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How to manage personalities during times of change


Have you thought about which personality types are represented within your team? And have you ever considered how you would manage these personalities during hard times or rapid changes?

Here’s why it’s important.

Managing employees with various personalities – especially those with conflicting perspectives and working styles – can be challenging, even during the smoothest of times.

But consider the unexpected changes and really turbulent periods when the impact on your business is challenging at best.

Examples of change could include:

  • Working virtually
  • Multiple responsibilities or increased workload
  • New leadership
  • Rapid information changes
  • Change in routine

Without thoughtful leadership to manage personalities within your team, these changes can become much more difficult on your people and will ask a lot of you as a leader.

Instead, consider the strengths of your team dynamics and identify how you can manage personalities during times of change.

Importance of understanding other personalities

During change, emotional intelligence in yourself and your other leaders is critical for:

  • Keeping your workforce engaged and productive
  • Decreasing stress and conflict
  • Maintaining the quality of services that your customers need and expect

The best leaders demonstrate care and concern for others.


  1. Leaders influence emotions.
  2. Emotions drive people.
  3. People drive performance.

The success of your business stems from the mindset and actions of your people, which is directly impacted by your leadership.

You must take care of yourself, so you can take care of your people. They will in turn, take care of your customers and perform the work that keeps your business operating and moving forward.

It’s also important that leaders understand themselves. During change, your natural tendency will be to default toward the way you normally handle things.

In psychology, we call this an extinction burst. When we take an action, we expect a certain result. When that result doesn’t pan out, we continue doing the same thing rather than adapting or changing our approach.

This is how your behaviors can potentially go from under control to out of control, or from strength to struggle to strain in leading others.

Here’s an example of the extinction burst: You’re at an elevator bank and you push the up or down button. But it fails to light up. Typically, your first impulse isn’t to take the stairs. Instead, your first impulse is to push the button again. And again. And again – each time faster and harder.

This is the normal reaction to psychological pressure: “If a little of me is good, then a lot of me should be better.” If how I do things naturally is good, then doing more of that behavior will surely get the result I am looking for.

You may have heard of this adage: “What you focus on is what you get.” In this situation, this phrase is more accurate: “What you focus on is what you miss.”

You may never hear the good ideas of others or learn of a potentially more effective way to accomplish a task. By focusing only from your go-to perspective you may miss all of the strengths of the individuals on your team.

It’s perfectly normal to feel frustrated by how employees and co-workers behave and do things differently. However, realize that no one has it out for you. Instead, they have it in for themselves. They are simply pushing that elevator button the best way they know how to meet their personal needs, according to their own:

  • Natural tendencies
  • Preferences
  • Patterns
  • Comfort zones

A quote that you can use to decrease frustration with others is, “People aren’t doing things against you, they are normally doing things for themselves.” That’s why understanding how you behave under pressure or stress is so important. The people you’re leading aren’t getting up early to make your life harder. They’re simply behaving in a way that gets their needs met most readily. If their needs aren’t met, they don’t change their approach they just double down on the same behavior.

Making the effort to understand other personalities comes down to employee engagement. You want to make people feel validated and supported, so that you can reduce negative emotions during a stressful time and inspire the best possible performance out of them.

Now let’s explore the types of people on your team that you’ll guide through times of change. 

DISC: The four major personality types

The graphic below shows the four major personalities within the DISC assessment.

It’s divided into pace (how people like to interact and make decisions) and priority (what people focus on most):

  • At the top of the circle are the faster-paced, more outgoing and active personalities.
  • At the bottom of the circle are the slower-paced, more passive and reserved personalities.
  • On the right side are the people-oriented personalities.
  • On the left side are task-oriented personalities.

As we discuss each of these personality types, keep in mind that we all have traits of each personality type to varying degrees. No one fits neatly into a single category. You are a unique combination of all four traits to a lesser or great extent.

Don’t worry if you haven’t formally administered a DISC assessment of your team. You should be able to get a general sense of your team members’ personalities from the explanation of each. You could also ask your team members which of these personalities they most identify with so you have a better idea of how to work with them.

D personality

Comprising only about 10 to 15 percent of the population, the D personality includes the dominant, take-charge people. They’re fast-paced and task-oriented, focusing on what they can control and accomplish. They gravitate toward positions of authority. They look for opportunities to get the job done.

In a high-stakes situation, D personalities are most likely to say something like: “Just do what I asked you to do. Get it done.”

However, this is also their struggle. D personalities can:

  • Lack awareness of how their directness and bluntness can hurt others
  • Can be perceived as argumentative because of their desire to debate others’ conclusions

If you’re a D personality, here’s how you can be an effective leader of all the personalities on your team:

  • Other D personalities will most likely value your determination and decisiveness. Keep them focused on moving forward and taking action.
  • Reach out to I personalities frequently. They want to know that you care about them and prefer to talk through their goals and next steps.
  • Help S personalities create a routine so they can better support you. Be sure to express your appreciation for them.
  • Keep C personalities updated on your expectations of them and the next steps in the plan.

If you have D personalities on your team (and you’re not a D), here’s how you can support and motivate them:

  • Give them a goal and purpose – even a challenge. Don’t let them feel sidelined.
  • Be specific in your instructions, get to the bottom line.
  • Communicate clearly what the desired results are and where they can take action.

When a D personality is stressed, it often helps them to get involved with a physical activity. Something they can take charge of and be in control.

I personality

Approximately 25 to 30 percent of the population, the I personality is what we think of as the classic extrovert. I personalities are people- and relationship-oriented, outgoing and like to be involved. They want to influence others and add positive energy to their environment, and in turn they enjoy recognition for their contributions.

In stressful circumstances, an I personality may think: “Everyone’s so uptight right now. We could use some levity and energy.”

They like to talk through issues and solve problems by verbalizing their feelings. However, this can result in a perceived lack of structure or focus.

If you’re an I personality, here’s how you can be an effective leader of all the personalities on your team:

  • Remember that D personalities always like to have something to do. Talk to them about their goals and make sure they understand their objectives.
  • Encourage your fellow I personalities to add energy and share their ideas.
  • Speak to S personalities with kindness. They’re looking for you to support them, and they want to support you as well.
  • Focus your conversations with C personalities on facts over feelings or fantasy.

If you have I personalities on your team (and you’re not an I), here’s how you can support and motivate them:

  • Be engaging toward them. Ask them how they’re doing and how their day’s going.
  • Allow breaks for conversation throughout the day.
  • Solicit their opinion.
  • Communicate with them about tasks and projects more often than you may with other personalities – preferably face to face versus email. Give them the opportunity to ask questions or share concerns.

When an I personality is stressed, interaction with others can help them. Take time to reach out to others. Face time, a phone call or a virtual meeting are all good.

S personality

As the largest portion of the population – between 30 to 35 percent – S personalities seek to support others and crave a solid routine to help them do so.


  • Especially value harmony
  • Want to be a team player and tend to process information with others’ feelings in mind
  • Are focused on people and relationships, and how their actions impact everyone else
  • They’re also great listeners

In conflict, S personalities often worry about how everyone seems upset. They can struggle with how to fix problems without being confrontational.

Their struggle tends to be a lack of assertiveness.

If you’re an S personality, here’s how you can be an effective leader of all the personalities on your team:

  • Give D personalities prepared action plans. They want decisiveness and their marching orders.
  • Reach out to I personalities to ask for their ideas. Nurture relationships with them.
  • Other S personalities will appreciate your supportive nature. Let them know you’re available, encourage them and be their source of calm.
  • Provide C personalities with structure in the form of facts, processes and procedures.

If you have S personalities on your team (and you’re not an S), here’s how you can support and motivate them:

  • Provide a safe and welcoming environment
  • Be open, sincere and authentic in your communications and interactions
  • Promote routine
  • Watch your tone – aggressiveness is a major turn-off

To de-stress, S personalities enjoy opportunities to break routine and focus their mental energy elsewhere. A few ways they can alleviate tension:

  • Watch TV
  • Take a walk
  • Read a book
  • Visit with someone they trust and care about

C personality

About 20 to 25 percent of the population, C personalities focus on tasks.

They value accomplishing tasks:

  • The right way
  • With precision
  • In alignment with procedures
  • With the best information available

They prize order and structure. These are the people we think of as the classic introvert.

In a crisis, you’ll likely hear a C personality say something like: “This is important, and we need to get our response right and information correct. We can’t make a mistake.”

Lack of information and inaccuracy are major stressors for this group. They fear mistakes and worry about what can go wrong. In order to solve problems, they gather information, validate it and then create an action plan.

As a result, C personalities can be perceived as slow to act or pessimistic.

If you’re a C personality, here’s how you can be an effective leader of all the personalities on your team:

  • Set parameters for how you want D personalities to solve problems.
  • Brainstorm ideas with I personalities. Keep your conversations upbeat and positive.
  • Create processes and procedures that S personalities can leverage to support you.
  • Other C personalities will appreciate your logical and factual approach. Give them the information they seek to perform their function.

If you have C personalities on your team (and you’re not a C), here’s how you can support and motivate them:

  • Follow procedures and guidelines
  • Be a model for excellence and accuracy
  • Communicate facts, and share information as soon as you can
  • Support your decisions with proof
  • Understand their need to work more independently and perhaps have less face time

To cope with conflict and stress, C personalities usually need time alone to do something quiet, such as:

  • Reading a book
  • Engaging in a hobby

Summing it all up

To help your business navigate changes while keeping employees engaged and unified, you need all four of the DISC personalities.

This discussion isn’t about deciding which personalities are better; it’s about improving our understanding of our differences and celebrating what we each contribute.

Recognizing your own natural tendencies compared to those of your employees will help you to become a more thoughtful, emotionally intelligent leader.

For more information on enhancing your leadership skills and inspiring the best performance from employees, even in tough times, download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to leadership and management.