When people step out of a conflict because of a so-called “personality clash”, chances are they are letting both themselves and the other person down.

“Personality clash” is a tempting label, but it is often lazy one.  More, it can actually sustain a conflict, by seeing it as “too difficult”.

Personality clash can also be a subtle way of demonising another.

However, with some more detailed awareness, this  seemingly intractable problem can actually be worked with productively rather than avoided through the typical generalisations and blanket statements. For example, what do they do or say? What gestures do they make? Be specific about one situation that stands out.  Go over what was said and how it was done.

Chances are there is a communication style difference that is escalating the problem, without either person realising it.

So what do you do?

First, take some time on your own or with support and re-enact an encounter that has bothered you.  Get clear on a gesture or expression they use and notice how it makes you feel.  See if you can then figure out why it makes you feel this way.  It might be something like a quick turn of the head. Is it a dismissive gesture that makes you feel small?  As a result, do you get the feeling the other person isn’t listening to you?  How does that support (or not) you and your team?

Second, see if it happens again, either with you or another colleague.  Check out whether what you worked on feels right or familiar to what you see.

Finally, find an opportunity to bring this up.  This requires a couple of important elements:

  1. That you are specific
  2. You own your response to it
  3. Explain why that is – from your point of view
  4. Check out whether they can understand that
  5. Finally, make sure you do it when you are not triggered. Chances are, if you have done the rest of the work, you will feel good about your discoveries and see them as the learning opportunity that they are.

Also be prepared for their different point of view.  Overall this is a learning opportunity for both of you.  It’s about how both of you send and receive information – and more awareness around is a good thing.  It gives you more choice and better understanding of relating to people’s different communication styles.  This in turn helps you better communicate your message.  And feel confident to handle challenging situations.

So next time you hear the words “personality clash” – take a moment and see whether that is really true.