Handling Personality Conflicts at Work

Below are some practical steps on how to deal with personality conflicts at work.

Meet with each party and discuss their role in the perceived or real conflict. Coach each one of them
on how they could adapt their behaviour or change their language. Active coaching may help each employee understand themselves and the role they play in the conflict.

Tell them you value each of them, and explain why. It’s possible that a low level of competition has set into their relationship as they may be seeking management approval.

If possible, communicate their duties clearly to reduce overlap or confusion on who is responsible for
what. Where possible, reduce areas of work that overlap and create conflict.

Set up a time for them to meet in a quiet area, undisturbed. Ask each of them to listen to each other, and be willing to take feedback, even if the feedback hurts a little.

Ask them for an action plan of how they will work to resolve the conflict. This could be a simple email in bullet-form for you to hold on to as a future reminder if the conflict arises again.

Set a follow-up for two weeks later to see if the conflict has dissipated or reduced significantly.
If you learn or observe that the conflict is persisting, try these further steps:

Re-communicate their duties clearly to reduce overlap or confusion on who is responsible for what. The
friction may arise if both employees see themselves as accountable for the same task.

Where possible, reduce the time they have to work together. For example, if you have other team
members who can take on one of the tasks that causes discord, then moving the responsibility may help calm the waters. A different personality type may handle the task differently, and may handle tension better.

Mediate another meeting between the employees, with you and another manager present. Invite each
party to talk and offer solutions. Send an action list after the meeting. Be clear that you expect to have good morale and respect, and that it is their duty as professionals to be courteous and helpful to each other.

If Discord Continues, Be More Assertive

If one of the parties is actively creating conflict or not communicating effectively, move into performance management with that employee only. Consider sending them on a course about managing conflict, working with others or improving communication skills. Tell them what they need to do to make this business relationship work. If one party continues to engage in conflict without basis, you may have to discipline or terminate. Be sure to document each and every step you take in mediation and while following-up. Seek legal advice when in doubt. Sometimes a legal sounding board will guide you best.

From Our Experience…

In cases of personality conflicts in which direct conversation and mediation have not succeeded, one of the parties often ends up resigning from the position or seeks a transfer. If the employee felt bullied, and the employer attempts to solve a personality conflict, they may feel they have to leave to resolve it. Ongoing dialogue is important to retain both good employees. The manager should be vigilant to be sure similar personality conflicts don’t arise with others; watch for signs of conflict.

Want to learn more?

Workplaces are ripe with tensions that, like it or not, managers have to navigate, mediate and solve. Make sure you know how to handle conflict at work.

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