Working with (not against) big personalities

Working with (not against) big personalities

I’m sure you’ve met (or maybe even are) a big personality. By big personalities, I mean people who are some subset of: out there, loud, creative, excitable, no BS, hardcore, thrive on attention, in-your-face, opinionated, super-confident, my-way-or-the-highway, or any personality trait turned up to 11.

Working with big personalities can be excellent but also daunting when multiple big personalities clash or when a big personality is not on board with team goals.

Big personalities can be fun, exciting, and energizing to everyone around them. Or they can land as selfish, intimidating, or counterproductive. Often, they’re read as a mix of both - depending on the situation.

Here are two steps for making things smoother when big personalities feel like a lot, and yet you still need to get things done together.

1. Pause and reflect

    Is there some legit reason the behavior of the big personality is bugging you right now? Or are you still sore about something in the past? Is the problem some behavior (interrupting or derailing the conversation)? Or is your problem that their vibe makes you uncomfortable?

    Is it a “them problem” or a “you problem”? Most likely, it’s a “story you’re telling yourself about their behavior and what it means” problem.

    • Check in with yourself - Think about how working with the big personality is tricky for you right now.

      • Do you like quiet, one-person-talks-at-a-time interactions, and the big personality is…not that? (Are you thinking this means they’re against your process?)

      • Are you committed to one way (clearly the “right way”) of doing something, and the big personality has a big, loud, different opinion? (Do you think they’re challenging your leadership?)

      • Are you anticipating some negative consequences of the big personality’s behavior that they seem oblivious to? (Are you labeling them a chaos-starting troublemaker and waiting to see the label come true?)

    That first part is pretty easy to do in a bubble - we love telling ourselves fascinating stories about why other people do what they’re doing. This next part involves bursting that bubble.

    2. Talk to them

      • Check in with the big personality! What is their side of the story?

        • Lead with some curious (non-judgmental!) questions about what is motivating them to act how they are acting (what’s behind the behavior you’re struggling with right now?), or what they want to have happen in the situation. (Listen to their concerns!)

      • Clarify their and your expectations (unspoken expectations are not helpful for anyone.)

        • Explaining the reason/perspective behind your expectations (and listening to them doing the same) is very helpful.

        • Clarify the consequences for their (and your!) actions so the outcomes are obvious.

      • Make a plan of action - together!

        • You may need to find and reorient yourselves toward shared priorities or goals and then move forward from there.

        • You may need to figure out how both of you can meet your needs in a way that supports team goals.

        • You may need to collectively figure out how to support or position the big personality so their big-ness is an asset and moves everything forward.

      After all this chatter, you’ll have a better understanding of the actual problem, what behavior and expectations (of you and your counterpart) are fanning the flames, and how to move forward productively.


      Does this feel more like a conflict? Want more ideas for how to manage it? Check out my Emotionally Intelligent Conflict Management Checklist: (The part of the article about meeting needs is explored more fully in the checklist.)