5 Tips to Handle Conflict When You’re Working with Your Polar Opposite

UPDATED: June 26, 2023
PUBLISHED: June 14, 2022
5 Tips to Handle Conflict When You’re Working With Your Polar Opposite

Extroverts and introverts are profoundly different. Extroverts become charged by being around other people while introverts find socialization draining and regain their energy with alone time. These differences can drive some pairs crazy, but for those that are able to work together, their combined strengths can achieve incredible results—ones they could never get to on their own.

Successful opposites acknowledge their differences, using them to challenge each other. They accept that decisions come with conflict and that conflict is normal, natural and necessary—they know that disagreements open up the path to a successful outcome. These opposites understand that avoiding conflict, on the other hand, creates tension and prevents them from achieving innovative and creative solutions.

Biologist Francis Crick said it well: “The death knell to real collaboration is politeness.”

When working together, introvert and extrovert opposites can do extraordinary things by pulling out the best thinking from each other, like blending two brains into one. But they have to be willing to “bring on the battles” for the world to benefit from the results of their genius.

Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, author of The Genius of Opposites, shares these six strategies to work through conflict and manage disagreements with your opposite:

1. Remember energy differences. 

Accept that your partner’s introverted energy may wane from too much people time or your extroverted colleague might get too hyped-up during conflict. During conflict and stress we exaggerate our strengths; for example, we might talk loudly and more often as an extrovert or retreat into ourselves as an introvert. Resist the tendency to amplify your natural traits. Sometimes a time-out is the best workaround to help you regroup and reconvene, ready to engage with a clear head. Factor in breaks or a few moments of quiet to keep moving toward a resolution.

2. Tell ‘em what you need. 

You can set the foundation for clear communication when you “bring on the battles.” Let your partner know specifically what you want and what you need to avoid emotional flare-ups. If you need to find a private space to work, then tell them. If you need to spill out your thoughts, say so. Mind reading doesn’t work here.

3. Manage crises together. 

When an inevitable crisis occurs, put your heads together and figure out a way through. That often means drawing on the partner in the pair who is better suited to meet the problem at hand. Figuring out the logical solution may be your strong suit, while your opposite’s strength might be going to the source and diffusing the situation.

4. Bring in a third party. 

Sometimes when you reach an impasse, no amount of discussion will work. The best action you can take is to bring in a neutral party, an objective outsider, to break through the tension, help you get unstuck and find a win-win way forward.

5. Walk and talk.

Consider moving your conversation outside the doors of your office. Talking out their ideas may help extroverts, while walking around might help them gain clarity about their positions. Introverts are likely to respond to the relaxed pace. They are also likely to conserve energy by not having to concentrate on making eye contact and other in-your-face listening behaviors. When you let the juices flow by getting up and moving, new ideas spring up and you will see solutions together.

The more high-stakes the situation, the more important it is for opposites to “bring on the battles” as an outcome-focused team.

This article was published in November 2015 and has been updated. Photo by fizkes/Shutterstock

Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, Ph.D., Certified Speaking Professional, is a best-selling author and global keynote speaker who is known as the “Champion of Introverts.” In addition to her latest book, The Genius of Opposites, she has written two best-selling books about introverts (Quiet Influence and The Introverted Leader). Jennifer has worked with hundreds of organizations including GE, CNN, NASA and the CDC. She is a highly regarded faculty member of the American Management Association and has been featured in Forbes, TIME, Fortune and The Wall Street Journal. Jennifer’s commitment to introverts started the day she married one. Since then, she’s helped organizations value the introverts on their teams and coached introverted individuals to step confidently into leadership positions.