Individuals With Similar Psychological Profiles Do Not Necessarily Get Along
Birds of a feather flock together? Not always.
Posted November 7, 2022 | Reviewed by Vanessa Lancaster
- Teamwork is more and more decisive to a company's success.
- Knowing whether two people will get along and work well together is essential to business leaders looking to build teams.
- Long considered as a question of similarity, new research suggests that interpersonal attraction also relies upon a need-compatibility.
Collaborative work is reaching a peak: more and more employees are called upon to work with others, sometimes going as far as creating a collaborative overload. Our own abilities and resources to optimize, measure, and develop interpersonal work relationships are therefore decisive. However, the question of whether two people will get along when working together is still, too often, approached as a simple question of similarities: in the sense that similar profiles should get along and work better together. However, the reality seems –a little–different.
The interpersonal attraction between two people reflects an affective assessment made by an individual with regard to another person: in other words, it represents a positive or negative feeling toward someone. Long considered a single indicator of general appreciation, attraction appears to be multi-dimensional.
Researchers propose a distinction between socio-emotional and task-related aspects of interpersonal attraction. The first, also named social attraction, is measured through a judgment of the desirability of the other person: do I naturally want to spend time with this person, to discuss and be along with them? Task-related attraction is defined by achievement-seeking factors: it is an individual's perceived ability to help us achieve a strategic objective.
At work, strong interpersonal attraction with colleagues or managers has many advantages:
- Studies show that these people have more interactions, are more satisfied with their relationships, and cooperate better
- A strong cohesion with others is proven to help people to perform better and learn more easily
- It leads employees to be more satisfied with their work, more committed, and more efficient
Similarity or complementarity?
Although interpersonal attraction is often perceived as an arbitrary and impossible-to-predict social construct, three main principles explain why it is easier to affiliate with certain people:
- The spatial proximity between the two people
- Their level of physical attractiveness
- Their psychological attributes
Among these predictors, psychological attributes are the ones that appear to have the most impact, and that arouses the most interest in the industry due in part to its non-discriminatory nature. For example, an individual will judge a stranger as more attractive, likable, intelligent, and moral if the latter has similar attitudes to their own: similarity would therefore lead to attraction and difference to repulsion.
Similarly, Theodore Newcomb demonstrated that people will naturally affiliate with others who act alike. Similarity is therefore understood as a "social magnet:" ensuring the creation and success of interpersonal relationships. In that sense, similarity provides a kind of reward: validating one's attitudes with others who hold the same attitudes.
However, if some researchers suggest that similarity is one of the main triggers of attraction, it remains a reductive understanding of human interpersonal relationships. Other studies and theories about interpersonal behavior propose a need-compatibility in attraction: individuals would prefer not to work with others who are similar but rather with people who complement their own qualities. This conception of interpersonal selection and attraction is supported by more recent work, showing that:
- Dissimilarity in the personality dimension of control within leader-follower dyads is positively associated with the follower's satisfaction with the leader.
- Personality similarity results in relatively good initial interactions for dyads composed of two extraverts or two introverts, while personality similarity results in poor initial interactions for dyads composed of two disagreeables;
- In one of our last research papers, presented at the European Conference of Personality, we identified facets of extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness for which dissimilarities within leader-follower dyads were positively associated with the follower’s satisfaction.
Can we predict attraction?
From similarity to compatibility, interpersonal attraction appears more complex than it seems at first glance. Undoubtedly, one should look for a balance between similarity and compatibility to explain attraction better. For example, in long-term marriages studies, while the similarity between the two partners seems important to initiate the relationship, its importance in maintaining this relationship decreases over time: studies concluded that birds of a feather don't always fly farthest, as similarity in Big Five personality predicts more negative marital satisfaction in the long run.
Finally, in everyday life or the workplace, the duos where the attraction is the strongest would be those who share a certain community or convergence (especially regarding values, motives, and expectations on collaboration) while having complementary personalities–on particular traits: individuals would be attracted by difference, in the event that they perceive this difference as complementary of their qualities.
Still, even if behavioral science helps to better understand what causes attraction, it remains impossible for the human brain to process all the data and information about two people's personalities, motivations, and cognitive styles to reliably predict whether their future collaboration will be fruitful or challenging.
New predictive algorithms, capable of processing a large volume of data, are gladly currently being developed to solve the human attraction equation. Far from restricting attraction to numerical features, these algorithms also provide more qualitative information by giving practical insights to business leaders about potential collaborative levers and derailers between two people on different work-related aspects: how they will analyze and solve problems, their preferred ways of interaction and communication, how they envision relationships, how they approach their work and their objectives, or how both take on challenges.
To conclude, due to the always increasing collaborative nature of work, it is no longer possible to rely solely on peoples’ compatibility with a specific role. As everyone spends almost 85 percent of their working time collaborating, it is urgent to consider, when hiring, the candidate's potential attraction and affinity with others.
However, the multi-faceted nature of this invites business leaders to look for new ways and tools to anticipate and understand collaboration: helping them get data-driven insights and make better operational decisions.