Understanding Workplace Personality Clashes - Are Your Colleagues “Difficult” Or Just “Different? - E-Mediate

Understanding Workplace Personality Clashes – Are Your Colleagues “Difficult” Or Just “Different?

You don’t have to be a psychologist to know that, as human beings, we are all very different. And this is a good thing. If we all approached life in the same way and had the same thought processes and behaviours, life would be pretty predictable, boring and unproductive. The fact that we all bring something different to the table makes us better as a group, particularly at work. The secret is understanding what motivates us to be different, and what we can do to better get on with people who approach life from different perspectives to ourselves.

There are numerous theories on why we are all so different. The old “nature vs nurture” theory comes into play here – are we born a certain way, or are we the end result of the way in which we were raised? Perhaps it’s a combination of the two? Or maybe, as many believe, our behaviour and personality is influenced by who we were in previous lives?

But here’s the thing: It’s not actually the “why” that’s important, it’s the “how.”

At the end of the day, why we are the way we are doesn’t matter. What matters is understanding how the way we are makes us behave. When we understand how our personalities affect our behaviour, we’ll know how we can better get on with people with personality types different to our own.

Our predisposition to a particular personality type means we have specific strengths and weaknesses common to that type. At work, for example, why do you struggle to get the boss to listen to you, while a colleague always seems to have his ear? Why can some people effortlessly build and maintain an impressive network of customers, while others battle daily? The truth is, it’s not only professional expertise that brings success. When you have a deep understanding of what drives your own behaviour – and that of others – you can use this insight to foster better, healthier relationships. The result? Better outcomes – every time.

Which Personality Types Get On Better With Each Other?

Lady showing frustration behind girl on computerThe first thing people normally want to know once they learn their own Enneagram type is: what types are they are more likely to get along with? The truth, however, is that there isn’t actually a magical combination. No pairing is particularly sacred, and, equally, no pairing is particularly hopeless. Anyone can have a relationship – personal or professional – with any type, provided both people are emotionally healthy with high levels of self-awareness.

Self-awareness means not being blind to the strengths and weaknesses of your own personality type. Because, if we don’t understand our own motivations, three key problems arise:

  • We don’t correct our negative traits, resulting in a high likelihood of failure and unhappiness.
  • We only focus on the negatives, failing to see and appreciate our strengths.
  • We miss out on opportunities to use our strengths and work on our weaknesses.

It’s also important to understand the motivations of others. This awareness can help us:

  • Enjoy smoother, conflict-free interactions with others.
  • Avoid getting stuck in the first impression trap, so we see the person as a whole.

Compatibility is definitely more about both people having similar levels of self-awareness than it is about having supposedly complimentary personality types. However, knowing each personality type, and understanding the fears and desires that drive them, significantly improves the way you interact with people.

Zoning out - personality Tips For Relating Better To  The Nine Enneagram Personality Types


  • Respect their integrity and don’t take it too personally if they appear critical or judgmental.
  • Help them be less critical of themselves by showing them their own strengths and helping them accept their imperfections.


  • Initiate contact, and show your approval or appreciation.
  • Help them set boundaries with others so they find time to focus on their own needs.


  • Remind them that people are important, and that success looks different for everyone.
  • Don’t get in the way of their momentum or slow them down by taking up too much of their time.


  • Appreciate their creativity, and try to avoid insisting they conform or be unemotional and rational.
  • Don’t take their moodiness or critical attitude too seriously.


  • Try to avoid pressurising them into making quick decisions.
  • Be aware of their tendency to control by withdrawing; challenge them to be warm and giving.


  • Appreciate their fondness for rules and procedures, and try to avoid sudden changes in either.
  • Help them take responsibility for their own behaviour instead of externalising causes.


  • Encourage them to talk less and listen more, but don’t be too negative; appreciate their stories and ideas.
  • Help them balance their ideas with common sense so they stay grounded.


  • Don’t take it too personally when they’re aggressive or bossy.
  • Be empathetic if their feelings are hurt, but don’t allow destructive or threatening behaviour.


  • Help them stay on track by working with them to create structures and schedules, but don’t be impatient or try to push them around.
  • Appreciate their tendency to withdraw to avoid conflict, and try to find out what’s going on inside their heads.

To help you see just how effective Enneagram is at defining personalities, take this shortened (quiz) (but highly accurate) version of our Integrative Questionnaire. You’ll receive an analysis report telling you into which of the nine personality categories you fall, and the characteristics of that personality. Once you’ve taken the test yourself, why not share it with others in your team?

If you’d like to find out more about Enneagram, and the amazing impact it can have on your team dynamics and productivity, contact Ellen Edwards on 082 940 2486, or email her at ellen@emediate.co.za