Here are three ways to navigate personality clashes with others.
“You can’t make me upset too,” my new husband, Ted, responded calmly.
I was visibly upset with him and he refused to even engage me. Couldn’t he at least act like he resonated with my feelings? Instead, he seemed determined to remain unaffected and unmoved.
That was almost 15 years ago.
Since then, I’ve come to understand something I didn’t as a newlywed: Ted’s personality and emotional processes are drastically different from mine.
Marriage isn’t the only setting where I’ve interacted with someone who has a different personality from mine.
In grad school, I clashed with the student director on a film I worked on. I was the assistant production manager. What I perceived as “doing my job,” she interpreted as micro-managing. Her desire for unfettered creativity butted heads with my responsibility to create schedules. The result was consistent conflict.
Perhaps you can relate. Maybe you’ve even found yourself thinking, “Life would be a lot easier if [insert name here] had a personality more like mine.”
When Personality Differences Equal Conflict
It’s no accident that we aren’t all identical in our mental and emotional tendencies.
The story of creation shows us that God loves diversity. In fact, He intentionally designed us to be different from one another.
Yet when the differences of God’s creation meet the brokenness of our fallen world, things get complicated.
Sometimes life may feel like we’re living in the world of the Avengers, minus the superpowers. We find ourselves playing Captain America to someone else’s Iron Man. And that’s not quite as edge-of-your-seat thrilling as it looks on the big screen.
These differences in how we’re wired can annoy and wear on us. As a result, we may find ourselves in conflict.
However, as followers of Christ, we’re instructed to do our best to get along with others. Speaking to Christians in the early church, Paul writes, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18, NIV).
3 Practical Ways to Get Along When Personality Differences
What are some practical ways we can do this? Here are three ways I’ve found helpful.
1. Consider Past Influences
When Ted and I first started dating, he was perpetually 10 to 20 minutes late. His tardiness drove me crazy. I found it disrespectful and selfish.
It wasn’t until later that I realized he never intended to be rude. Instead, his upbringing and past experiences had shaped the way he related to time.
As you read this, maybe an individual comes to mind whose personality tendencies irritate you like Ted’s behavior did me.
Take a moment to consider this person’s birth order, formative years, and past experiences. How are they different from yours? While we’re all born with a particular personality, our upbringing distinctly influences and shapes us.
When we consider another’s present actions in the context of their past, it helps give us an insight we previously lacked. As a result, we may be, as James 1:19 advises, quicker to hear and slower to speak or become angry.
2. Respect Present Perspectives
“I think you’re making the wrong decision.” My friend’s declaration shocked and offended me. What came next were her reasons why I should reconsider a choice I’d made.
I was instantly defensive because of the blunt way in which she’d communicated. As I result, I refused to hear her out. My personality needed some affirmation thrown in, too, and it was sorely missing.
It can be easy for us to demand that others be sensitive to our unique temperaments. Yet, at the same time, we can struggle to give others the same respect we desire.
So how can we, as Paul exhorts us in Philippians 2:3, “count others more significant”? We can ask ourselves:
- How does this situation, circumstance, or opinion make them feel?
- What type of impact does it have on them?
- How can I be respectful of them, their personality and their perspective even if I don’t agree?
In the end, you may still disagree with the other person. However, when you and I are more sensitive to someone else’s personality, we’re better able to, as Colossians 4:6 advises, make sure our responses are gracious and “seasoned with salt.”
3. Honor Individual Wiring
During my undergrad days, I took a mass media analysis course. With it came the dreaded “group project.”
Within our team of four, my classmate Chad and I quickly disagreed on how to organize our presentation. My type-A personality craved a well-planned structure, while his more relaxed persona fought for spontaneity. At the time, I perceived Chad’s preferences as laziness. Looking back, though, it’s possible that wasn’t the case.
I realize now that conflict occurred because I’d put too much emphasis on my way being the right way. I failed to honor the individual way Chad was wired and how that influenced his take on our group project.
If you find yourself in a similar circumstance, consider these things:
- Is what I’m fighting for strictly a matter of personal preference?
- How can I compromise and make room for the other person’s unique personality?
- Instead of focusing on the annoyances, what are the characteristics I appreciate about this person’s personality?
Taking the time to pause, consider my motives, and focus on the other person’s God-given strengths—which are most likely different from but no less important than mine—helps me better honor another’s individual wiring.
A few months ago, Ted and I had a similar interaction to the one we experienced as newlyweds.
I felt hurt and offended by a decision he’d made. When I expressed this to him, Ted’s reaction was unemotional. His calm, even-keeled response only upset me more. The fact is, understanding that Ted has a different personality from me hasn’t eliminated all conflict from our relationship. We still experience it.
What it has done is helped both of us be more gracious and patient with the other. We have learned to honor the way God has created us as individuals. I believe the same can happen for you as you too seek to love, honor and respect the different personalities in your life.
You can read a longer version of this post over at Boundless.org. It appeared there October 23, 2017.