You like me! (But it shouldn’t matter)


How much does personality affect your chance for success? If the boss likes you, then your quirks are part of your charm and your mistakes are minor flaws. You get the benefit of the doubt. But if you and the boss don’t hit it off; well, then your mistakes are horrible and your personality quirks are annoying.

Recently I was in a meeting with a manager who had nothing but praise for his employee, Sam, and 20 minutes later I was talking to another manager who had little good to say about Sam. Which one was an accurate reflection of Sam the employee?

The first manager liked Sam the person and his praise was centered on Sam’s personality. He made a few general comments about Sam’s work but not enough to tell me much about Sam’s actual job performance. The manager critical of Sam painted the worst possible picture of small mistakes and focused on Sam’s deficiencies.

The truth about Sam’s job performance is probably somewhere in the middle. He wasn’t perfect; he needed to improve his skills but he seemed conscientious and generally did a good job.

Work is so much more enjoyable if we like the people we work with each day. It helps if a supervisor can relax and chat happily with all of his employees, but his job is to treat employees like employees and tell them when they have done well, or when they have messed up and how not to repeat that mess up.

If an employee procrastinates and then rushes his work, he needs to understand that he has created problems for his co-workers or customers. If a supervisor minimizes or glosses over problems created by a very likable employee he serves no one well — employee, customers or the business.

The damage is more obvious when a manager is overly critical of an employee and magnifies every problem and ignores good work and skills. That employee will be frustrated and will learn to ignore the criticism and avoid the boss or look elsewhere for job.

That’s the challenge for every supervisor. If there isn’t a comfortable personal chemistry, can you take an objective look at a person’s work and give him or her credit for good work? Can you provide the same level of help and guidance as you provide to the people you enjoy?

One of the ugly realities of the workplace is that employees will accommodate and try to adapt to the boss’s personality. Of course they don’t have much choice. But when a new boss comes along and suddenly the star performer who did high quality work and is as reliable as the sunrise is seen as “trouble,” “difficult,” or “not a team player,” someone needs to take an objective look. Did his actual job performance change suddenly or is there a clash of personalities with the new boss?

A good human resources manager working in the organization may see that the new boss’s personality is half the problem and step in and do some constructive counseling. The HR manager should be a neutral party who does the best thing for all concerned, including the business. Losing a good employee over a personality conflict is time consuming, damaging to the business and expensive.

Every workplace will have a variety of personalities. There will be the loner, the socializer and the inflexible. Everyone has annoying traits. The boss doesn’t need to like everyone and he should be able to get past personality and focus on the work.

I have worked in organizations that focused on results and didn’t tolerate personality based conflicts. We were expected to work together courteously. It didn’t matter whether we liked each other; complaints about personality issues weren’t tolerated.

And I have worked in organizations that put us through annual off-site bonding and team-building sessions where personalities were explained and explored. Guiding a blindfolded co-worker through the woods for an hour did not change our day-to-day working relationship. Creating giant rope spider webs as a team did not make us feel like a close knit team. We ended these sessions united in just one way; we would behave nicely if we didn’t have to attend another team building session in the woods again.

Virginia Detweiler, based in Walla Walla, provides human resource services and management training to businesses in southeastern Washington with her firm HR Partner on Call. Her columns are written as a service to employers and employees and rely on reader questions and comments for topical material. Contact her by email at or phone at 509-529-1910. Because of job and employer sensitivities, care is taken to protect identities.


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