred approach and that of others, especially when we’re experiencing conflict.

I recently spent time talking with a friend, “Sarah,” who was having serious medical problems. She felt left out of decision-making about her health care and long-term impact to her life. Sarah’s preferred style, having been an Army surgical nurse in a field hospital in Vietnam, is to act with authority in times of crisis (and in many situations to save lives). When she made decisions for the patient during the war, the patient was in no position to participate in the decision-making. Now, Sarah is experiencing her medical professionals making decisions without her input, leading to uncertainty and distrust. She is frustrated because her typical approach – giving orders others immediately respond to – is not effective in her current situation. She is more likely to get ignored by her care team and be identified as a “difficult patient” who is not cooperating with the Plan of Care. She does not experience being part of the decision-making team but rather feels like a victim and adversary. Sarah and I explored how effective communication can help her be included and respected as a member of the care team and decision-making process. We explored some new approaches for Sarah to try to produce the results she is committed to, including:

  1. LISTENING. I recognized that Sarah had heard some disturbing facts about her body and that she needed to listen fully to the medical experts who had examined her recently. Effective teams create open two-way communication to foster trust. I asked her to listen to her doctors, without interruption, as I did for her for two hours, at her next visit.
  2. COLLABORATING. I suggested that Sarah write down her questions and talk them through during her next appointment AFTER she listened to the care team’s observations and recommendations. Then, she could also share any suggestions that she had based on her experience or knowledge that she felt would help in the direction or approach or help her deal with the situation.
  3. SHARING HER FEELINGS. Sarah is not used to sharing her feelings with others. Her style is to make decisions based on facts and get into immediate action. Getting in touch with her feelings of fear, sadness, and anger at the diagnosis will help her accept the situation and make the best decisions for herself. Sharing her feelings, while not Sarah’s natural preference, will help her care team understand where she is coming from in these conversations and decision-making process, including her reaction on the past visit.

As Sarah understands and accepts her own preferred style of communicating, decision-making and working on teams, she can leverage her strengths from her natural abilities while trying new approaches to appeal to others’ styles and preferences to achieve her desired outcomes. When she can identify and accept her blind spots she can problem-solve as a partner with the medical team, instead of acting as an adversary.

Understanding your preferred style and strengths of interacting on a team and learning about your “blind spots” will allow you to try new communication strategies and approaches to decision making. You can also understand and embrace the strengths of other team members to seek ways to help them utilize these more effectively to achieve the goals of the team and for the overall success of all persons involved.

What do you now see about how you interact on teams and how understanding your personality preferences and those of others could enhance team collaboration and communication and facilitate better decision-making processes? Please share your feedback with our readers so we can learn from you!

With Warm Regards,


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One Response
  • Jeffrey W. Schultz on September 16, 2014

    It always surprise me that even though we all have degrees in accounting everyone’s personality and drive is so different. Each one of my staff accountants is motivated differently. Each on learns differently. Yet they are all accountants.

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