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Decoding workplace personality conflicts

By Lynne Curry  bio

No one told you when you accepted a medical office manager job that your primary role would be that of peacemaker. You thought you’d be overseeing systems and finances; that the major hiccups you’d have to resolve would be ones involving computers and upset patients. Not even close. Instead, you put out people fires daily.

The players

There’s Daniel. He means well, but his immediate and incessant questioning of others’ ideas raises everyone’s hackles. Last week, a staff member who worked steadily for six weeks on an intricate project proudly presented it at an office-wide meeting. Before he’d even finished, Daniel raised his hand and critiqued a minor point. 

Then there’s Margaret, one of your physicians’ assistants, who acts like a task-focused guided missile, never stopping to acknowledge employees as she passes them in hallways. A small issue but it takes a toll.

When Glenna handed in her resignation last month, she cited Margaret’s behavior as a reason for seeking work elsewhere. “I’ve busted my butt for Margaret for two years now,” said Glenna, “and she’s never said ‘thank you’ once. And I say ‘good morning’ to her every morning and have yet to get a ‘hi’ or even a grunt in return.”

Finally, there’s Jamie, your head of marketing, and possibly the most talented but hardest to manage employee you’ve ever supervised. She never shows up to meetings on time, turns every discussion you have with her into a contest, and cheerily asks, “oh, was that rule important?” when you call her on policy violations. 

The personalities

Are the doctors, assistants, and support staff in your firm driving each other up the wall, leaving you to clean-up their messes? If so, you may find the descriptions below valuable in helping you resolve the inevitable people conflicts you face.

Relators like Glenna care about feelings, and how a practice’s leaders treats employees. Relators give and depend on support, connection, understanding and approval. Because relators expend energy to create workplace harmony, they feel the lack of positive human-to-human interaction when others don’t meet them half-way.

Relators are soft touches who give others a second and third chance. Relators often worry there’s something amiss or they’ve done something wrong when they don’t get the same cooperative treatment from others that they give. I often tell relators, “This other person didn’t mean a thing when he or she walked by your ‘Hi’ in the hallway without returning a greeting.”

If you’re a relator yourself, please remember that others can manipulate relators by withholding approval, understanding, or support from them, sending relators into a “trying harder” tail spin.

A detective’s favorite words are “why” and “Google.” Detectives like Daniel love to tweak others’ plans and proposals, not realizing how their comments, questions, and suggestions can deflate others’ feelings. Detectives thrive when they’re figuring things out, often diving over empathy into questioning and problem-solving when their co-workers find themselves in a tangle.

Interestingly, while detectives value competency and logic, their intellectual curiosity rarely extends to people issues. When detectives get into trouble with others, they need to realize, “Stop with the questions; you’re making your coworker feel interrogated.” 

Free spirits like Jamie push against boundaries. Free spirits hate to be boxed in and when others say, “Do it this way,” they raise an eyebrow and ask, “Oh really?” Free spirits also compete about things the rest of us don’t even see as contests, tying those of us who love systems into knots.  

Deciders such as Margaret (and many office administrators) value structure and systems. They expect others to fall into line and create systems and operating procedures because they want others to do things the right way—their way. 

Deciders thrive when developing and administering plans and provide and expect clearly defined expectations. They create and use to do lists and checklists so much that when they do things not on the list, they add these tasks to the list. Free spirits who violate rules drive deciders crazy.

Finally, none of these types of individuals do or act as you expect them; they do what makes sense to them.

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