Most leaders who have a staff member with a “tricky” personality, or even a style different to their own, know that it creates extra challenges. It is human nature to assume that what works for us will work just as well for someone else, but if that person has a different personality style, this assumption may not hold true. For example, people who are calm, self-assured and emotionally stable (which scientists call having “low neuroticism”) frequently overestimate the coping ability of others.
Recent research has identified three styles of personality which relate to differences in resilience (you can read more about the three styles here). Understanding these styles can help you to provide more tailored support to your people by identifying where their resilience strengths and weaknesses may lie. Below are some ideas based on our experience working with these styles to help you tailor your support to the different personalities in your team.
High innate resilience and lower learned resilience: “Naturally” resilient
The ability of “naturally” resilient people to cope with challenges and readily bounce back from them is a great asset, and makes these people a classic “go-to” person for a leader. Coping is not the same as immunity however, and any person can suffer when faced with significant challenges or under the build-up of sustained pressures. That leads to two issues: one, leaders may take their resilience for granted; two, people with this style may be less likely to seek support, and leaders may be less likely to offer it. Remember, naturally resilient people may never have had to ask for help to cope before, and might struggle to do so.
If a normally tough and resilient person you manage has been under a lot of prolonged stress or is facing a large and unexpected stressor (for example, health concerns, divorce, family issues), be sure to check in. Ask how they are coping and offer empathy and care. Normalising the idea that anyone in their position would need support makes it more likely they will accept help. Given their tendency to be conscientious and “just get on with it”, they may struggle to adjust their behaviour to look after themselves for fear of letting others down, be reluctant to take time off or pass projects over to team members. By offering these options, you let them know it’s OK to focus on their own wellbeing.
As those with this naturally resilient style may not have invested much time thinking about what they specifically do to cope, being direct about the specific actions they could take can be beneficial. For example, asking, “What can we plan in to your work week to make sure you take some recovery time during the day?” can prompt them to consider specific coping strategies. It may be that developing a relationship with a mentor or specific support person is a good way to ensure that these conversations happen often, if they are facing unusually high demands.
Low innate resilience, greater reliance on learned resilience: “Low protective”
People with a “low protective” style tend to experience difficult emotions more frequently and more intensely, and may be harder to engage. As a result, having conversations about wellbeing can be more challenging. You may initially be met with resistance or avoidance or even personalising the issue: “You aren’t doing enough to help me”. Since this style tends to produce not only highly visible signs of stress and poor coping, but also a tendency to avoid or deny problems, it can be hard to find a way in. Gently raising the topic of how someone is coping, and doing it regularly while offering to learn what’s happening, can be effective. Planting the seed can make the conversation become more normal over time. Kind reminders help to counter the avoidance tendency.
The more volatile emotional system of people with this style means that when a problem arises, they will likely need time to manage their automatic responses and create a calm space, which must occur before any thoughtful reflection and effective problem-solving can be done. To help with this process, leaders can provide validation and understanding that the person is struggling, plus encouragement and time for them to calm their stress response before trying to tackle the problem.
This pause can be a challenge for busy managers who are eager to solve the problem and move on. Try to hold back from giving the answer (as it seems to you). Finding solutions is likely to be more effective only once they’re in the right headspace. Your calm, measured response will also help serve as a model for how they can self-regulate in future, showing that it’s OK to take time to down-regulate emotional reactions. For example, when you see them looking like they are becoming distressed or overwhelmed, you could say something like, “It looks like you are feeling a bit overwhelmed, shall we take 5/take time for lunch/ come back to this tomorrow/talk about it some more this afternoon?”
Ideas and input from others may be needed to help those with a low protective style to flourish, given their greater emotional volatility and their difficulty looking flexibly at options for wellbeing. Be prepared to get external support.
Balanced innate and learned resilience: Moderately protective
People with a “moderately protective” style can be emotionally volatile too, but also have the most well-developed, active coping skills of all three groups. As a result, they tend to use effective skills, yet do not personally feel as if they are coping well. As a leader, you can best help build their resilience by recognising and giving positive feedback when they’ve managed situations well – ideally with some specifics about what you noticed. This develops their sense of efficacy.
Sometimes, those with a moderately resilient style may lack follow-through on ideas and plans for their resilience because they tend to be less conscientious than others. As a leader, continuing to prompt and encourage wellbeing habits – and especially role-modelling – is important. Make wellbeing part of your frequent check-ins, and when they commit to trying something out that might benefit their wellbeing, follow up on it. Rather than letting them off the hook (or making them feel bad!), ask if they will try again to give it a go before you check in next. This will help hold them to account and provides a great basis for constructive, ongoing conversations about supporting their wellbeing.
You may have team members in whom you can recognise these three styles, and others who seem to cross over more than one style. Remember, these coaching tips are only suggestions. Try them out, but don’t forget to check in with your people about how they’re finding your efforts to support them, and any ideas they have. In doing so, you are again setting a great model for resilience, approaching things in an open and flexible way, experimenting with what might work, and continuously looking to improve wellbeing. If you do find yourself managing tricky personality dynamics and want further advice and support, don’t hesitate to get in contact with us.