Understanding and Managing Different Personalities at Work

Every person has their own unique set of characteristics, strengths, and weaknesses that define them in the workplace. As a manager, your job is to utilize these characteristics to bring everyone together toward a common goal. It’s no easy task, yet one of the most vital jobs you have each day in the office.

‍Understanding and managing different personalities at work is a vital skill in creating high-performing teams. By comprehending various personalities at work, you can choose tasks and jobs suited to each person within your business.

‍Unfortunately, we all tend to make the mistake of assuming that others interact and think the same way we do; this is called a false conscious bias. In reality, the only assumption is that management styles that work for one person may not work for another.

‍Building upon this idea, effective leadership in the workplace hinges on intrinsic concepts at an individual personality level. What motivates and inspires one person isn't the same for others.‍ To effectively lead a team, you must understand what makes each member tick.

By understanding your team's different personalities, identifying personality traits, and taking continued or new manager training, you can learn how to work effectively with each individual by motivating them, communicating with them, and bringing everyone together into a cohesive team.

The Fallacy of the Golden Rule

Woman thinking about different things to do as manager.

“Treat others the way you want to be treated.”

A lot of us grew up with this Golden Rule, right? We were taught that we must treat others the way we like to be treated. It’s a good idea in theory, and a vital lesson to impart to children.

But here's the thing, the Golden Rule is wrong when you’re talking about managing different types of people in a work environment, yet the same mantra is often used.

It's fundamentally wrong because it makes one huge assumption: that others want to be treated the way you want to be treated when, in fact, they want to be treated in an individualistic way. The Golden Rule ignores this idea, which can often lead to resentment and general mismanagement.

Introducing the Platinum Rule‍

The real question then becomes, how are we going to be able to treat others the way they want to be treated? That’s what the Platinum Rule solves: treat others the way they want to be treated.

At the surface level, this seems counterintuitive and time-consuming. The idea of applying a different leadership style to each employee's personality seems almost impossible. But don’t think of it as an entirely different process altogether.

You’re simply tweaking your style so that it works for different personalities at work. You’re providing different options so that you can get the most out of people in all types of office environments—remote, hybrid, or in-person.

‍What allows you to have effective leadership is the ability to tweak and adapt. It’s the fundamental rule that takes a manager mired in mediocrity and turns them into a managerial phenom.

Use DISC to Understand Personalities at Work

DISC is a famous personality assessment that helps create a categorized understanding of individuals' typical patterns of behaviors and emotions. While similar to a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the major difference is that DISC assumes that different environments can bring out various personality traits at work. MBTI has a stagnant approach to personality types, and while it’s not necessarily inferior to DISC, DISC provides a more holistic approach to understanding personality types.

DISC stands for:

  • Dominance
  • Influence
  • Steadiness
  • Conscientiousness

The purpose of this psychometric tool is to give teams a common language to improve their understanding of one another and their communication skills with each other.

DISC will help you recognize each specified personality style's characteristics, including your own personality. By understanding workplace personality types, you’re free to change your communication to meet other individuals' needs on your team as you see fit.

Remember that DISC is a tool to help you communicate better with your team members. It is not a measure of intelligence, skills, experience, education, or a value indicator. Understanding its capabilities and limits only serves to provide you with a better approach and more creative ideas for management in the workplace.

The Four Personalities at Work

Different people's hands at a table symbolizing different personalities at work.

According to DISC, there are four different personality styles that people fall under. Knowing each of these personalities in and out is a vital tool for successful management. As you read, imagine each person on your team, and where they may fall on the DISC spectrum. This will give you a jumpstart on how you can apply DISC as soon as possible.

1. Dominance — The D’s

‍D’s are fast-paced, task-oriented, and place great value on time frames and seeing results. They're people who like to be in charge and get the job done, and are often built for leadership roles. Their common traits are:

  • Assertiveness
  • Self-confidence
  • Goal- and detail-oriented
  • Strategic
  • Competitive
  • Strong-willed
  • Risk-taker

D individuals respond well to pressure, a professional/no-jokes environment, and direct answers. They require challenges, control, and choices. A D's ideal environment includes freedom, authority, challenging assignments, and the opportunity for advancement.‍ Ds bring big-picture goals and tangible results to the team and motivate others to follow an inspiring vision. They can think outside the box and challenge the status quo.

However, the dominant personality type fears loss of control or being taken advantage of. Their limitations include a lack of concern or empathy for others, impatience, and insensitivity, which can lead to clashes with other personality types.

2. Influence — the I Style

If you’re searching for an extroverted people person at the office, look no further than the I Style. Influence personalities at work thrive on interactions with others, whether it’s suppliers, coworkers, customers, or just whoever’s around.

Your I team members are recognizable by their talkativeness, animated facial/body expressions, and charming and poised disposition.

They’re fast-paced and people-oriented, which makes them energetic, friendly, enthusiastic, and charming. In addition, they’re naturally creative problem solvers who bring fresh ideas and solutions to brainstorming sessions.

Influential personalities want to enjoy an exciting life experience and respond well to recognition and approval. An I's ideal environment includes:

  • Prestige
  • Chance to share ideas
  • Opportunity to influence others
  • Friendly relationships

Even with their positive aspects, influence personalities fear disapproval, social rejection, or inclusiveness. Due to their outgoing demeanor, disorganization, impulsiveness, and a lack of thoroughness may run rampant.

Even so, I personalities are the cheerleaders of your team. They encourage and motivate others and keep environments positive with their energy and humor.

3. Steadiness — The S Style

If there was ever a slogan for the S personality at work, it would simply be “we’re all in this together.” They're classic team players who are helpful, patient, and accommodating.

They have a general self-awareness about their abilities but possess the dependability and understanding that other team members may not. However, this translates into their namesake: they’re steady, reliable, and persistent.

Perhaps most importantly, the S personality is an active listener. They can pick up on the body language of others, ask the right questions, and provide support to coworkers that other personality types often can’t.

‍Rigidity is not something that gels with steadiness personalities at work. While they want routine, the work environment must remain relaxed and cordial. S's also require appreciation, harmony, and teamwork and respond well to reassurance without the constant need for recognition.

However, the S personality type fears a loss of stability, change, and offending others. Their limitations include being too accommodating and indecisiveness. In an organization facing a seismic overhaul of operations or company culture, steady personalities at work may shy away or become suddenly introverted. Plan accordingly.

4. Conscientiousness — The C Personality at Work

The C-style personality is called conscientious or cautious because they’re so focused on getting things done right. In short, they’re your quintessential, text-book perfectionist.

‍The C personality tends to keep to themselves, quietly follows protocol, and is skeptical of things before accepting them. Systematic and precise, they think logically and analyze everything. They respond well to specific instructions, strict protocols/procedures, and want time to validate their work.‍

A C's ideal environment is structured and orderly, has clearly defined tasks, rules, and procedures, and provides them with sufficient time and resources to complete projects.

However, they also exhibit the characteristics of an introvert, which can put them at odds with more outgoing personalities at work. Going with the flow, being wrong, and becoming the center of criticism can adversely impact that in either a short- or long-term run. Their limitations include isolating themselves, being overly critical of themselves and others, and overanalyzing things.

A Deeper Look at the Four DISC Styles and How To Improve Your Staff's Potential

Entire staff posing for a team photo

Now that you understand the four DISC personalities at work, you can coach them to maximize their potential. The checklists below can provide the framework for goals, as well as provide you with a better understanding of how each personality type can improve over time.

Ways That Dominance Personalities Can Improve

✔️ Practice “active” listening.

✔️ Project a more relaxed image.

✔️ Develop patience, humility, and sensitivity.

✔️ Develop empathy.

✔️ Verbalize the reasons for conclusions.

✔️ Be aware of existing rules.

✔️ Verbalize compliments to others.

How Influence Personalities at Work Can Improve

✔️ Control time and emotions.

✔️ Spend more time checking, verifying, specifying, and organizing.

✔️ Follow through on agreements.

✔️ Concentrate on the task at hand.

✔️ Take a more logical approach.

✔️ Complete more of what they start.

Steadiness Personality Improvement Checklist

✔️ Say “No” occasionally.‍

✔️ Complete tasks without an oversensitivity to others’ feelings.‍

✔️ Take risks by stretching beyond their comfort zone.

✔️ Delegate to others.

✔️ Accept changes in procedures.

✔️ Verbalize feelings and thoughts.

How Conscientious Personalities at Work Can Better Themselves

✔️ Openly show appreciation.

✔️ Try shortcuts and time savers.

✔️ Adjust more readily to change and disorganization.

✔️ Work on timely decision-making.

✔️ Compromise with others.

✔️ Use policies as guidelines, not laws.

Personalities at Work and How They Make You a Better Manager

From this article, you now have a firm understanding of the different personality types you will find on your team. More importantly, you now also realize the most effective way to communicate and manage personalities at work, which can grow your abilities as a manager and increase your emotional intelligence—two vital aspects of becoming a leader.

Recognizing your team members' different perspectives along with your own needs also helps you connect the dots regarding behaviors and enables you to form a recipe for success. Finally, everything begins to click, and you now understand what you need to do to support them better, which is especially relevant in our newly remote world.

👉 Want to transform into a Unicorn Leader? Check out my leadership training for managers page to learn more.

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