Some people at work are going to rub you the wrong way.
You return from a trip, review the memos on your desk, turn on your computer—and immediately get a message from that guy in accounting, who says he needs your expense receipts ASAP. You're steamed.
You're asked to schedule a short meeting with two staffers. A woman from marketing spends 15 minutes talking about her vacation swimming with dolphins. Now, you'll need another meeting. You're vexed.
Neither of these individuals was trying to annoy you. In different circumstances, you may rely on those very same skills you found irritating. We all make snap judgments based on others' behavior when we meet them, and we often take their behavior personally when we shouldn't. You don't typically have access to the inner-workings of your colleagues' brains, but you need to know how to interact productively with them.
The work I've done in brain and behavioral psychology allows me to predict the tone, temperament, and dynamics of human interactions at the office. In a workshop, I already know who is the most forceful and the most amenable, who naturally does the most or least "social" thinking, and so on, for all seven brain attributes (which I described in an earlier post). This lets me group participants in instructive ways.
I'll team up people from opposite ends of different spectrums—gregarious with reserved, excitable and amiable, and open-minded with single-minded. After an activity, I'll ask everyone to reflect. When a naturally vivacious, decisive, focused person is teamed with a shy, conciliatory, agreeable person, the cautious one is crushed.
Sometimes we're annoyed when others contribute something we cannot. They make it look easy. For them, it is.
To illustrate the differing ways people think, check out this exercise I often do in workshops.
I assign a topic and divide everyone attending in pre-determined groups based on analytical, structural, social, and conceptual thinking, and place each person with the others who share his or her strongest "thinking" attribute. I hand out large pads of paper and colored markers, and ask the groups to take notes. I invite the teams to go wherever they wish, but they must return in 15 minutes.
Invariably, one group will leave (usually the conceptual group) because those people do their best thinking while they are lying on the floor, or looking out a window—or, if it's a nice day, outside. I predict that in 15 minutes someone will have to go find them, because this group may not return on time. Sure enough, 15 minutes later, I have to send someone to find the conceptual group, which usually gets a laugh.
Generally, the structural team makes a numbered list in black ink, aligned on the page, in perfect teacher-printed handwriting. The analytical team creates a bulleted list of comments in blue ink, also printed. The social team makes a list using bright colors, possibly with illustrations and hearts. The conceptual team's page will be covered with different colors of ink, ideas in balloons, pictures, and an attempt at some notes that will need to be explained.
The greatest disparity is between the structural and conceptual teams, as well as between the analytical and social teams. The structural brains have little use for the conceptual list, since it is not numbered and doesn't make sense. The conceptual brains will feel disdain for the structural list, which appears dull. The analytical brains find the social brains too touchy-feely. The social brains think the analytical brains have no heart.
If you tried it, this dynamic would also play out among your staffers (group people by your best instinct if you don't have a profile) and it has major implications for your performance.
How do these personalities get along in the workplace? Here are some examples of how different "thinking" attributes may play out among your colleagues:
- People who are quiet, analytical thinkers may be perceived as uncaring—but you need their deftness with data. You'll have to call them out to get it.
- Structural thinkers who are focused may seem overly cautious. They are not trying to shoot down your ideas; this is simply how they verify new concepts.
- Social thinkers who are peacekeepers may be regarded as emotional, but you won't know why they are upset unless you ask. Their gift is how they care about the customer.
- Conceptual thinkers with a driving energy may be perceived as unrealistic and controlling—but you'll love their innovative ideas.
You need all brain attributes represented on your team. You can't expect to love all your employees, but recognize their contributions to help smooth things over. Your differences aren't personal—they're necessary.