Builder.com contributor Scott Robinson recently wrote an article advising managers how to navigate the tricky waters of conflicting personalities. Robinson outlined how personality conflicts on a team can wreak havoc and what development managers can do to remedy the situation, including resolving the problems publicly and having team members communicating only via e-mail.
At first blush, Robinson’s advice seemed reasonable, but Builder.com members disagreed. Here’s what some of them had to say.
E-mail communication can't solve personality conflicts
Robinson points out that in the current corporate environment it is possible that two disagreeable colleagues sitting next to each other could be forced to communicate via e-mail, copying you or another supervisor to prevent inappropriate words from being exchanged.
In Builder.com member Chadd’s experience, e-mail-only communication wasn’t a viable solution. "Telling us that we should only communicate through e-mail would only reinforce his anti-social behavior. I think that he archives everything that I send to him in case he can "catch" me on something. I've given up sending him anything for his archive mail. I'd be pissed if my boss told me that this was how to properly handle this."
Builder.com member Wayne M agreed that the e-mail "wall" is not a problem-solving mechanism, but it can help you decide what other issues are on the table. "From your message, the only issue I seem able to identify is that your coworker prefers to do all communication through e-mail. If that is the case, adapt to his style and send e-mail even though he is only a few steps away. If there are other issues, identify them and decide how you will address them."
Going public doesn't solve anything
Robinson suggests that the best way to diffuse team discord is to make the issue public by spotlighting—in a good-natured fashion—the problem. This advice didn’t sit well with Builder.com members who believe that personality problems should be settled behind closed doors and not as an afterthought in a weekly status meeting. Builder.com member BobbyHG said that when he witnessed this conflict-resolution technique, the warring partners ended up not only still angry at each other but humiliated, as well. He went on to say that the out-of-touch director who implemented this technique jeopardized the entire project because of it.
You have to be proactive
Builder.com members suggest that managers be proactive and seek a third-party mediator, such as human resources, to help neutralize the conflict. If the issues run deep, then it may take more than one sit-down meeting to get the issues on the table and resolved. Chadd offered the following advice: “I think the best advice would be to have a meeting set up with an unbiased third party to mediate. This way you would have face-to-face communication and whatever issues were brought up would have to be worked through. This would require that, once talked about, you could no longer "hang that over the other person’s head. It may take multiple meetings on a continual basis to work through deep-rooted issues."
At the end of the day, we all have to get along if we're going to meet the company mission and goals. Just because you have difficulties communicating with some coworkers and not others doesn’t mean you throw in the towel—although you may be tempted to. As fellow members have pointed out, there are many ways to resolve differences.
Throw in the towel?
What do you recommend for managing different personality types? Do you think that restricting communication to e-mail only does the trick? Post your comments below or send us an e-mail.