How to manage employees with different personalities
Do personality differences make things difficult for your team? These strategies could help.

Different personalities can help to create a diverse, vibrant and productive workplace. But sometimes managing those varied personalities, preferences and ways of working can be complicated. 

SEEK research reveals three in five Australians (60%) have had a bad experience working with someone with a different personality type.

Employees identify three key challenges as part of this situation: they have different ways of getting things done, they deal with conflict in different ways and it takes a lot of effort to talk to dissimilar co-workers.

Here, SEEK’s Resident Psychologist Sabina Read shares how you can help employees tackle each of these challenges.

What is personality and how does it impact work?

“Personality is the characteristics of a person that account for consistent patterns of their feeling, thinking, and behaving,” Read says. Personality can impact workplaces in numerous ways, from team meeting dynamics and employees’ productivity to work ethics and motivation.

In many workplaces, different personalities can mean great outcomes, but sometimes managers need to get involved and help employees work collaboratively.

Employees that have different ways of getting things done

A significant number of employees (42%) found it challenging when they and a colleague had different ways of getting things done. Read suggests taking time to find out what helps your employees perform at their best. “Managers and employers get the most out of people who feel respected for who they are,” she says. “Knowing your employees’ different personalities and preferences may mean adjusting your processes by offering uninterrupted quiet time, encouraging collaboration, putting requests in writing or explaining the big picture.”

When employees with different working styles need to collaborate, encourage a conversation about how each employee will contribute and how they prefer to work.

Employees dealing with conflict in different ways

“Conflict is a natural experience when we work with others, but it’s the way we manage conflict that matters,” Read says. Thirty per cent of employees found it challenging when they worked with a colleague who dealt with conflict in a different way to them.

“Recognising that conflict often occurs when people care about the work they are doing can help take the heat out of disagreements and reduce any judgement that someone is difficult or tricky,” Read says. “Remind yourself and your workforce that you’re all on the same team and continue to share organisational and team goals so that everyone has a sense of comradery and the shared purpose of their work.”

When employees feel it’s hard talking to different personalities

For just over a quarter (26%) of employees, a challenge of working with someone with a different personality was that it takes a lot of effort to talk to them. “We may fantasise about working with people just like us, but then all our experiences and results would be limited to our narrow lens,” Sabina says. “Remind your people that it’s the range of varied expertise, thinking, approaches, and beliefs that creates success.”

Open up team meetings to discuss how employees think, feel and act differently. “Ask open-ended questions with different personalities present so individuals can hear each other’s responses and preferences,” Sabina says. Instead of focusing on the perceived effort needed to talk to others, pitch questions that invite self-reflection and accountability rather than judgement or blame.

You can ask questions like:

  • What could you do to make things better?  
  • What do you need your colleagues to understand about the way you work?
  • What would make it easier for you to initiate conversations with each other?

We all bring different personalities, preferences and ways of getting things done to our workplaces – and it can help to make them more creative and productive. Managers play a key role in helping employees see the strengths each person has to contribute as part of a team. Being open about the things team members have in common while respecting and supporting their differences is part of fostering a positive and healthy workplace.

Independent research conducted by Nature on behalf of SEEK. Interviewing 4800 Australians annually