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Your Guide to Working Well With Someone Who’s (Really) Different From You

Category: Personality At Work

You prefer to have some independent time to process information, while your colleague would rather jump right in and spitball some ideas on the spot.

Your boss’ desk is so organized that it looks like it belongs in an office supply catalog, but yours is usually a collection of papers and half-full coffee mugs.

You thrive in high-pressure situations where you need to think on your feet, and your team member likes to rely on tried and true systems and predictable processes.

No two people have the exact same working style, and these types of differences are prevalent in the office. On the surface, they seem innocent enough. But, you likely know that these variations in our approaches and preferences can quickly breed frustration and conflict.

In fact, a survey of 2,000 American workers that was conducted by Olivet Nazarene University found that 100 percent of people (yep, that’s a real statistic) have been annoyed by a coworker.

Here’s the thing: It’s inevitable that you’re going to have to work with people who are different than you. It’s just the nature of the beast. How can you do so effectively—ideally, without endless eye rolls and exasperated sighs?

Let’s dig into four strategies you should put into play.

1. Remind Yourself That Differences Aren’t Inherently Bad

Blame our pesky egos, but we all have the tendency to think of our perspectives and preferences as superior to everybody else’s. It’s that old “my way or the highway” trap.

That makes it way too easy to assign malice to people who do things differently than us. They’re doing that intentionally to annoy you. Or, they’re doing it that way because they obviously don’t know there’s a better way.

If you don’t want your colleagues’ differences to serve as a constant point of contention for you, it’s important to remind yourself that just because something works well for you doesn’t mean it will work well for everyone. People are allowed to have their own methods and inclinations.

“You’re not betraying your chosen path by opening yourself to accepting that other paths have validity,” writes Dr. Matt James for Psychology Today.

The sooner you accept this fact, the easier time you’ll have accepting your team members’ differences at face value—rather than viewing them as characteristics that exist to make your life difficult.

2. Develop an Understanding of Each Other

One surefire way to let your differences sabotage your working relationships is to never address them. Instead, those gaps inspire you to use passive aggressive strategies in attempts to get your team members to acquiesce to your way of doing things.

It’s far better to address these differences head on by getting a thorough understanding of everybody you work closely with.

A reported 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies have used a Myers-Briggs personality assessment. That’s for good reason: it’s a great way to increase understanding among your team.

Whether you opt for the MBTI® or another test, making a personality assessment a team-wide activity is a great way for everybody to get in-depth details on people’s working styles, motivations, and more.

If you’re in a leadership position, consider rolling this out for your own team (you’re bound to see conflicts dissipate and collaboration skyrocket). If you’re an individual contributor? Offer this suggestion to your manager and explain how you think it could help everyone work together more effectively.

3. Create a Personal User Manual

Taking a personality assessment will give you a clearer idea of the approaches and preferences you and your coworkers bring to work, and it’s smart to have a candid conversation with each other to talk through the results and what you learned.

However, a single chat about those details probably won’t accomplish much (especially since the forgetting curve states that you’ll probably only retain about 30 percent of information that was presented after just one day).

So, rather than treating those assessments as a one-time topic of conversation, use those findings to create your own user manual—which is essentially a guide to working with you effectively. Make sure to suggest having everybody else on your team do the same.

These guides can contain any information that you think is important, but make sure to touch on things like:

  • Your ideal work environment

  • How you prefer to receive feedback

  • What motivates you at work

  • What frustrates you at work

Once everybody has created a simple guide that contains these facts about themselves, keep them somewhere safe and accessible (like in a shared folder) where everybody can reference that information when planning meetings or partnering up.

Beyond this more general guide, if there’s someone you work closely with on a frequent basis, you might also want to have a one-on-one conversation to lay some helpful ground rules.

Perhaps you’ll decide that you’ll stick a neon orange post-it to the corner of your computer monitor whenever you’re heads down in your work, and that’ll serve as a signal to your extraverted and chatty coworker that you don’t want to be interrupted.

Don’t be afraid to be honest (provided you’re willing to receive feedback too, of course) and establish these sorts of cues and expectations on an individual basis.

4. Be Prepared to Meet in the Middle

The above steps are helpful for understanding your colleagues—and ensuring that they understand you.

But, if you think this means that all of your working relationships will be perfect moving forward, think again. You’re all human, and your differences are probably still going to cause some challenges for you.

Remember, learning how to work effectively together is a process, and some mistakes are going to be made along the way. Plus, you can’t expect that everybody immediately bends to your every whim and prioritizes your preferences above their own.

So, be patient and engage in frequent check-in conversations if you think there are some ways you could improve your collaborations. Positive, lasting change doesn’t happen overnight.

Differences Make the Workplace Go ‘Round

You’re not going to work with people who are exactly like you—and honestly, you probably wouldn’t want to. Ultimately, it’s our differences that create a well-rounded team.

But even so, working with people who don’t share your same preferences or approach at work can present some challenges. Use these tips to make the most of what makes you all different—rather than letting those discrepancies lead to conflicts and frustrations.

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