Beverly Smallwood

Article Summary:

How to resolve team conflict by acknowledging differing personality styles within team members.

Conflict Resolution in Team Work: Dealing with Personality Style Differences

Of course you know that people on a team have different personalities. This can be good! When people use their various talents, all necessary functions and tasks are covered. Also, a team needs a balance of approaches. For example, the team needs both change and tradition, both vision and practicality, big picture and details, fast-paced and more relaxed pace, risk taking and caution, creativity and structure, people focus and task focus, process focus and content focus, outgoing style and reserve style.

As these differences play out in the interactions of the team, team members can challenge each other to expand their awareness and to grow. There is an opportunity for “harmony”, which does not involve everyone singing the same note, but singing different notes, blended together.


However, there are potential problems in personality style differences. The ability to recognize these early and to understand the fallacy in these problems is essential to being able to make the differences work for them. Here are some of the things to look for.

1. The perception that “my way is the right way.”
It is easy to think that, because something comes quite naturally to you, it must be the right way to do it. The truth is, there are many right ways to do it, and there is much to be learned from watching others who are able to get good results in another way.

2. Conflicts in daily situations in which differences are experienced.
Although the team needs the balance of the approaches described earlier, it is easy for these differences to cause conflict. However, the solutions are often discovered in the tension that results between the values brought to the situation by different team members.

3. Misreading of motives by using self as a reference.
Team members often “read” the behavior of fellow team members by asking themselves, “What would this mean if I were doing it?” For instance, if a team member were quiet in a meeting, a talkative member might conclude that that team member must be angry. The talkative person would reach that conclusion because if she became suddenly quiet in a meeting, it would probably mean that she had become irritated about something. This isn’t necessarily what another individual’s behavior means at all. Using self as a reference is at the root of many misunderstandings on the team.

4. Judging rather than appreciating differences.
Team members really do need people who are different from them for the team to be most effective. However, it is easy to fall into the trap of becoming judgmental about the way another person does something, rather than appreciating their differences.

5. The avoidance or exclusion of “troublemakers”.
The definition of “troublemakers” here could be either those who approach things differently or those who challenge a person. We need more “troublemakers” because people who challenge us cause us to think, reevaluate, and perhaps learn a new way to do things.

If team members can detect these tendencies in themselves and nip such problems in the bud, they will profit from the diversity that adds all the colors to the rainbow of the team.

Beverly Smallwood is a licensed psychologist who has worked with Fortune 500, healthcare, and other organizations around the world for over 20 years. Her specialties are leadership development, employee retention, and personal resilience. She’s often featured in such national media as MSNBC, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, FOX, and New York Times. To contact her about speaking, consulting, or coaching, call 877-CAN LEAD (226-5323) or visit her website Magnetic Places, where you can also sign up for her free email newsletter.

Read all advice by Beverly Smallwood; Find more Team Building experts

More advice on Team Building
» Workplace Teamwork: Where NOT to Use Teams
» How Prospects and Customers View Us
» all Team Building articles