Personality clashes at work

Business Coach Lisa finds an opportunity for personal growth.

LG photoLisa Gaines

As a business coach I spend a lot of my time on coaching calls with clients listening to the many challenges they face in the workplace and in their businesses. In many cases, the main challenge is relating to staff. I work with a lot of health care professionals who are often exposed to patients in physical pain and I’m amazed this rarely comes up on calls. Instead, we can spend an hour discussing what strategies will help alleviate the emotional pain when there are personality clashes in the workplace.

Neuroscience research, led by Naomi Eisenberger at the social and affective neuroscience lab at UCLA, has shown that social exclusion creates a similar response in our brains and physiology as that of physical pain. It appears to me that social and emotional pain can often last much longer. It’s what our minds seem to grasp at and chew on, exhaustively at times.

I worked for several years in children’s hospitals in Sydney and all over New South Wales where I was exposed to unimaginable suffering of children and their families. What’s interesting is that I can also clearly recall my own distress when I had painful issues arise between myself and my colleagues with who I worked with closely at that time.

When I came to Australia sixteen years ago, I went through a period where I devoured self-help/personal growth books. I took to many of the ideas most of them suggest; ‘everyone is our mirror’, being a favourite. If we have an emotional charge, otherwise known as a trigger, there’s something there for us to see, some gift or treasure to discover, like a disowned shadow aspect of ourselves. Or we may need to see something we need to let go of, like a judgement or some kind of resentment we might be holding on to. This sounds simple but I know well when someone does something that triggers strong emotions it can take a lot for us to pause and withhold the expletives.

Try this, the next time someone at work really pisses you off and you notice it’s been several hours and you’re still going over what happened in your mind…simply stop. Stop the snowball effect of your mind racing and put on the brakes. Dig deeper and look for the gift. Some great questions you can ask yourself are ‘where do I do what this person is doing?, ‘where in me is this behaviour unacceptable?’ or ‘what am I not owning in myself?’.

Remembering these two points ‘we are all connected’ and ‘everyone one I see is a reflection of me’ are the fastest ways I know to create peace and harmony in our lives. It’s simply being open to the concept that the other person is not really the monster we’re making them out to be, even if they have acted like a monster in the past. We are the ones still holding them in this position of being the monster now and we’re not meeting them fresh or giving them the opportunity to be who they are in this moment. This creates separation and separation is painful.

It’s not easy. I know from personal experience. In recent years I worked with a guy who many of my colleagues agreed was a monster. Some even did some reading and shared an article about workplace psychopaths. It was easy to buy into that story. I remember discussing with my coach about how ‘this guy is so toxic, I don’t want to be around him’. My coach asked me a question that made me pause and think: ‘Do you think the way you’re speaking and thinking about this guy is not toxic?’. Wow! I was contributing to perpetuating the idea that this guy was toxic. When in reality, most people who act out in ugly ways when relating to people do so because they are unhappy and have a lot of emotional wounding themselves. Where was the compassion? I realised then, how easy it is to forget compassion when we’re feeling our own ‘stuff’ and aligning with a mob mentality. I did my best to drop these ideas about my colleague and we mostly related with ease from then on. There were a couple of times I needed to dig deep and match his energy when we had a disagreement and as soon as I did, I felt the trust and respect grow. There are many ways to experiment with these workplace personality clashes.

There are also many layers to all of this – some personality clashes can trigger a similar pain we may have experienced from a childhood wound that needs our attention so we can fully let it go or can help us recognise a belief that no longer serves us. We also need to deal with our expectations and sense of entitlement. How many times as a coach have I heard ‘she should do this or that’ or ‘he should just know, I shouldn’t have to tell him again’. I have to question these concepts. How can anyone just know something? We need to communicate clearly and perhaps even reset expectations.

Many years have passed since I started working with these concepts and I rarely have personality clashes with co-workers these days. When strong emotions come up, I’m quick to catch myself and recognise I’m projecting something on to one of my colleagues. It’s amazing how quickly the emotional charge dissipates when we become aware we’re caught up in some story.

I’ll leave you with this wonderful quote from Alan Cohen that pretty much sums up the potential for personality clashes in the workplace. Feel free to add your thoughts, I would love to hear about your relationships at work and any different ways that allow you to relate more easily with colleagues.

Every experience is fertile material for transformation and awakening.

– Alan Cohen

Lisa Gaines – Wise Working Woman
Lisa Gaines is the Principal Coach and Facilitator at Brilliant Life, Coaching and Consulting and a Business Coach and Workplace Trainer. Lisa has an extensive corporate background in account management, sales and customer relations in industries including IT and Telecommunications, Non Government Organisations, Training and Events and Adult Education. Since arriving in Australia from Ireland 16 years ago, Lisa has had a passionate interest in health and wellbeing. She has dedicated much of her time outside work exploring all avenues of healing on physical, mental, spiritual and emotional levels and loves working with people supporting their growth, development and success in living an inspired life. Contact Lisa at
Life Balance = Relaxation. Presence. Passion.