Gillian managed a large marketing team in a food manufacturing company. She felt she had a good working relationship with everyone in the team and they all had direct access to her.

One aspect of her role was dealing with unproductive conflict within the team. She knew from  experience that it could poison the cohesion of the whole department.

So when Liz,  a relatively new employee came to her after 6 months, she was faced with what all managers dread —a clash of personalities. 

A senior member of the department, Joyce, had been mentoring Liz for the first few months.   Joyce was a larger than life character, loud and dominating, well networked within the business, had a view on everything and extremely knowledgable and competent in her role. She led with Sunshine Yellow.

Liz had a different personality. She was quiet, introspective, liked to do her thinking before sharing her view and could get quickly exhausted by the behaviours of some of her more outgoing colleagues. Liz led with Cool Blue.

For the first couple of months, all was well and Liz came to respect, if not exactly like her mentor. But gradually  Joyce’s attitude changed. She became distant and avoided any unnecessary interaction.

Finally, the situation was causing Liz considerable stress and she started to dread coming into the office. She was mystified as to what she had done to offend Joyce. So she took her concern to Gillian, her line manager.

Gillian was sympathetic but offered the initial advice  “the two of you should sit down together in an empty office without anyone else in the room. Then have a frank and open discussion trying to find out what is upsetting your relationship.”

As the team had recently completed an Insights Discovery session, she recommended that Liz and Joyce held an open and honest discussion about which of their communication preferences were supporting each other and which were triggering each other. Details of the exercise can be found here.

The meeting lasted for an hour. At the end of it Liz said she felt a lot better but Joyce wasn’t so sure it has been a good use of time.

However, over the next few weeks a subtle change in their relationship took place. Joyce became much more approachable and helpful and when she left the department a few months later, both Joyce and Liz had developed a good working relationship, one in which they both understood and respected that different personalities can get along together.

For Joyce, pride had played a major role in her first response to their initial conversation, especially as she saw herself as the unofficial  ‘boss’ of the department. However, quietly she had worked on flexing her style so that she and Liz could achieve a good working relationship.

Gillian had handled the situation perfectly. From experience, she found that personality clashes were often better resolved between the two parties themselves. If she personally intervened in every issue, the team would be increasingly outside her door, reliant on her to resolve their relationship issues.

However, Gillian was acutely aware that there were situations that needed rapid intervention by a third party before an atmosphere of conflict poisoned the whole department.

She would, on these occasions, collect all the relevant information and then took the role of moderator in any discussion between the warring parties. At times using the Insights Discovery reports and the communication suggestions aided the discussion.

The key to good resolution is to remain totally impartial and objective. This is the principal that Gillian adopted as a first approach—get people talking to each other. Pride and hurt feelings are common but not long-lasting.

As people we often don’t realise what effect our personality is having on others. We can’t all be the same -fortunately – but we can learn to recognise and be more tolerant of other people’s behaviour, no matter how irritating that can be at times.