“Every human is like all other humans, some other humans, and no other human.” Clyde Kluckhon
Personality and Conflict
Personality encompasses a person’s relatively stable feelings, thoughts, and behavioral patterns. Each of us has a unique personality that differentiates us from other people, and understanding someone’s personality gives us clues (not hard and fast rules!) about how that person is likely to act and feel in a variety of situations. If personality is stable, does this mean that it does not change? You probably recognize how you have changed and evolved as a result of your own life experiences, parenting style and attention you have received in early childhood, successes and failures you experienced over the course of your life, and other life events. In fact, personality does change over long periods of time. For example, we tend to become more socially dominant, more conscientious (organized and dependable), and more emotionally stable between the ages of 20 and 40, whereas openness to new experiences tends to decline as we age (Roberts, 2006). In other words, even though we treat personality as relatively stable, change occurs. To manage conflict effectively, it is helpful to understand the different personalities types.
To get an understanding of your personality type, take the quiz at www.16personalities.com e.g [new tab].
While we will discuss the effects of personality on conflict, please remember that this information gives us clues into what might be important to someone, it does not give us a magic formula to fully understand another person. Personality is just one piece of a 1,000 piece puzzle that makes someone who they are. Said another way, don’t use someones personality type to stereotype them.
Outer world of action and interaction
Inner world of thought and impressions
Imagination—patterns, ideas, curiosities
Pragmatic—facts and practical realities
Subjective, personal, empathetic
Objective, impersonal, logical
Planned, orderly, decisive, control events
Flexible, spontaneous, open-ended, experience events
Self-assured, even-tempered, stress-resistant
Self-conscious, stress-sensitive, and success-driven
These continuums provide interesting insight into where personality could be the cause of conflict in our relationships. It’s important to note that just because someone has the opposite letter than you on any of these continuums, it doesn’t mean there will be conflict, it means there could be conflict.
Think about the following example of conflict between introverts and extroverts.
Your partner, an introvert, comes home after work a full day of work. You, an extrovert, asks how their day was. Their response begins and ends with “Good.” Then they go and sit on the couch without asking you how your day was.
You, the extrovert, become hurt by their short answer and seeming lack of interest in your day. Your partner, the introvert, could be annoyed at you asking about their day as soon as they get home.
This is a pretty standard situation that causes conflict in romantic partnerships, but it doesn’t have to be. In this scenario, understanding our personalities gives us the chance to understand ourselves and our partners needs, which in this case are very different. Introverts gain and gather energy through alone time, so after a long day at work, they will likely need some time to themselves Extroverts on the other hand gain and gather energy through interactions with other people. These difference in how we gain and gather energy could very well be the cause of the above conflict. Instead of taking each other behaviors, one wanting some alone time and one wanting to talk, personally (being hurt or annoyed with each other, we can use this understand to set up clear expectations for how conversations look at the end of the work day.
Each dimension of personality can lead to these kinds of conflict.
Think about the following example of conflict between observant and intuitive.
You, the observant one, are having a conversation about a project at work with your boss, the intuitive one. Your boss starts describing what they expect from the project. “We want to create an amazing employee experience. We want people to want to come to work, for the space to be inviting, and for people to have the support they need to do their work.” You think that sounds good, but aren’t exactly sure how that should really look. So you ask “How do you think we should go about doing that? What do you think the next steps are?” Your boss continues to talk about the employee experience they want to create, but don’t get into the practicality of how the experience should be developed or what the next step is. You leave the meeting annoyed and confused. Your boss isn’t sure what else they could have said to be more clear.
This is a typical example of the differences between someone who is Observant (S) and someone who is Intuitive (N). Observant ways of processing information is to look for the practicality, the facts, and the reality of implementing new ideas. Intuitive ways of processing information is to explore new ideas, imagining how concepts connect, and dreaming up as many ideas as possible. These are really different ways of processing information, and often lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings. This continuum is all about the old adage about “being on the same page.” Folks on the different ends of this continuum will often think they are on the same page, but what they see on that page is very different.
Think about the following example of conflict between feeling and thinking.
You, the feeling one, are in a meeting. Your team is looking to decide how to proceed with changes to your work processes. You feel like these changes should be based on what the team says. You coworker, the thinking one, thinks the changes should be based on what the data analysis says (which is different than what the team has indicated needs to change). You feel frustrated that you coworker doesn’t seem to care about the teams ideas. Your coworker thinks you are analyzing the situation wrong and doesn’t understand why you are ignoring what the data says.
This is a common example in the differences in priorities for thinkers vs feelings. This is not to say that feelers don’t care about data OR that thinkers don’t care about people, it is simply an example of how these difference styles priorities information for decision making. Thinkers prioritize making decisions objectively based on data and logic. Feelers prioritize making decision subjectively and based on people and empathy.
Think about the following example of conflict between judging and prospecting.
You, the prospector, propose a friends trip for the end of the school year, sometime in June, it is currently January. You mention this to your best friend, a judger. In one week your best friend has an entire trip planned and they are asking you if you want to make reservations at hotels or camp grounds. You, the prospector, have no interest in planning this far in advance and would greatly prefer to just go on the trip and see how things go. Your friend gets annoyed that you don’t appreciate all their hard work and that you don’t want to plan ahead of time. You are shocked that there is even a plan and feel stressed out that the whole trip is planned out.
This is a common experience between judgers and prospectors. Judgers feel safe and confident with a plan and once a plan is set they want to simply follow the plan. Prospectors are most comfortable exploring new ideas and information and recomputing plans.
Think about the following example of conflict between assertive and turbulent.
You, the assertive one, it’s Friday and you tell your good friend or coworker that you want to talk to them on Monday. Your friend or coworker, the turbulent one, feels very nervous and stressed out all weekend. They are frustrated that you didn’t give them more information. You don’t see what the big deal is.
This is a regular challenge between assertive and turbulent folks. Assertive folks feel confident in their decisions, are stress resistant and even tempered. They sometimes don’t consider the stress other people might experience when making decisions. Turbulent folks less confident in their decision making and more stress-sensitive.
Managing Personality in Conflict
These different personality dimensions require us to assume differences with our friends, families, and co-workers. Instead of assuming that people think, understand, and want things to work like you, we need to assume we are all different. Only then can we start leveraging these differences to improve our relationship. Understanding these differences allows us to approach managing and resolving conflicts in a much more productive way.
Below is a great TedTalk from Susan Cain on The Power of Introverts. It provides interesting insights for Introverts and Extroverts in work with their differences in productive ways.