- Learning how to navigate different personalities in the workplace can help improve the overall workplace experience and organizational culture.
- In contemporary psychology, personality is divided into the ‘big five’ personality traits: conscientiousness, extraversion, openness, neuroticism, and agreeableness.
- If an employee comes to you with a personality-related need that is reasonable, the best case scenario for the well-being and productivity of the company is to be accommodating to such needs.
Entering into a workspace is, for the most part, by necessity social. You will have managers, co-workers, seniors, and juniors to socially engage with on a regular basis.
For many, this fact about work can feel quite terrifying. And often, this is for good reason.
When personalities clash in a negative way, this can be devastating in a wide-variety of ways. Failing to navigate this properly can be the difference between an efficient and welcoming workplace, and an inefficient and toxic workplace.
The ideal scenario, clearly, is the former. In light of that, it does well to understand how to navigate different personalities in the workplace.
What is personality?
In contemporary psychology, personality is divided into the ‘big five’ personality traits. As listed, the sub-traits represent the polar ends of the spectrum of each personality trait.
For instance, if you are very disciplined, you’d be considered high in conscientiousness, whereas if you are not very disciplined, you’d be considered low in conscientiousness:
- Conscientiousness: disciplined/undisciplined; organized/disorganized; attentive to detail; inattentive to detail.
- Extraversion: outgoing/shy; sociable/reserved; fun-loving/thoughtful.
- Openness: spontaneous/routine oriented; imaginative/practical; open to new experiences or ways of working/not open to new experiences or ways of working.
- Neuroticism: pessimistic/optimistic; anxious/calm; self-conscious/confident.
- Agreeableness: cooperative/uncooperative; rule-follower/rule-breaker; trusting of others/distrusting of others; not willing to stand up for themselves/brashly pushing themselves to the top when the opportunity to do so arises.
“Personality” is, for each of us, where we all fall on each of these continuums. There are truly endless possibilities of combining these five traits, which have self-evidently produced endless different personalities which interact with one another.
How personality impacts worker-employer relationships
Personality determines the degree to which we can cooperate with other people. If you are an introvert, for example, working in a context where most people are extraverts, this can be challenging –and exceedingly likely for introverts, as, statistically, most people are extraverts.
Introverts need to recharge their social batteries often, and unless you make this clear from the outset, few of your colleagues will understand why you avoid meetings or certain work-related social events.
Another example is if you are high in agreeableness: agreeable folks are less likely to ask for raises and are less likely to capitalize on opportunities for growth in the workplace. This is especially the case if someone who is high in agreeableness is working in a setting with many who are low in agreeableness, who are more likely to seek such opportunities unprompted.
Individuals high in agreeableness may also find themselves being asked to take on more responsibilities than their co-workers because of their habit of saying ‘yes’ to most requests.
Managers should seek to understand their workers and their personalities
Ideally, the role of a manager should consist of parsing these different traits out in their employees through observation in a manner that is accommodating for all. Rather than prioritizing one sort of employee, such a manager works to bring out the best in all employees, regardless of personality types.
For instance, those who are high in either neuroticism or low in extraversion might find themselves working most efficiently at a remote level, whereas those high in extraversion and low in neuroticism might be more efficient working full-time in an office.
If a manager seeks to understand their employees –which will likely be helped if the manager is high in openness and conscientiousness– accommodating these differences should be no problem.
In other words: if an employee comes to you with a personality-related need that is reasonable, the best case scenario for the well-being and productivity of the company is to be accommodating to such needs.
By contrast, though, not understanding these differences and failing to be accommodating to the personality-related needs of each worker can create conflict.
Consider, for instance, not knowing that your worker is an introvert: surely you’d be wondering why they’ve begun to slow down at work –and, unfortunately, many will assume it is due to laziness, when in reality, introverts are simply drained by too much social interaction.
There are reliable ways managers can understand, and thus accommodate for their worker’s varying personalities. One-on-one meetings and questionnaires are obvious go-to’s: in either case, the role of the manager is to listen and materialize this information into genuine accommodations.
Workers need to understand their own personalities
Likewise, workers need to work to recognize personality traits within themselves. Unfortunately, the reality is that many workplaces will not be accommodating to your personality, and it’s in these cases especially where an understanding of your own personality will be most salient.
Workers high in agreeableness may develop a sense of resentment: that is, they will take on more responsibilities, but without added benefits, largely because they have trouble asking for benefits.
In that instance, agreeable workers will need to enact a restructuring of their approach to work, by practicing being disagreeable.
And this goes for essentially any personality trait that may interfere with work. That is, pressing for your needs, and working to develop new skills to cope when such needs are not met. We cannot always have it our way, but we can do our best to stay afloat.
If you’re an extravert, ask for in-office work.
If you’re an introvert, consider working remotely.
If you’re high in openness, entrepreneurship or freelancing may diminish the limiting feelings which come from an ordinary job.
Keep in mind, however, that because many managers do not adequately understand personality and its complexities across individuals, that your needs might not be met. In these cases, it is worth being open to lateral movement –i.e. changing jobs, switching to freelancing, etc.
Personality consists of (1) how you present yourself to the world, and therefore, how you come to engage in it, and (2) how others with different personalities interpret such presentations. If personality is understood by management and workers alike, cooperation, and therefore, well-being and productivity is made much simpler for all.
Failing to understand personality, however, is one of the primary sources of workplace conflict. Therefore, creating some sort of infrastructure to understand personality within the workplace is worthwhile –for the sake of improving both productivity and the well-being of all in a given work environment.