How to work with different personality types

Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone thought and reacted like you? Well . . . maybe not. As challenging as it can be to work with people with different approaches to work, innovation and creativity can only come from a diversity of thought and experience. Still, on a practical level it can make communication and progress difficult if your boss or coworkers have totally different personality traits than you.

Frequent Fast Company contributor and professor of psychology at University of Texas, Art Markman suggests using the Big Five personality characteristics as a starting place to understand how people differ from each other. The Big Five traits are: Extroversion, Agreeableness, Conscientious, Openness, and ​​Emotional Stability.

Markman says it’s important to note that most people fall somewhere in between these extremes, and have a combination of more than one trait. Still, being aware of these tendencies can help you understand and predict how your coworkers will react differently to you in specific situations.

So what can you do if you have a coworker with a clashing personality to you? It depends on exactly what part of their personality is clashing with yours. But, for example, if you have a direct report who doesn’t work well with others, reassign them, if possible, to more solitary projects. Or, if a person dislikes collaboration, they might be less agreeable, so meet them where they are and be more direct with your feedback.

Another consideration for managing different personalities at work is determining who thrives (or at least prefers) some amount of in-office time. Employees who are more extroverted might work better in the office, while people higher in Openness to Experience were shown to perform better during the time they worked remotely.

Perhaps the most important things to remember about personality at work is that it’s just one element of the complex identities we all bring to work. Understanding the elements of personality can help you work better with your coworker, manage and lead better, and even just have a better day at work. But, as Markman points out:  “As wonderful as personality psychology is—and as valuable as strong tools about personality can be—personality traits are not destiny. Situations also exert a strong influence on people’s behavior.” 

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