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‘Why don’t you understand what I am saying? Why is this so hard to understand?’

You may have heard this, or will hear it in your life as a Project Manager. The reason you may be hearing it is that you think you understand perfectly, but the finished article is nothing like they had in their head. You think differently and the same words mean different things to both of you.

This article looks at the different personalities you will meet and how to manage them:

1 – The polar opposite personality

You say it should be ‘go’ they think ‘stop’, whatever you discuss this personality says the opposite. You are sure that it doesn’t matter what you said – ‘elephants can’t fly’ they would say ‘of course they can’ just to disagree.

Good news – the polar opposite is the easiest clash to deal with. Why? Because you both know there is a middle ground to move towards. How do you do that? Take the emotion and the ‘think’ out of everything you discuss and bring evidence. Evidence is the key to meeting in the middle, and you will find you were both wrong <audible gasp>. The world is not ‘go’ and ‘stop’ but more ‘go if it’s clear’ like traffic lights. As I said in 3 beginners mistakes in project management the evidence is key to removing the ‘you say tomato, I say electric toothbrush’ difference of opinion.

So bring the evidence and don’t approach this as ‘I say this’, but ‘the evidence tells us that…..’ and it removes both personalities out of the equation. Neither party has to be right or wrong as the evidence, if credible is going to be what you both use. Think of the evidence as the ‘third party’ in this relationship which allows everyone to form a considered opinion only on that and you will meet in the middle around what is best based on what we know, not what we think.

2 – The same personality

You might not believe this, but working with someone who is exactly the same as you can create all sorts of ding-dongs. Why? Because you, as a PM, are likely to be quite headstrong and want to be right. All PM’s do. It’s a thing. Anyhow, why is that a problem if the other personality is the same as yours? Well you think the same, and want the same, but somehow you say the same thing but disagree on the tiniest stuff, or the way one of you phrases something. It is like a table tennis game with yourself with the other side of the table flipped up. The harder you hit the ball the quicker it comes back to you, so you make life difficult for each other.

What to do, what to do…… Back off. Let the other personality ‘win’ a few where you don’t say ‘I think we are saying the same thing in different ways’ (as that will lead them to say ‘no we are aren’t), you say – ‘yes, I agree’. Forget the small stuff, and try and dig in to the comments and see that they are the same as yours, albeit it their words. Keep saying ‘I agree’ when you know that it is the same thing, and you will build a bridge that lets the other person know you are trying, and they will build a bridge from the other side and find a middle ground.

Life Fact: This works in most but not all cases. In that scenario where they continue to disagree, the other members of the team will see that individual as being ‘a problem’ and not the pair of you, and that will be dealt with in other ways.

3 – Different day different personality

Uh-oh. This is interesting. Yesterday you were like two peas in a pod where everything you discussed you agreed on and everything was great. Today, it’s like they are being paid to disagree with you on everything.

What happened? There may be something going on in their personal life that is affecting the way they are in meetings, discussions, on a daily or even hourly basis. Cut them some slack. They may have valid points, and just because you think everyone is agreed that the road looks like A to B, this person may have thought a little harder and want to check it. Take the challenge they bring as an opportunity to check. This personality makes a good auditor to ensure you don’t merrily sail in to troubled waters just because you thought you were all agreed.

They may have something going on in their life that makes them difficult one day and easy the next. Life is more important than work, so give them some breathing room. Don’t be afraid to have a conversation with them 1:1 and ask if everything is ok, or you have indadvertedly done something that has upset them. Looking after your team is No.1 priority and people like to be looked after, respected and listened to. You never know you may have left them out of something they felt they should have been in, or their boss has said something, or just that they are unhappy generally. A gentle conversation can provide bountiful rewards so don’t be reluctant to talk. Don’t ask anything personal, just if everything is ok.


People like praise. In all scenarios, but the ones above especially, give the person a shout out in a meeting:

‘Molly (or whoever) made a great point the other day about…..’

‘Imran said (so and so) and he is absolutely bang on…..’

‘I could not agree more with Gina on those points’ (don’t repeat them as it looks like you are trying to make them sound like yours)

In all cases, as the PM you need to make your team work. YOU need to make the team work, the slicker the team, the more people enjoy it, the more the team enjoys it, the easier the work, the easier the work, the quicker and better you will perform.