How many times have you heard a company state that its biggest competitive advantage is its people? And yet, the very human aspects of performance management can make that advantage a fragile commodity: the relationships between staff can be crucial in maintaining their productivity and motivation. Research from Facet5 suggests that relationships between even diametrically opposed people can still be extremely successful – but that some opposites are less likely to get along.

The study was conducted after delegates on Facet5 accreditation programmes expressed an interest in finding out the Facet5 profile of their spouse. Facet5 is traditionally an occupational instrument, but the research was requested as there was genuine interest from people to understand the dynamics with their partner. Moreover, it was felt that inferences could be drawn from the spousal relationships which would be equally applicable to relationships at work, whether that be one to one or as part of a team.

Relationships in the workplace play a significant part in the productivity and effectiveness of a team, and indeed of an entire organisation. Understanding the interactions between two people and the extent to which they understand their similarities and tolerate their differences is a big part of relationship management in the workplace.

Profiling personality types

For the study, Facet5 compared the personality profiles of 173 couples against the same number of randomly selected pairs, examining each of the five factors (Will, Energy, Affection, Control and Emotionality) to see if any patterns emerged.

The couples’ data was on the whole more different to one another’s than the data from the randomly matched pairs. In other words, people who have chosen to be together in a relationship are often more diametrically opposed in terms of basic personality traits than any random selection of pairs. In the workplace, we often find ourselves working alongside people we have not necessarily chosen to be paired with, representing the random pairings in the data.

In most cases, then, the data shows that relationships are more common between two people with different personality traits. It seems that introverts can get along well with extroverts, and that structured, organised people can cope with a bit of chaos in their lives. The creative and chaotic among us can welcome a little order, and the bold decision-makers are often quite happy alongside those with much less conviction; in fact, often it’s these very different behaviours which attract us to each other. These differences can of course cause frustrations, but people who are very different in certain ways are often highly compatible. When studying the results with all five of the personality traits taken into account, there was a more marked difference between the spousal couples than between the randomly selected pairs.

However, the data points to one important exception. While many opposing personality traits are able to get along well, there is one particular factor that, the data would suggest, needs to be aligned in order for a successful long-term relationship: Affection. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that it’s the way we view our relationships with others, and the value we place on those relationships, that matters the most.

Someone trusting, caring and helpful is much less likely to be compatible in the longer term with someone who takes a tougher, harsher view of others; someone who doesn’t jump to help a stranger or who is quite cynical in their outlook of other people. Affection is very much about our sense of fairness, of what constitutes social justice; while two people with a low affection score may be perfectly well suited, or two people with a high score, the data suggests that a couple with significantly different scores seem unlikely to form a long term union.

Personalities at work

In a working environment, teams often comprise many different personality types; in fact, some of the very best teams comprise a deliberate mix of personalities, to ensure that all the personal styles and approaches are available to the team.

When Facet5 is embedded in an organisation, there is usually a marked improvement in relationships, communication and conflict resolution as a deeper understanding of one another’s personality preferences enables us to understand the motivators, emotional triggers and natural behaviours of our colleagues and positive relationships become much more achievable. Using a personality profiling process to promote this self-awareness, and awareness of colleagues, is popular within businesses to help develop more harmonious working relationships.

In the workplace, the importance of Affection may well be less pronounced than in personal relationships, and in the random pairings the correlation was less obvious. Affection does, however, play a strong role in how quickly we establish rapport, relationships and trust between colleagues and the organisation. This is particularly important for the relationship between managers and subordinates.

Through applying the findings on individual and team relationships and on corresponding performance, individuals can understand and look to actively leverage different or opposing styles to be more effective. So while it is less likely that two people with very different Affection scores may not have an enduring and close relationship at work, the impact on their work can be positive.

Opposites attract

It is well documented that raising self-awareness and appreciation of the differences between individuals in the workplace can have an extremely beneficial impact on the performance of individuals, teams and whole organisations. By shining a spotlight on the natural preferences of our personalities and those of our colleagues, we may better understand why they behave in the way that they do, meaning that even diametrically opposed individuals can achieve a mutually satisfactory working relationship. In our private lives it may be a little more complex to overcome.

So while much of our personality make-up can be very different to those of our partners, or our colleagues, it’s our values and our shared views of the world around us and how we perceive others that can make or break a relationship; our sense of fairness, and our underlying social value system. While some opposites may attract, and even form balanced and mutually supportive teams, there are some aspects of the human personality which will always prefer a more similar companion.

However we try to separate our personal and professional lives, certain preferences and tendencies will still exist in both areas; the critical thing for successful relationships, it seems, is understanding those preferences and being able to communicate them effectively with others.