For Managers


How to Handle Clashing Personalities with Your Team

Personality clashes with team members can happen, but with the right tips and techniques, clashes can be navigated successfully—and even prevented.


Managers manage and lead people. When considering all of the responsibilities that fall under the management umbrella, leading the individuals who make up their team is their #1 responsibility since any and all productivity and success comes from those team members. Within each team are people with different backgrounds, experiences, education, personalities, beliefs, values, and so on, and in an ideal world, all of these individual aspects of team members would work cohesively 100% of the time. However, since none of us live in an ideal world, clashes within any team are going to happen. In fact, one study found that 85% of those surveyed experienced some sort of conflict at work. When it comes to clashes between managers and team members, 24% of those surveyed fell into this category. 

Since our individual personalities—how we think, feel, and behave—are intricately intertwined with other aspects of who we are (our background, experiences, education, beliefs, values, etc.), our personalities can either lead to team cohesiveness, or team conflict—or even a bit of both—depending on the circumstance. But when personality clashes between managers and employees aren’t handled effectively, the results can be detrimental to the manager, the team member, and the entire team. 

Causes of Personality Clashes

Since clashes are bound to happen, understanding what can cause clashes between managers and employees is crucial to a productive and mutually beneficial manager/employee relationship as well as for preventing future clashes. So, what can cause personality clashes between managers and team members? Here are just a few:

  • Ego
  • Stress
  • Burnout
  • Lack of communication
  • Impatience
  • Lack of direction and/or support
  • Lack of recognition
  • And more...

It might be difficult to recognize areas where you, as a manager, could improve, but taking the time for some self-reflection and then making a plan for self-improvement can go a long way towards preventing clashes before they happen, but it also sets the example for your team members that self-improvement is a healthy thing. After all, we could all improve in some way, right?!

Tips and Techniques for Handling Personality Clashes with Your Team

Considering that managers could potentially have a personality clash with 1 in 4 of their team members, learning, practicing, and applying some solid methods for handling clashes can make the difference between a thriving team and a barely surviving team. Here are several tips and techniques you can use—some will help prevent clashes, and others will help you successfully navigate any clashes that might happen in the future.

Get to know team members so you can understand them better. Background, experiences, perspectives, etc., work together to create others’ thought processes, actions, and motivations, and when you understand what makes someone else “tick,” you’re better able to work with them both respectfully and effectively.

Show respect. Whether it’s your top employee or one who’s struggling, everyone deserves to know that their opinions are important and appreciated. Even—and especially when—you might disagree. The Golden Rule comes into play here: “Treat others as you would like to be treated.”

Make the workplace a safe space for open conversations without fear of retribution. When team members feel like they can’t share opinions, ideas, or even constructive criticism with others (especially their manager), the workplace becomes just that: A place to work. Not a place to grow, thrive, and contribute. 

Don’t avoid the situation. Avoidance only results in greater and deeper conflicts. Address issues that arise quickly, incorporating the tips and techniques we’re sharing.

Work together to create a solution. This creates employee buy-in, which makes team members feel seen and heard, and they’re more likely to buy into the solution if they’re involved in the process.

Show empathy. Often, difficulties that are happening outside of the workplace can spill into the workplace. When a clash happens, seek to understand the real root of the clash, always showing empathy. If a solution can be found within the team, work together to put that solution in place. If the root of the clash is outside of the boundaries of work, show support and encouragement to the employee. If you struggle with empathy, you’re not alone. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 40% of managers struggle with empathy.

Listen. Really listen. Listen to discover what’s at the true root of the clash, giving the employee your complete attention and focus. Then take a moment to think about what you’ve heard before replying, and even repeat what the employee has shared to make sure you’re understanding the issue correctly.

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” ~Stephen R. Covey

Get educated. If you’re a manager who struggles with empathy, or listening, or anything that can cause a potential conflict with team members, educate yourself on that topic and strive to improve. Not only will you benefit, but your entire team will benefit too.

Keep clashes private. A clash is between you and the employee and no one else. Sharing clashes with others, especially with other team members, creates divisiveness within the team, amplifying the issue unnecessarily. If a clash is public, ask the employee to meet with you at another time—ASAP—to discuss the problem. 

Give the benefit of the doubt. It’s easy to jump to conclusions that are often based on your own perspectives, background, personality, and so on. Most people really are trying to do their best, so keep that in mind when discussing any clashes with a team member. Put those listening skills you’ve been working on to work.

Be vulnerable and accept responsibility. Seek to understand what your part might be in this clash, then own it and work to remedy it. Showing vulnerability on your part will encourage employees to be vulnerable too. 

Have frequent and open conversations with individual employees and the entire team. These conversations could be about how to support each other, handling differences, and other tips and techniques we’re sharing, which can work for both managers and team members. These conversations could prevent future clashes also. Learn more about how conversations can build trust within your team here.

Seek to find common ground. Instead of focusing on differences, concentrate on what you both have in common, and use those commonalities to find a solution. 

Establish necessary boundaries and clearly communicate any boundaries with the team. It’s also important to respect team members’ boundaries. Boundaries protect both managers and employees from feeling disrespected, overworked, undervalued, and underappreciated. 

Document, document, document. Since clashes can be interpreted differently, and since memory isn’t always perfect, document any clashes with employees to protect both them and yourself. And be sure to document only facts, not opinions or perspectives, as these can be very subjective.

Know when to go to HR. If you feel you’ve done all you can do in a situation, if you’ve reached an impasse with the team member, or if you are ever unsure how to handle a situation, go to HR for counsel and support. They are the professionals in this area, and they can provide the needed resources, tools, training, and even resolutions for team member issues.

Handling—and ideally, preventing—personality clashes with your team can feel like a delicate and even difficult task, but with the right tips and techniques, and with a lot of effort and diligence in your role as a manager, clashes can be navigated successfully, creating an optimal and successful work environment for the entire team.

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