Archive for August, 2013

“I’m not crazy – I’m just not YOU!”* 4 areas of easy misunderstanding between people at work, and how to get around them

August 19, 2013

Time and again in my work as a consultant and coach, I am approached regarding people at work having difficulty with each other: with behavior, with attitudes, with work style.

And ever so often, I find that conflict can be easily resolved – through mutual understanding of different personality types, and adjusted behavior towards being an ‘adequate other’ to colleagues, people reporting to you, and your superiors.

Here are a few aspects:

On a need to talk – or not talk …

You extroverts who are talkative and love bursting into somebody else’s office to quickly discuss an idea – do you realize that if that colleague is an introvert, your sudden ‘intervention’ is not welcome? That your colleague would much prefer you sleep over your idea, then send an email about it, and in the email ask to agree a date and time when to sit down and talk about this? The reason: Your introverted colleague processes information differently, and while for you as an extrovert, there is a direct connection from your brain to your tongue, for your introvert colleague, the information goes from the brain through the whole body – and only then to the tongue. But you can be sure that once you get an answer, it will be thoroughly thought through.

In turn, dear introverts, your extrovert colleagues cannot read your mind – they cannot actually hear what’s going on inside you. What is going on in there tends to be very rich – so it would be so generous of you if every once in a while you could actually speak some of it to share with the world around you! You might be too quiet in a meeting, just thinking a lot but not saying a word – and what a loss for the world not to know your thoughts … I mean it!

On detail vs. big picture …

Then, dear intuitive people, for you it’s enough that somebody gives you an idea, a rough vision – you can run and fly with it, you can say “I can see it all now!” Disappointed that you don’t get total enthusiasm from some other colleagues or your boss when you pass that idea or vision on? Well, that might be because they are not that intuitively inclined and literally can’t ‘see it all now’. What do they need? A fact sheet, dear friends! A one-pager with all the possible data you can generate. You need a budget for that ‘great idea’ from that less intuitively inclined person? Well, the one-pager fact sheet can help them greatly to also ‘see it all’ – and actually approve the money!

In turn, dear ‘facts and data’ people, you might have worked out a detailed concept with excel sheets, etc. – and you might send it to your colleague or boss with a detailed email explaining it all. Now, if your recipient has a clear intuitive preference, you can be sure of one thing: They won’t read it. No, they won’t. They might catch a few headlines and briefly skim over all your stuff – and will feel thoroughly stressed. It’s too much information for them!

So if you want to be sure they actually read you, keep the information as short as possible. Put the key thing already into the headline. Break information up in paragraphs, and bold all relevant text bits (like I’m doing here) – so that when your recipients skim through, their eyes catch at least the bold parts!

On criticism and feedback …

Thirdly, there is this thing about criticism – well, hopefully it would be constructive feedback. When you are in a meeting, pay attention to who tends to speak first, dissecting a concept or an idea and immediately pointing out the flaws. That person has a rational, logical preference. Keeping harmony is less important to them. They tend to be more focused on outcomes and results than on keeping happy relationships. Well, tough on those people to who harmony and relationships are very important. If their work or their ideas are criticized, they might take it personally, thinking that they are not liked … That logical, rational person can receive feedback more easily – they will take it as about their work, not about themselves. That other person, needing harmony and good relationships – will, if you need to give feedback, please assure them first that they are great people and you really enjoy working with them. Only after that, offer “and then there is this one thing that could still be optimized …”

On timely, structured process vs. last-minute, leave-everything-open approach …

Finally, there is this tricky thing about structure, process and order. Biiiiiiiiig issue amongst co-workers, and employees and their bosses. Just huge! Your colleague, the person reporting to you or your boss is always last minute with everything? Well, to tell you the truth: They love it! They thrive on that, they need it to feel good, to feel energized. You ask them to deliver something three days before a deadline? That paralyzes them completely, drains all energy from their bodies right there. They can’t function.

Of course, their last-minute style is totally stressful to you!! You are now in the pressure cooker, needing to work like a maniac to finalize your part of the deal that was dependent on receiving theirs.

The other way round, your own preference might be an orderly, structured one – you want to get started on an assignment on time, work your way through it step by step, not get interrupted, and be done well ahead of the deadline. Was it you who was done with her/his Master’s thesis one month before the deadline? Unimaginable for those last-minute people who only printed their thesis half an hour before having to ultimately hand it in!

So: working last minute is highly stressful for some, while highly energizing for others. Working according to a plan and being done well in advance is the preferred mode for some, but paralyzing for others.

How do you get around that? A boss I know sets his last-minute employee fictitious deadlines – 10 days before the real deadline. It works out great for both of them! The employee gets the pressure she needs to make her thrive – and the boss still has sufficient time to review and add own work on to what was delivered. Nobody has to work through the last night if they don’t want to.

A final part of this last-minute preference is: changing decisions and parameters. Not even remembering that certain things had been said and agreed before. ‘Normal’ for the last-minute people. Hugely stressful for those orderly, structured people with a plan. They will say “You can’t do that! You can’t change things now!” To which the last-minute person will say “Why not? Of course I can! I’m doing it now!” The people who prefer the structured process will be stressed by sudden changes of parameters – the people who prefer leaving things open to the last minute and being flexible to any possible change find it stressful to be ‘squeezed into a shape’ without being able to get out of that …

Of course, there are also still variations within a preference! You might be happy with a last-minute work style, but not quite as much as your colleague! E.g., you might like to have a concept ready two days before meeting a client, so other people can still review – whereas your colleague might be happy with writing up the concept half an hour before meeting the client … (Sounds familiar, too?) And that colleague cannot even understand what you are fussing about?

How do you deal with all these possible areas of conflict and disagreement?

Well, how about meeting in the middle? Developing some mutual understanding and each doing one’s part to move closer towards compromise?

Try this:

  • Introverts who reveal a bit more and extroverts who talk a bit less.
  • Facts-and-data people who sacrifice a little detail and intuitive people who read their mails a bit more attentively.
  • Logical, rational people who slow down a moment before firing off their criticism, thinking a bit about who might be hurt by what they say. Harmony seekers who try to separate feedback about their work from the sense of whether they’re being liked.
  • Process-focused people who try to work on their flexibility towards changing parameters. And last-minute, leave-everything-open people who try to stick a bit more to a pre-agreed plan, and who take into consideration who in the ‘producing value’ chain comes behind them, and who of those might have to work through the night, the weekend, or past a deadline due to being on the receiving end of that ever-so-energizing last-minute work style …

Good luck with observing and understanding each other better, and with talking it through and getting to mutual agreement about workable compromise!

And if you would like help and support with that, feel free to get in touch – I am an accredited Myers Briggs Personality Types practitioner.


*’I’m not crazy, I’m just not you’ is the title of a book on the topic: