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Tackling a personality clash at work

There’s nothing worse than not getting along with a colleague at work. It makes heading into the office a total drag. Butting heads because of a personality clash is stressful, toxic, non-productive and—depending how you handle it—can be career limiting.

Many reasons cause bad relations between those at work and it happens more often than we think. SEEK research reveals that 60 per cent of Australians have had a bad experience working with someone who has a different personality to them.

Interestingly, organisations can benefit from having a range of personalities on deck. But how do you handle someone you butt heads with? What’s the best way to de-escalate situations or resolve conflicts?

Assess the situation

Sit and work through what’s bothering you. What is it about your colleague that causes your temperature to rise. Write down the behaviours you find challenging. Then be honest with yourself and write down your behaviours that could be exacerbating the situation. Chances are this isn’t a one-way street.

An honest assessment will position you to focus on what you need to fix. Is it attitude differences? Is your colleague competitive when you like to work collaboratively? Does the problem relate to background and/or cultural differences?

Don’t draw others in

While it can be tempting to recruit allies to be on “your side”, it’s more professional to leave your co-workers out of the problem. You may make them feel uncomfortable, for starters. You may cause even more division in the workplace. It’s best to concentrate on what you can do to improve matters.

Try not to overreact

When your buttons are being pushed it’s easy to flare up. Instead, pause and don’t respond immediately. Walk away and clear your head. Think about how best to react. This will remove raw emotion and enable you be calm, mature and in control.

Reframe the way you think

Try to see what your colleague is doing in a better light. While you might be agitated that they ask so many questions in a meeting, for example, you could turn this around to be positive. It may mean your colleague wants to be clear on where a project is going to avoid making mistakes.

Improve your communication

Choice of words is critical when working with someone you don’t like. Instead of adopting accusatory language, try cooperative communication. Be professional when framing your words.

Avoid hostile language like: “I don’t like what you just did and want to talk to you about my concerns and how I think you need to change.” Instead, use appropriate phrases like: “I’ve noticed we seem to have differences and would love to work better together. Shall we have a coffee and talk things through?”

Be an active listener

“There’s always two sides to every story.” This old adage also applies to tough work situations. If you only aim to put your point of view across, instead of actively listening to your colleague, you won’t progress.

Be accepting

Accepting your colleague’s perspectives can make the world of difference. Remember that your way might not necessarily be the right way. Also, your personality might not be 100 per cent perfect.

Remember that “getting along” with your colleague doesn’t mean you have to be best friends. You do, however, need to create a professional working relationship that doesn’t impair the workplace and affect other members of the team in a negative way.

Seek understanding

Try to understand why your colleague operates the way they do and explain why you operate the way you do. Agree on goals and how you’ll both respond. Bear in mind that if you want to be understood, your colleague will want this too.

Talk to human resources and/or management

If the conflict is too chaotic to resolve between yourselves, talk to an expert in human resources and/or your manager for advice on how to make life better. They’ll have dealt with workplace conflict before and can draw on their experiences. Third parties can help diffuse the situation and mend bridges.

Move on

If, despite all efforts, the situation doesn’t budge for the better, it might be time to talk to your boss about opportunities that don’t require you to work with the colleague you’re clashing with. Perhaps a special project is in the wings, or there may be an opportunity to move to a new division.

Learn more

Company culture: What you need to know

Cultural fit: Techniques for getting it right

How to avoid being in the firing line

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