How to Manage Personalities at Work

Managing the variety of personalities at work can be difficult. Experts explain six of them and how to communicate with each.

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For as many people that work at a given company, there are just as many different personalities. Managing them all can be tough.

“That’s why managers get paid the big bucks,” said Benjamin Schneider, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Maryland and affiliate research scientist at the Center for Effective Organizations at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California. “The managers who are able to understand that they may have to deal with Jim a little bit differently than they deal with Tim are the ones who are more effective,” he said.

However, business leaders shouldn’t try to change employees’ personalities. “Managers should learn to deal with people’s personalities,” Schneider said.

To do this, the first step is to pick a personality typology test to follow so there’s a baseline understanding of personality at the organization, according to Melissa Moore, senior vice president and chief people officer at Mattersight Corp., a customer experience and behavior analytics company based in Chicago. Then, managers and employees need training, and workers need to begin using personality profiles as part of their daily life to understand each other.

There are numerous ways to measure personality, including the five-factor model, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and many more. Mattersight employs the Process Communication Model, which uses language to identify personalities and provide suggestions for how to communicate with others. According to Mattersight, the following are the personalities identified by PCM and the keys to communicating with workers in each category:

  1. Organizer — This worker is logical, organized and responsible. To manage this type of employee, leaders should be specific, detailed and data oriented in their communication. Also, they should be mindful of their time, show responsibility and work in a linear fashion.
  2. Connector — This person is compassionate, sensitive and warm. Leaders should be understanding, caring and personal with this worker personality type. Take time with them and demonstrate sympathy to how they’re feeling.
  3. Advisor — Advisors are dedicated, observant and conscientious. Managers should show these workers respect by using formal and professional language. Listen carefully to what they’re saying, and acknowledge the importance of their work.
  4. Original — They are spontaneous, creative and playful. Leaders should be expressive, relaxed and playful with them. Make these workers comfortable by speaking casually, and react to their sense of humor.
  5. Doer — A doer is adaptable, persuasive and charming. Managers should keep discussion points short and focus on action. Start with the bottom line, and give interactions an edge to keep the conversation interesting.
  6. Dreamer — Dreamers are workers that are imaginative and reflective. Managers should remain calm with dreamers and give clear direction to them. Steer clear of a touchy feely approach, and present simple and unadorned bullet points.

“All styles can do anything that they set their mind out to,” Moore said. Some just work and communicate differently than others.

It’s important for leaders to identify these personality types during the hiring process. With Moore, every job candidate takes a test to see their personality patterns, and interviewers use the information to understand how mature the potential hire is when dealing with their weaknesses. By going through this process, Mattersight tends to have fewer doers and dreamers on their teams, which Moore said is simply because of the nature of their work. Doers, or people who thrive in high-pressure environments, and dreamers, who need reflective time and isolation, are less likely to fit with the culture and work at Mattersight.

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This makes sense when thinking about the kinds of people who work in various roles and with those who tend to be quite similar. Occupations tend to contain people with similar kinds of personalities, USC’s Schneider said. There typically are not gross differences in people in particular roles, so that makes the jobs of managers a bit less challenging than if people came to a company randomly.

That being said, personalities require feedback. “The major positive characteristic of successful managers is recognizing people for their effective performance,” Schneider said. “They don’t do it enough.”

Managers tend to pay attention when their workers are ineffective, so most interactions between the two parties are negative. However, people respond better to positive feedback. “The more you can give positive feedback to people, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to be an effective manager,” Schneider said.

And feedback and performance reviewing should not be an annual event, Schneider said. “Performance feedback is an ongoing issue, and the more you can find positive things to say about people and positive kinds of feedback to give them, the more they will empathize with you and the kinds of requirements that you may have for them,” he said. This involves looking for how effectively talent works, rather than how they do the job. Once effective performance is identified, reinforce it.

How to Give Feedback

“There are a lot of different personalities in the workplace, but there’s only one style that manages everybody,” said Dalton Kehoe, president at Communicate for Life, a communication consulting firm based in Toronto, and senior scholar of communication studies at York University. “That is the positive, outgoing style that allows people to actually feel that they’re being supported by the manager,” Kehoe said.

If a manager makes judgments and demands, workers respond to those actions as emotional threats, he said, which puts people on guard. Their energy to solve an issue reduces, and people become disengaged.

Instead of managing in a judgmental way, Kehoe listed ways to effectively communicate positive feedback:

  1. Don’t tell people what to do. Instead, ask questions about how they can solve an issue. This gives people a chance to respond without feeling controlled.
  2. Then, listen openly to what they offer. Reflect their ideas back to them to demonstrate understanding.
  3. Don’t blame or openly attack a worker for a situation or how they work.
  4. Be open and accepting of alternatives.
  5. Be patient, especially with those who have different personalities.

Lauren Dixon is an associate editor at Talent Economy. To comment, email

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