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Work Style Tug-of-War: 3 Combative Personality Pairs and How to Ease the Tension

By Robert Half International

In a perfect world, your staff would mesh seamlessly and always work in harmony. There would be no interpersonal tensions, only camaraderie and efficiency.

But we’re living in reality. In the real workplace, where each employee has his or her own particular temperament, work style and habits, harmony can be hard to come by. When opposing personalities and work styles are combined, friction and even outright conflict can occur. As a manager, it’s your job to mitigate difficulties, mediate conflicts and help employees collaborate and cooperate despite their differences.

Of course, this is easier said than done; there are certain work style combinations that seem especially resistant to intervention and correction. Below are three work styles that, when paired, can frustrate even the most skillful manager — along with suggestions for helping the parties get past their struggles for the good of the team.

1. The Perfectionist and the Pragmatist

The Perfectionist and the Pragmatist are capable, conscientious professionals. They both work hard, but each has a very different approach.

The Personality clash: The Perfectionist wants everything to be exactly right. The process as well as the end product must be perfect. If there are flaws or glitches, the Perfectionist becomes frustrated. The Pragmatist, on the other hand, knows that even the best-laid plans can be beset with problems and so adapts to circumstances as needed. Often, the Pragmatist views the Perfectionist as obsessive and inflexible, while the Perfectionist regards the Pragmatist as careless and lax.

How to ease the tension: To enable this pair to play off each other’s strengths and work well together, establish a strict division of duties. Because the Pragmatist does not sweat the details, he or she may be better at writing the first draft of a report, for example, while the Perfectionist will excel at proofreading and fact-checking it. When disagreements arise over method, be prepared to step in and refocus this pair on the end goal and deadline.

2. The Driver and the Coaster

These polar opposites have the potential to drive each other — and the rest of the team — crazy.

The personality clash: The Driver is an ambitious, Type A personality who naturally rises to the position of team leader or project manager. The Coaster, meanwhile, is a laid-back type who tends to under-perform unless pushed. And, of course, the Driver’s reaction is to push the Coaster hard. The Coaster resists, and a self-reinforcing conflict ensues. Your initial reaction may be to separate these two and never assign them to the same client or project again. But in a small department or firm, this is not always possible. Additionally, a Driver may tend to hound any staff member he or she perceives as “lazy” or “unmotivated.” Your other employees will quickly resent the Driver and even side with the Coaster.

How to ease the tension: To keep team morale and motivation from taking a nose-dive, you need to reel the Driver in a bit. This could mean allowing the Driver to work independently on an assignment, while a less-intense staff member leads the team on a different project. To address the Coaster’s underperformance (which impacts not only the Driver but also the rest of the group), clearly define expectations and deliverables. Set immutable deadlines and let the Coaster know you will hold him or her accountable for meeting them.

3. The Frenemies

The personality clash: One minute, these two are best buddies. The next, they’re complaining to colleagues about one another’s real or perceived shortcomings. They compete with each other for everything. Their ongoing rivalry distracts your staff and threatens to divide the team into opposing factions.

How to ease the tension: Because their interpersonal conflict endangers team cohesion, immediate action is necessary. Meet privately with this sparring pair and ask them to call a truce. Tell them to refrain from involving other employees in their personal differences. When confronted in this manner, it’s not uncommon for rivals to band together. Be prepared for this pair to insist that their disagreements are “all in fun” or simply the way they “relate” to each other. But don’t allow them to minimize the impact of their conflict on others. Stand firm and make it clear that their behavior is disruptive and that you are willing to take disciplinary action if it persists.

Lead by example

It’s impossible to change your employees’ personalities, but as a manager you can change their behavior by enforcing certain standards of conduct in the workplace. Remind staff that you expect them to maintain a high level of professionalism in their interactions with one another. In addition, show them what you expect by modeling the work habits you desire — consistency, punctuality, dependability, commitment to quality, and courtesy and respect for all.

[author image="" ]Robert Half International is the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 350 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit [/author]

Rajkishor rout
Rajkishor rout

 The key thing about our culture that has helped us in growing the company is the fact that everyone is passionate about the mission. We all understand the importance to transform our dirty energy infrastructure to clean infrastructure, something we know is a 50- or 100-year mission. You can’t transform this massive infrastructure overnight.  The employees at this company are passionateabout solving this problem.  When things like Hurricane Sandy or other bad weather conditions occur, or when things like air pollution cause health problems like asthma—all these things hurt people. The people here want to do so something about it and feel good about the work they do. At the end of the day, there’s something to show for their work. They can actually point to something, and say, “I’ve done that. I’m making an individual difference.” They care about that.


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