Tips for working with strong personality team members

Becoming a first-time people manager can be an exciting but challenging experience. There are many new challenges to navigate, and one of the most significant is learning to work with team members with strong personalities. Managing individuals with strong personalities can be challenging, but it is a crucial skill that new managers must develop to succeed in their roles. In this article, we will explore some tips and strategies for coaching first-time people managers on how to work with strong personality team members, provide real-life examples, and discuss the long-term benefits of learning to manage diverse personalities.

First, let me address what I mean by a strong personality. David Wolfle puts it as “Someone who seems highly independent and somewhat unnerving. There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you want and having the guts to go after it, but someone with a strong personality can often come across as aggressive or rude. A strong person may have the biggest heart, but his or her rough-around-the-edges elements can be intimidating and cause a bad first impression.” The Wikipedia definition of Type A personality is “rigidly organized, highly status-conscious, sensitive, impatient, anxious, proactive, and concerned with time management.” A strong personality by itself is not bad. It can be a great asset. When it combines with stubbornness without clear reasons, slow adaptation to changes of plan, and diversion away from consensus, we have concerns. 

One temptation is to recruit or build a team without anyone with a strong personality. I will argue against that because a diverse team is a strong team. A strong personality team member is more likely to speak their mind and challenge the norms, which helps to avoid herd mentality in decision-making. They can help to foster candid communication too. 

Also, it is very easy to mistake someone who is curious and asks many questions for someone who has a strong personality and wants to challenge you, especially in a tight turnaround situation. 

Here are some tips for managing strong personality team members, organized into broader categories:

Table of Contents

Communication strategies

1. Define the team goals and roles early on

When starting to work with a new team, it’s important to set clear goals and expectations. This will help everyone understand what they need to do and how their role fits into the bigger picture.

Example: In a software development team, make sure to clarify who is responsible for the frontend, backend, and quality assurance. This will prevent misunderstandings and make it easier to address any potential conflicts.

2. Encourage open communication

Open communication is key in any working relationship, but it’s especially important when dealing with strong personalities. Encourage your team members to share their ideas and opinions openly.

Example: Set up regular team meetings where everyone has the opportunity to share their ideas, concerns, and progress updates. This can help strong personality team members feel more comfortable expressing themselves.

3. Be clear and concise in your communication

When communicating with strong personality team members, it’s important to be clear and concise. They’ll appreciate your directness, and it will help avoid misunderstandings.

Example: When giving instructions or feedback, use specific examples and avoid using jargon or ambiguous language.

4. Use active listening to understand their perspective

When team members feel heard and understood, they are more likely to be open to feedback and willing to collaborate.

Example: When a strong personality team member expresses their opinion, paraphrase what they have said and ask questions to clarify their point of view.

Conflict resolution

5. Respect their opinions and ideas

Even if you don’t always agree with them, it’s important to respect your team members’ opinions and ideas. They’ll be more likely to respect you in return.

Example: Acknowledge their contributions in meetings, even if you disagree with them, and create an environment where everyone’s input is valued.

6. Give feedback that is specific, timely and actionable

Be clear about what the team member is doing well and where they need to improve, and offer suggestions for how they can grow and develop.

Example: If a team member’s assertiveness is causing friction with colleagues, provide concrete examples of how their behavior is impacting the team and offer alternative ways to express their opinions.

7. Be willing to compromise

Sometimes, you’ll need to compromise with strong personality team members. If you’re unwilling to do this, it will create tension and conflict.

Example: If a strong personality team member disagrees with a decision, try to find a middle ground that satisfies both parties without compromising the overall goal.

8. Don’t take things personally

It’s important to remember that not everything is personal when you’re working with strong personalities. They may say or do things that are meant to be constructive, even if they come across as harsh.

Example: Remember that strong personality team members may express themselves more forcefully, but their intentions are often constructive.

Personal development

9. Be patient

Strong personality team members can be frustrating at times, but it’s important to be patient. They often just need a little time to adjust to new situations.

10. Keep your cool

When dealing with strong personalities, it can be easy to let your emotions get the best of you. But it’s important to keep your cool and not take things personally. I understand that your initial emotional reaction can be intense. You may start to form an unfavorable opinion about the team members and begin to formulate different automatic responses subconsciously. The worst thing that can happen is your decision to write someone off or start being aggressive. 

Example: When dealing with strong personalities, practice deep breathing or other stress-management techniques to remain calm and composed during challenging conversations.

11. Seek out their help

Strong personality team members can be a great asset to your team. They’re often creative and full of new ideas. So don’t be afraid to seek their help when needed.

Example: Leverage the expertise and creativity of strong personality team members by involving them in problem-solving or brainstorming sessions.

12. Be prepared to stand your ground

Sometimes, you’ll need to stand up to strong personality team members. This doesn’t mean being confrontational, but it does mean being firm and confident in your convictions.

Example: If a strong personality team member challenges you, calmly explain your reasoning and be open to a healthy debate, while also standing firm on your convictions.

Long-term Benefits of Learning to Manage Diverse Personalities

Embracing the challenge of managing strong personality team members early in your career can be a blessing. It allows you to gain valuable experience in conflict resolution, communication, and understanding different perspectives. As a result, you’ll be better equipped to handle various personalities throughout your career, making you a more effective and adaptable leader.

13. Additional tips about team management and leadership

You can check out additional tips I wrote about team management and leadership here.

Embrace the challenge and use it as an opportunity to learn more about yourself, your values, and how to manage people. Good luck!


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