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How understanding personality differences can help with workplace restoration

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In workplace restoration processes, when engaging with the respective parties, it often becomes apparent to me that a factor contributing to their conflict may be the differences in their respective personalities. That is because those differences impact how they communicate, how they approach their work, their expectations of others, their expectations of themselves and so much more. When I gain an understanding of the individuals with whom I am engaging in a restoration process it usually gives me insight into the source of the concerns and inspires potential options for resolution. So, in this blog, I will discuss how understanding differences in personalities can help with workplace restoration.

As an illustration, I will use the theory of the four types of temperaments – sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. The idea originated from the ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates. The essence behind the theory of the four temperaments is that they represent inborn traits that cause us to do the things that we do. It is said that we all have a combination of the temperaments with one temperament being most dominant. According to the theory, the following are some of the traits of the four temperaments:

    • Sanguine – Sanguine people are viewed as extroverted and sociable. They are seen as positive and outgoing and can be very energetic and engaging. They are usually overly exciting people who are fun to be around and are typically the ones who want to stop by and have a conversation. On the flip side, the same traits that make them fun and outgoing can also make them impulsive, indecisive, or somewhat disorganized. They are usually adventure seekers.
    • Choleric – Choleric folks are considered to be dominant and assertive. They are usually goal-oriented, high-achievers, self-motivated, and very focused. They are often the ones to be selected or even assert themselves as leaders or may be viewed as “the strict one” in a group. They tend to be logical and straightforward and are generally quite extroverted. The difficulty with those who are choleric is that as highly motivated as they are, that tunnel vision focus on their goals may cause them to lose sight of building meaningful connections and relationships. They do not always have the patience for small talk and may prefer to operate alone.
    • Phlegmatic – A phlegmatic person is typically easy going and patient. They tend to “go with the flow” and are generally okay with things being as they are with no need for change. They usually want to preserve relationships and maintain peace. They tend not to be very emotive and usually present as calm and composed. That said, their “go with the flow” attitude causes them to avoid conflict and not necessarily assert themselves in situations. They are not usually the ones to want to rock the boat. As you would imagine, the phlegmatic is usually a bit more introverted.
    • Melancholic – Contrary to what may be immediately thought, melancholic people are not necessarily sad. Rather, they are usually quite deep and analytical thinkers who strive for perfection. They are usually methodic in their approach to tasks. That said, because they are so methodic and committed to their pursuit of perfection, they may get frustrated or anxious when things do not go the way that they think they should. They can be pessimistic and sometimes blame themselves for outcomes. They usually value family and friendships, but they may not usually seek adventure.

As you are reading, you may be assessing what temperament you have or those with whom you generally interact. Now, think for a moment about those temperaments coming together in a workplace. Can you see the conflict spawning? Perhaps a lightbulb is going off for you as you think back on some conflicts that have arisen in your workplace and you may now be understanding why they came to be. For example, think of the choleric supervisor who is tunnel-visioned, straightforward with no time for small talk, having to supervise the sanguine employee who craves social interaction and struggles to stay focused and make decisions. Similarly, think of a melancholic employee having to work on a team with a sanguine. You can almost imagine the disaster, if you have not already lived it.

Whether or not the temperaments theory is true (like any other personality testing) it is helpful to remember that there are always different personalities at the table that may impact how individuals interact and react with one another. Conflict is usually inevitable once there are different personalities involved, but that does not mean that people with different personalities cannot work together. It just means that when considering the best approach to restoring the workplace in the event of a conflict, it is helpful to consider the personalities involved. Having that understanding may give insight into the best steps to take towards achieving meaningful engagement between them. For example, a tunnel-visioned supervisor with no room for small talk may need coaching on how to engage and build a relationship with their team and a duo with one person being analytical and methodic and the other being less structured may need to set defined goals and timelines to guide their work together on a project.

In addition to the above, when considering workplace restoration, it sometimes helps for those involved in the conflict to gain an understanding of the other person’s tendencies. I always say that the goal of workplace restoration is not agreement; the goal is to gain understanding that would then create the space for discussion around what is needed to move forward productively. When people understand each other, there is a greater likelihood of them being able to work together.

The takeaway is that when engaging in workplace restoration, it is always useful to understand the different personalities that are at the table. Each person brings their own strength to the tasks at hand. So, the goal is to leverage their strengths and explore what supports can be provided to overcome any weaknesses that might stand as a barrier. Therefore, the next time you have a conflict in the workplace, perhaps involving employees who have a pattern of conflict, step back and reflect on the differences in their respective personalities and consider:

    1. If the personality differences may be a contributing factor
    2. Whether they can be enlightened about their respective differences
    3. Whether their respective strengths can be leveraged to improve the relations between them; and
    4. What, if any, support can be given to help them overcome any potential challenges or weaknesses that they might have

Workplace restoration, to be effective, requires us to think more broadly and deeply about the people that we work with and what is needed to create a harmonious and safe workplace.

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