Personality Conflicts: How to Have Better Outcomes

By Dr. Wanda Wallace based on an interview with Dr. Lynn Curry

Dr. Lynn Curry

You know how it goes. The co-worker who sits close to you drives you mad. Now, the two of you must collaborate on a project. You dread working with the person, and you have quite a few opinions about the person that are not very kind involving things like incompetence, lacking integrity, self-centeredness and the like.


Or, you have been working with someone for six months. There is so much tension between the two of you that you have just stopped talking to each other. You think the other person is misguided, unfair, biased and just needs to get a grip. The only way forward was to divide the work so that each of you is now responsible for half the work.


However, this strategy sub-optimizes the ultimate outcome.


It doesn’t have to go this way. There are other options.


What Has Happened?

Your opinion of the other person has tipped into a judgmental position where you have decided the other person is at fault, wrong or misguided. The other person has likely concluded the same about you, by the way.


As a result, whatever the two of you say or do at this point will generate exactly the reaction you feared. The way forward involves changing how you approach the other person.


Step One: What’s your style and what’s the style of the other person?

Here are the four choices:

  1. Decider – who likes to get things done, move things forward

  2. Relator – who cares about how people feel and how people are treated

  3. Free Spirit – who doesn’t want rules, wants to do it his/her way

  4. Detective – who looks to question and critique in search of a solution to any problem

There is direct conflict with how each wants to work and get things done. For example, the Decider has likely thought about who needs to do what and organized the work before the first meeting. Whereas the Relator wants to get to know people first before any assignments are made and wants to be consulted from the first moment. The Free Spirit sees assigned tasks as optional. And the Detective want to know how the conclusion was reached, what was considered and what might have been omitted.


Step Two: Diagnose the Problem

See the worksheet below for questions that will prepare you for a constructive conversation.


Step Three: How Does Your Counterpart Add Value with His/Her Style?

This is hard. You don’t like the other person, you are frustrated by their tactics and approach so finding value in the thing that annoys you isn’t easy. However, three is value if you open your mind. Someone in the organizations supports this person for some reason; what is that reason? Prepare to say what you value to the other person.


Step Four: THE Conversation

  1. Frame the context in a totally neutral way (e.g., no blame, no judgment). “We were working very well together but I have noticed that things have gone off the rails, can we talk about how to make work go more smoothly?”

  2. State what you value about the other person. I really value your ability to get to the root cause of problems.”

  3. Ask a question that gets the other person to talk about their approach. “What would make our collaboration easier for you?”

  4. Suggest adaptations the suggested approach that work for you.

Repeat as necessary.


Conflict doesn’t need to be avoided if you develop tactics that lead to constructive outcomes.


Conflict Diagnosis Worksheet

My perspective:

The problem/conflict/disagreement I’m having with you is:

What I’d like the outcome/results to be:

What I’m willing to do is:

My assumptions about you are:

If I were you, here’s how I’d answer the questions I just answered:

The problem/conflict/disagreement I’m having with you is:

What I’d like the outcome/results to be:

What I’m willing to do is:

My assumptions about you are:


The interview first aired on VoiceAmerica.Com Business Channel “Out of the Comfort Zone”.

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