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How to effectively engage with different personality types in the workplace

Sometimes it’s nice to imagine how stress-free life would be if everyone else was the same as us, especially in the workplace.

But life is full of different types of people and - let’s face it - it would be boring if we were all clones. So, to keep our workplaces healthy and productive, we need to make sure that we can get along with one another.

Know what the differences are and avoid negative labelling

When we notice that someone has a different way of communicating or behaving to us, it’s easy to get frustrated and label them as being “difficult” or “annoying”. Try to clarify why that person is different to you. Some people are more introverted, tending to be on the quiet side and preferring to think things through on their own. Others are more extroverted, tending to be louder and craving interaction with others. Some people naturally want to lead; others prefer to be guided. Spend a bit of time thinking about what the difference with your own personality is and try to avoid negative labelling.

Recognise cultural differences

Different cultures have different ways of interacting and communicating, which can lead to cross-cultural misinterpretations. For some people making a joke at another’s expense is a way of expressing comradery. For others, it might be considered inappropriate, which can lead to feeling bullied. Additionally, people from western cultures often prefer to be told things directly and might feel like a person is untrustworthy when they don’t communicate with them in a “straight up” kind of way. However, for many other cultures a direct communication style can be considered rude and insensitive. Sometimes even when two people are trying their best, their different perspectives can lead to misinterpretations.

See people objectively, not personally

Instead of thinking in terms of, “I like this about John, but I don’t like it when John does this or says that”, try to de-personalise your feelings and accept people the way they are. Judging people in terms of our own personal preferences can lead to anger and frustration when they act in ways we don’t like. Seeing people objectively, “John is just John and I don’t have to have an opinion about that”, can make it easier to let things go and accept other people the way they are.

Embrace difference: ask questions

Sometimes we avoid people or ways of thinking that are different to our own. Try taking the opposite approach and ask questions about why someone has a different view or way of working. Different personality types can challenge and extend our own ways of thinking and working when we focus on the differences being positive, rather than negative.

Look for the common agenda or goal

Focusing on the common agenda or goal can help unite people when the differences seem too broad. You may have different views, backgrounds, and communication styles but you are all united in the workplace with the goal of getting the job done. Try to focus on the task at hand rather than people’s individual differences.

Respect yourself and pick your battles

Respecting yourself isn’t always about taking the hard line and standing your ground. Sometimes, it’s about knowing how to pick your battles. Letting the small things go, like differences of opinion, means that you can concentrate on getting your work done without taking on any unnecessary stress.

Be flexible with your communication style

Try adapting your communication style to suit that of the other person. If someone has an introverted personality type, make the effort to talk one-on-one, rather than in a group setting. If someone is more on the extroverted side, talk with them as a part of a group and make sure they can share their ideas with others.

Remember that people are full of complexities

It’s not just personality types and cultural backgrounds that influence us but also our moods and emotions. As much as we try to separate our work life from our private life, we all have people and situations outside of work that influence our general mood. It can be helpful to remember that you don’t know what someone else is dealing with internally and that sometimes we all need to be given a bit of leeway.

Take charge of your own wellbeing

When our working environments are full of so many different types of people it can be helpful to remember that it’s not our differences that divide us but how we approach them. You can’t control other people, but you can control how you perceive them, how you engage with them and the degree of influence that they have on your own wellbeing.

Sources

  • Schwartz S. H. (1999) A theory of cultural values and some implications for work, Applied Psychology, 48:1, 23-47.
  • Vollrath M. & Torgersen S. (2000) Personality types and coping, Personality and Individual Differences, 29:2, 367-378.
  • Walsh, B. W, & Holland, J. L. (1992) A theory of personality types and work environments.

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