Personality Clash: Sandpaper People

Have you ever had a personality clash with someone? When just the sight of them starts you prickling? What can you do if it is someone you have to interact with? This might be at work, or socially because they are relatives or friends. A personality clash can really disrupt your life and impact on others. If you are an employer, ignoring a personality clash will have a detrimental effect on productivity and morale.

Much as we would like to, we can’t change people. And you can’t always walk away. So what can we do?

First, let’s look at what might be triggering our response. (Exercises from my Conversations Not Confrontations course).


David Rock  (Your Brain at Work)  explains that in addition to survival needs (food, air, water, safety), there are 5 social needs which create the same strong reaction when there is a likelihood of access to them being limited or withdrawn. This table shows what they are.Social Needs

If people really annoy you, it could be for many reasons. Some of these social needs may be more important for you than others. For me, relatedness and fairness are very important and threats to these are more stressful than to status. Others have different sensitivities, and our sensitivities change over time.

Does their behaviour make you feel ignored or demeaned?

Do you feel unsure of yourself?

Are you left feeling helpless and stuck?

Exclusion or silence hits at our need for relatedness.

When we’ve done our best and it isn’t noticed, or when others do wrong and are rewarded, our need for fairness is not met.

Next time you find yourself reacting strongly to a situation or comment, think about what need is being threatened.  If we learn to express our needs clearly and without threatening others, we are less likely to have misunderstandings and damaging conflict.

Sandpaper People

Maria Jackson, of 6seconds,  uses the term, “Sandpaper People” to describe those people who trigger strong emotions in us, often with little cause. She believes that these people can act like sandpaper on wood, bringing out the underlying grains and patterns. This helps us to grow and teaches us about our underlying beliefs and values. Video on Sandpaper People

Maria gives the example of Lisa, a  yoga teacher who was very irritated by a client who was impossible to please. The reason Lisa reacted so strongly to the person was that Lisa believed that her responsibility was to please everyone. From Maria’s blog, and with her permission, I created an exercise for the participants on my  Conversations not Confrontations course.

Sandpaper People

  1. Why do they annoy you? Think about your last interaction with your Sandpaper Person: what exactly is it about them that annoys you?
    For Lisa, it’s that no matter what she does, her yoga student can’t be pleased. It’s important for Lisa to feel liked. She feels it is unfair that even though she is helpful and kind, the client doesn’t like her.
     Lisa thinks, “If I don’t please everyone, I fail.”
    She feels “I need to try harder, there is something wrong with me.”
    She acts by treating the unsatisfied client better than the satisfied clients. This could cause her other customers to feel neglected and either leave or imitate the demanding behaviour.
  2. What does the answer to #1 tell you about a limiting belief you hold about yourself?
    Do you allow yourself to do what they do, or do you have a deep-seated fear of doing what they’re doing? Or do they trigger some fear?
     Lisa recognises that her stong reaction is because her sense of self worth is linked to other people’s view of her. She looks at whether this belief is accurate and helpful.
  3. Choose a  new TFA (thought, feeling + action) you could use to “unwrap your gift of growth” when interacting with your Sandpaper Person. What underlying belief does this
    Lisa’s example is below
    Think:  Lisa tells herself “Others can be unhappy with me, and I am still loved.”
    Feel:  Lisa cultivates feeling compassion for her Sandpaper Person by considering how she must feel– it must be sad to never smile!
    Act: While remaining kind and attentive, Lisa stops over-accommodating her Sandpaper Person in yoga class.

Practicing these new TFAs will be difficult at first. But it gets easier with practice.

Practical Help

In the heat of the moment, it can be hard to think clearly. I provide workshops and one to one coaching to help you learn new skills and a more productive way of managing conflict.

Why not book a free confidential session–learn a useful tip! Also your choice of one of the ebooks below for free. email