DaVita Stories

Workplace Challenges: Navigating Personality Conflicts

Modern work life requires considerable team work. In today’s work world, “team members” work on projects, complete “deliverables”, and work together to improve the customer experience. It’s the new world order.

The good news is that teams can be more innovative and high performing than individual output. It’s true—the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But do modern day workers have the skills to work together effectively? What about co-workers who are difficult to get along with? What about co-workers who are clueless about how they come across to others? And what about colleagues who seem to spend most of the day texting their boyfriend while everyone else is staying late to meet deadlines?

Most people play well in the sandbox. But then again, some don’t.  We all know who they are. They have a hard time sharing, giving credit where credit is due, and getting along with others. They can come across as grumpy, demanding, and let’s face it—just plain difficult.

Here’s an example: Bill is always the first person at his desk and the last one to leave. He’s a hard worker. But his teammate Sandy is always late and seems to spend a large part of the day schmoozing at the water cooler. Bill doesn’t know what to do—he feels like he’s stuck doing most of the work assigned to both of them.

So what are some key elements for working well together?

Don’t keep your feelings inside. Resentment is bad for you and bad for others. Anger, kept inside, festers, and will ruin your wellbeing. Find a diplomatic, kind, and clear way to express your feelings to your co-workers. If someone is doing something that’s bothering you, get it off your chest.

There is always a generous, tactful way of saying something—”Joe, I am sure that you have good reasons, but it seems that you frequently get to work late. I really value your help on this project and would appreciate it if you would get to work on time so we can get the job done. Is there anything going on that I don’t know about?”

Don’t vent to co-workers about someone else. Venting your feelings about Joe to Bill is a recipe for fostering an unhealthy, unhappy, unproductive work place! It makes you feel good temporarily but doesn’t do anything to address the problem. It also puts Bill in an awkward position. Then he is wondering if you’re talking to Sam about him. If you have something you need to say, say it directly to whom it concerns.

“But that makes me uncomfortable!”. Of course it does!  Most of us aren’t comfortable with conflict. But that isn’t a reason not to address problems. Do it sooner rather than later.

Seek to understand the other person. Sometimes difficult people have difficult lives that we don’t know anything about—sick parents, troubled children, or challenging marriages. All we see is what’s on the surface. Look a little deeper before you make a judgment.

Make sure to give credit to others. Adults that work closely together can take each other for granted, just like married couples. Let your co-workers know when you’re grateful for something they did. Be generous with praise.

Focus on the positives. For some years, I worked with a difficult colleague that was hard to get along with, and I’m pretty sure didn’t like me, but who was an excellent provider who always went the extra mile for patients! I admired this colleague’s dedication to his work even if we rubbed each other the wrong way.

Be a source of light. I can’t change anyone else, but I can endeavor to spread good will, kindness, compassion, and empathy wherever I go. While this may not make your co-worker a good camper, at least you will be a positive influence on your environment.

And you will feel good about yourself.

Dr. Paul Schoenfeld

Dr. Paul Schoenfeld

Dr. Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist with The Everett Clinic, a DaVita Medical Group, and the Director of The Everett Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health. He specializes in working with children, families and adults. In his spare time, he’s a second degree black belt in Aikido (a peaceful martial art) and teaches aikido to children in Seattle. In addition (like many Pacific Northwesterners) he likes to hike, bike, and play in the sun (and rain).