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Can’t They Just Get Along?

Can’t They Just Get Along?

We think personality clashes are inevitable. But are they? rivalry, conflict, workplace

After spending 36 years unraveling people dynamics in the workplace, I've learned that while we all give lip service to the idea that not everyone does things the same way, we all secretly hope that others will choose to do things the right way, our way, and then everything will run more smoothly.

It helps to realize that four main types exist in every workplace and -- since other types won't always adjust to our type and beliefs -- we need to better interact with others. To make these types memorable, the following descriptions present each in its extreme form.


"Relators" care about feelings and how decisions affect others. They both give and depend on support and understanding. If it's not there, they feel the lack. Because relators expend energy to create workplace harmony and care about others' views, others can manipulate relators by giving or withholding approval from them -- sending relators into a "trying harder" tailspin.

These soft touches both cut others slack and worry they've done something wrong or that there's something amiss with their co-workers when they don't get the same cooperative treatment from others that they give. I often tell relators, "Hey, she didn't mean a thing when she walked by your 'Hi' in the hallway without returning a greeting, her focus was on month-end financials."


A "detective's" favorite words are "why" and "Google." Detectives value competency and logic, yet their intellectual curiosity rarely extends to people issues.

They're always trying to figure things out, often diving over empathy when their co-workers find themselves in a tangle. For example, if a relator stands in front of a copier saying, "Darn, this stopped working," the detective often launches into a series of questions starting with, "What were you doing when it stopped?" If the relator answers, "Just trying to make a copy" and the detective continues with questions, the relator feels blamed. When detectives get into trouble with others, they need to realize they should stop asking questions -- they're making their co-worker feel interrogated.

Free Spirits

"Free spirits" push boundaries. If you say, "Don't cross this line," they jump on it asking, "This one?" with their toes half over the line. While free spirits rarely make it to meetings on time, they always have a good story.

Free spirits hate to be boxed in and when others say, "Do it this way," they think, "Oh really?" They compete about things the rest of us don't even see as contests until they've won, like who leaves the office first on a sunny, Friday afternoon.


"Deciders" love structure and systems. They invent standard operating procedures because they want others to do things the right way -- their way.

They love to plan, expect clearly defined expectations, hate to leave things in flux and love to make lists so much that when they do things that aren't on the list, they add the tasks to the list. Free spirits who violate rules drive deciders crazy.


Finally, all styles work and all have their strengths and weaknesses. The good news is that you can untangle many workplace dramas by helping individuals realize that co-workers may dance to different drummers. After all, your co-worker doesn't do what you expect him to do, he does what makes sense to him.


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Lynne Curry, Ph.D., SPHR and owner of the Alaska-based management consulting firm, The Growth Company Inc. consults with companies and individuals to create real solutions to real workplace challenges. Their services include HR On-call (a-la-carte HR), investigations, mediation, management/employee training, executive coaching, 360/employee reviews and organizational strategy services. You can reach Lynne @, via her workplace 911/411 blog, or @lynnecurry10 on twitter.

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