There won’t be many people who, at some stage of their working life, haven’t come across a colleague with whom they just can’ see eye to eye. Simply put, it’s a ‘personality clash’. Although you’re both working to achieve the same outcome you might disagree on the best route to a strategic decision, or how to communicate strategic change to your staff. Perhaps you just don’t like the way your colleague views the world, or the tone of their voice in meetings, or their apparent and unexplained coldness towards you.
Whatever the reason, personality clashes can have a real and lasting impact on working life and productivity. They can also have an impact on those who work for you and around you. The point at which we’re asked to provide a coaching intervention is often when communication has broken down completely between colleagues, to the detriment of their team or the organisation they work for.
So what to do and where to start? Well first, let’s look to Carl Jung, the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, who said:
“Perception involves all the ways of becoming aware of things, people, happenings, or ideas. Judgment involves all the ways of coming to conclusions about what has been perceived. If people differ systematically in what they perceive and in how they reach conclusions, then it is only reasonable for them to differ correspondingly in their interests, reactions, values, motivations, and skills.”
The essence of Jung’s theory is that what seems as random variation in behaviour is actually quite orderly and consistent, due to the different ways we prefer to use our perception and judgement. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) was developed around this theory. MBTI is a personality indicator that helps people to identify and understand their psychological type. Through answering a series of specially-designed questions, it can tell you whether you’re an introvert or extravert, for example, and how you deal with decision-making, process information and structure your interaction the other people and situations. The MBTI has been used as a key coaching tool for decades because it really works; it allows people to understand how they interpret the world and to work effectively within it.
A case in point is our experience of working with two senior executives – a male director and his female deputy director. The deputy director was on the verge of taking disciplinary action against her colleague as she found him almost impossible to work with. Her perception was that he was impolite and cold, and that he disregarded and under-valued her. There was accusation and counter-accusation.
Our first task was to talk to the colleagues separately and enable them to understand their individual position. The deputy director was an extrovert who always needed to talk things through before making decisions, and whose focus was very much on the abstract and the future. The director was younger and introverted; he preferred to quietly reflect on an issue before making a decision, and felt bombarded by his colleague’s constant questioning. Conversely, she interpreted his reflective approach as arrogance.
We then asked them to take the MBTI, to establish their specific personality type and how this influenced their perception of the world and other people. In a way, the process removes the ‘personal’ and leaves participants with a clear definition of ‘What makes me tick’. The MBTI process also allowed them to think about personality differences more generally, and then explore how and why the other one behaved as they did. On other words;
‘Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes’
The third step involved getting the colleagues to step outside their issues and become a neutral observer to the situation. The old adage ‘Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes’ applies here: we asked them use the new insight that the MBTI had brought to reflect objectively on what was happening. Finally, and with enlightenment on both sides, we reunited them for joint coaching.
The results speak for themselves; not only did each colleague understand themselves better but they also understood each other. This enabled a much more productive working relationship that ultimately benefitted the whole organisation they led.
So, in summary, if you’re facing a ‘personality clash’ with a colleague and feel the relationship is becoming toxic, or irreparable, it’s worth taking time out to try and understand the world from their point of view, and what might be influencing your perception. Aristotle said “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”. The MBTI remains one of the most effective coaching tools we use to enable the self-enlightenment he describes. Perhaps Jung puts in best when he says, “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”