Thursday, September 15, 2011

Relationship Issues - Bad Chemistry

I was reflecting on what "bad chemistry" can mean in relationships. It could be the result of almost any kind of incompatibility.

Years ago, we had an employee who was the exact opposite of me, personality-wise. I'm very internal, thinking all the time. I always think before I say or do anything. This woman was very outgoing. Just say it or do it, think about whether it was a good idea later. I'm quiet. She was loud.

I'm pretty logical. She was very emotional.

Most of what goes on in my brain is conceptual in nature. The meaning, the big picture, the why, the future impact, etc. Always connecting the dots. She was very perceptual, very focused in the here and now. The details. We were able to capitalize on this strength in the office. She worked hard at her job.

So my personality is that of an intellectual. Hers was that of a spontaneous, friendly, fun-loving person. On a team, it's good to have a mix of folks. If everybody brings chocolate ice cream to the party, it won't be much of a party. And theoretically, it's possible to get along with almost anyone. Just show that you appreciate their strengths and stretch out of your comfort zone to meet them in theirs.

In practice, it was hard for me to bridge the gap. The differences were so intense and so frequent that sometimes I felt irritated.

Example. One day I heard her voice booming all the way down the hall. She had taken a call from a client. Presumably, the client asked how things were going, and she boomed, "Oh, we're hanging in there!" This was far, far from what I hoped she would say to one of our clients.

Example. She had this cute little dog that broke its leg. So she begged us to allow her to bring the dog to work, so she could be there for the dog during the weeks that the dog had to wear a cast. We said sure. Everyone loved the dog, but of course a business office is no place for a dog. The dog healed, but the dog stayed. I dropped hints, but I finally had to tell her to leave the dog at home. I thought I was going to have a mutiny on my hands.

Example. One day I had a coaching session with her. I began by enumerating her strengths and accomplishments. Then I brought up one thing I wanted to see improved and asked her for her ideas about how she'd like to work on it. I was as low-key and compassionate as I could be, but she broke into tears anyway. The coaching session went nowhere.

Example. She was with us for several years. One day on her birthday she announced that her husband was coming to the office with a big surprise. She wanted us to gather in the common area. The surprise that her husband brought was a male stripper dressed like a policeman with a boom box on his shoulder. He turned on the music and proceeded to strip. That event brought the oil-water thing into sharp focus.

I never had to fire her, though. Good thing. Most of the other employees loved her. But her husband, who was in the service, got transferred, and they went on to a better life. I counted my lucky stars. Sometimes the bear bites you, and sometimes you bite the bear.

But it was a lesson in compatibility. There are limits. Maybe some opposites do attract, but in the long run it's hard for two people who are so different to get along. It can be difficult to form a mutually compatible relationship.

When we hired her replacement, we took a long, hard look at personality characteristics.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from

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