When Personality Holds You Back

A client of mine, let’s call her Amy, who pushed back when I challenged her to change her approach to a confrontation. The situation involved a broken relationship with a coworker, where she apologized in a manner that came across as arrogant and unapologetic. My suggestion implied she needed to speak quieter, slower, and give space in the conversation for the other person to respond openly. “That doesn’t feel like me,” she quickly responded. 

The coworker’s feelings were hurt by Amy when she talked over him, coming across as dismissive of his ideas. Amy went to apologize, continuing to talk in her normal booming, strong voice and he felt dismissed. Take a moment to think about this scenario: if someone approached you apologizing in this strong, charismatic, and loud voice, would you feel comfortable responding honestly? Strong personalities can overpower smaller personalities in groups or one-on-one conversations. So how can someone with such a personality engage in these scenarios?

Many leaders have “big personalities.” They are able to quickly inspire a group of people or change the tone of a conversation. We all know leaders like this: the classic extrovert with a booming voice filled with charisma. This personality type works extremely well in many scenarios, and poorly in others. Every personality comes with its advantages and disadvantages. Can you become a different version of yourself without losing a sense of who you are in order to adapt to certain situations? I believe the answer is yes.


Let’s look at an example from the opposite end of the spectrum. Another coachee of mine is a quiet introvert, who rarely disagrees with his leader and can struggle to speak up in a heated meeting. He has a great deal to offer his colleagues, but will not share this knowledge unless he learns to speak up when needed. This type of person feels stretched to interrupt another coworker or to continue talking when interrupted, even though these are communication skills necessary to perform his job well.


Think of a baseball pitcher in the major leagues. He can throw a fastball over 100 mph, flying past most batters. But what if this was his only pitch? A skilled batter could watch two or three pitches, learn the speed, then anticipate the next pitch hitting a homerun. This pitcher will perform poorly because different situations require different pitches. The same goes for handling situations that seem to necessitate acting outside of your usual way in the workplace.


Certain scenarios require a confident, strong personality, such as giving a presentation to a group. While other scenarios require a softer side, such as giving another person space to share concerns and feel heard. The characteristic of a great leader is the ability to read a situation and to know what approach will work best, without losing a sense of self, and act accordingly. This takes practice, self-awareness, and getting it wrong a few times to learn from these situations. 


My question to you today is this: where are you getting in the way of your own success? Are you handling every situation the same without adapting to what is needed? Take some time to think about how your personality can work to your advantage and where it keeps you from becoming the leader you want to be.