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How to Work Well With Different Personalities

October 3, 2016

For years, companies have tried to choose employees who work well together by exploring the personality types of their job candidates. Tests like the Myers Briggs Type Indicator identify attitudes and preferences, and help extroverts and introverts figure out how to work together.

Long before personality tests entered our world, God’s Word had answers for how we can work well with people whose personalities are different from our own. Here are three ways to help us work with the people God has placed in our lives.

Don’t Take to Heart All That People Say

Universally, employees complain about their supervisors, students complain about their teachers, and children complain about their parents. Often the complaints stem from the fact that one person approaches the world differently from the other.

God’s Word warns us not to listen too closely to the complaints of other people. Hanging on the words of others, hoping to hear praise, is a recipe for hurt feelings.

Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. (Ecclesiastes 7:21)

Taking to heart all the things people say is just as dangerous as when people say nice things about us. Teachers who seek student approval can quickly become ineffective. Supervisors who seek employee approval may avoid difficult conversations. Parents who seek the approval of their children may not make the best decisions for their families. Listening to “the things that people say,” whether those things are positive or negative, can lead to painful results.

Recognize There’s More to the Story

Working with students, I’ve learned that there’s more going on in their lives than what they reveal. In Oswald Chambers’ words, “There’s always at least one more fact, which we know nothing about, in every person’s situation.” [1]

Even when I think I know all the details of a student’s circumstance, I often find I don’t. In one of my classes, I noticed a student whose attitude was deteriorating. Before fall break, he joined in class discussions and seemed to enjoy the subject matter. After break, he sat with arms crossed and stared through me as I lectured. Anger hovered just below the surface.

At first, I was tempted to interpret his sullen attitude as an insult. I assumed I said something in class that rubbed him the wrong way, and that he was going to punish me with silence. But something he said made me realize that there was more to the story.

Over fall break, this young man was faced with his mother’s cancer. I don’t know if he had just heard the news, or if the prognosis had taken a turn for the worse. Either way, he was struggling to hold it together. He was in pain, and that pain showed itself in his demeanor. His attitude had nothing to do with me or my class, and everything to do with something I knew nothing about.

Assuming I know more than I do, and silently reaching a conclusion about someone, is how I can “pronounce” judgment on others.

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)

Everyone faces struggles they keep to themselves. Even when the person is a spouse, a child, or a parent, there’s always one more fact we know nothing about.

Allow For the Frailties of Others

Perfectionism can be deadly to a relationship, especially when that perfectionism is directed at the colleague, employee, child, or spouse. God wants us to fear him and walk in his ways; yet he is compassionate and doesn’t treat us as we deserve when we fail.

As a father shows compassion to his children,

so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

For he knows our frame;

he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:13-14)

A demanding and critical attitude comes easily for me. The perfectionist in me wants to hold others to an impossible standard—yet when I fall short, I want others to overlook my weaknesses. Pastor Colin describes perfectionism as a “crushing burden,” the weight of which can only be lifted by trusting in Christ:

However far you progress in the Christian life, you will be, till your last breath in this life, a sinner who depends wholly on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to save you. You need him as much on your best day as you do on your worst. When you see that, you will be delivered from the crushing burden of perfectionism.

Work Well With Others

I am convinced that God intentionally places us around people that challenge us. Each connection at home and at work is for his purposes.

For every personality type, working well with people whose attitudes and preferences differ from ours means not listening greedily to what others say. It means that we stop jumping to conclusions about the motives of others and accept the fact that we don’t know everything about a situation. And it means making allowances for the weaknesses of our family, friends, and co-workers.

As Oswald Chambers describes, “Always measure your life solely by the standards of Jesus. Submit yourself to his yoke, and his alone: and be careful never to place a yoke on others that is not of Jesus Christ.” [2]

[1] Chambers, Oswald, My Utmost for His Highest, 1992, James Reimann, ed. Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids, June 17. [2] ibid, May 6.

The Author
Nivine Richie

Nivine Richie is a women’s Bible study author and teacher in Wilmington, N.C. She is the author of Enduring Faith: An 8-Week Devotional Study of the Book of Hebrews. A university finance professor, she is actively involved in the Christian faculty association on campus. Nivine has participated in and taught many small group studies over the years, and she seeks to help others launch their own small groups. She loves the coast, camping, and a good cup of coffee. Find her at www.unfoldinghisword.com.



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