How to Make Personality Differences Work to Your Advantage

Hanging pictures on the wall.  Proofing documents.  Formatting presentations. Checking to make sure calculations in a spreadsheet is correct.

I really dislike doing all of these types of tasks.  They all require, quite honestly, a sense of detail and accuracy and, of course, patience that doesn’t come naturally to me.  It’s not how I’m wired.

My husband, on the other hand, finds satisfaction in hanging pictures on the wall, taking care to make sure they are level and perfectly spaced and aligned.  He likes to measure, just like he did with the table. And it makes me happy that he finds satisfaction in it, so I don’t have to be frustrated by it.

Two people, I work with find satisfaction in proofing documents.  Another can format presentations in a way that makes the people who create PowerPoint templates look like amateurs. And a contractor we use regularly for compensation projects loves spreadsheets, formulas, and checking to make sure they are right.

Personality differences in the workplace and at home are often a source of headache.  Our default is to see our differences as contradictory instead of complementary.  But they can actually lead to team and organization competitive advantage if the diversity of differences is harnessed.

A person’s personality leads them to like certain tasks and activities and dislikes others because of the energy or stress that activity creates.  If you look at the map of the DiSC model of personality below, you can begin to see what types of activities people with certain profiles would like.


For example, the contractor I work with on compensation projects is a C. She likes the analytical, detail-oriented, and systematic approach to the data analysis. I, on the other hand as an I, like the task of convincing a potential client that we are the best organization to conduct their compensation analysis, and I like speaking on topics, including compensation, to help inspire and persuade people to do things in an innovative way.  She and I make a great team for securing and conducting compensation related work.

If you are interested in figuring out how to harness personality diversity in your workplace, I would look at it from a task or activity-based perspective.  Here’s how:

1.     Get a big stack of sticky notes in a variety of colors. You’ll need as many colors as you have people on your team.

2.     Give each person on your team a big stack of one color of sticky notes.  An assigned color indicates a person on your team.

3.     Ask each person to write down everything they can think of that they do at work by individual tasks.  One task/activity equals one sticky note.

4.     Ask them to code the task on each note with a + or a -.  + meaning they enjoying doing it a – meaning they do not.

5.     Have everyone stick their sticky notes up on the wall.

6.     Give everyone the chance to review the notes on the wall and allow them to pull off notes that have a – on them that would actually be a + for them.

So for example, my sticky notes could all be blue and I write down “Run payroll” on one note and put a – sign by it.   I stick it on the wall.  A colleague of mine could look at that and say, “You know I think I would like to do that, or I do like to do that.” and they could take it off the wall.


Once this takes place, have a discussion about what tasks people have taken off the wall that they would like to do. Does the person that put it up there really want to divest of that task?  Can you move things around? Some cross-training may be required.

Are there certain colors that have changed hands so to speak? Are people in the wrong “jobs”?

Think about moving beyond job descriptions to how people’s personality and interests can drive work assignments to lead to engagement.

There will be things no one likes do to.  That’s just life and these things will still have to be done, but you might be surprised how much you can move things around. This can lead to people being more productive, and therefore your team more productive because you simply let personalities compliment each other instead of conflicting.

It’s a different way of thinking about how to get work done, but it could be one that might just help to diminish some of your personality conflicts at work in a unique way.

How do you ensure that personalities complement instead of conflict with each other at work?

Mary Ila Ward

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