Sadly, many of the people I have worked with over the years ended up leaving a job or getting terminated because of a personality clash at work. We coach around how to answer the inevitable “why did you leave ABC company?” as we work on the resume and in specific interview coaching sessions but this is one issue that makes everyone uncomfortable.
How do you discuss a personality clash at work?
When a client explains his departure, we see if there is another way to discuss the end of a job. When you are in an interview and you start talking about a personality clash at work, the easy assumption by the interviewer is that you could have the same problem at their company. Is it possible that your job ended because of corporate restructuring or a merger acquisition? Both of those reasons are so common today that they lack the stigma of a personality clash at work. By offering a different reason for the dismissal, you avoid labeling your boss or upper management as the problem and in the end, that makes you look better too.
Could you resolve a personality clash at work?
There are so many causes of personality clashes that it is hard to generalize and say that there is a solution for all of them. There are some strategies that greatly enhance the ability to avoid, avert, and resolve a personality clash at work.
- Scenario #1 — You were offended by something someone said.
To resolve this kind of a problem, you need to take the high road. It is really easy to get riled up and upset when you hear someone say something about you or your work. First of all, if you didn’t hear it first hand, you may be getting misinformation. You have two choices, go back to the first person and ask them about the problem or decide it isn’t worth getting upset about it and just forget it.
Secondly, even if you did hear it directly, it may not have been said in the spirit that you took it. Some personalities tend to talk without thinking. If you have a sensitive personality or if you are already having a bad day, you may take to heart something that was just someone mouthing off.
If you decide that it is a larger problem, contact that person directly and let them know your reaction, “When I heard that you think I failed at the assignment, it made me feel upset, I always try to do my best job. Can we talk about how I can do it differently next time?
- Scenario #2 — You and the other person cannot get along
There will be someone whose personality grates on you and perhaps your personality grates on them. If you are in a position where you need to work together with this person, try finding some common ground. Find topics you can agree. Give them a compliment when they get it right. (I don’t mean you should gush all over them, just find a sincere way to point out the good.)
If you can do your work without the person to minimize the opportunity for conflict, this may be helpful at least until you can resolve a specific issue.
- Scenario #3 — The person is jealous or threatened by you
When someone is driven by fear, they react defensively. If someone is afraid that you will take all the glory, try giving them credit when credit is due for a project they completed. If this person is your boss, let them know that you are a team player and you don’t need the spotlight. Many personality clashes at work are caused when someone who is very skilled does great work that causes the boss to worry that they could be replaced. Acknowledge that possibility and be an asset but not a threat.
What should you do if you cannot resolve a personality clash at work?
If there is no logical resolution and you cannot seem to find common ground to create an amicable workplace, maybe it is time to move on. Don’t quit abruptly though, quietly start preparing to make a move (update your resume, improve your LinkedIn profile, start networking), thoroughly investigate new opportunities, and then make the move. Depending on the level of your career and the industry, a career move can take 6 to 14 months.
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