One piece of management advice that I hear a lot is to treat everyone the same. I get where this is coming from. The idea is to be fair, not play favorites, and especially avoid falling into the traps that biases (conscious or unconscious) can set. These are important--don't get me wrong--but once you're over these fundamental hurdles, treating everyone the same won't get you very far as a manager (or in life).

It's far more useful to recognize that every single person you work with is an individual. And rather than treating every one of them exactly the same, it works much, much better to adapt to the people you work with. This is the secret to bringing out the best in them. 

Managing Up, Down, and Around

Almost everyone does this with their bosses. It's what "managing up" fundamentally is. You work to understand your boss--how she wants to see information, what parts of the work she values the most, what her favored communication style is--in order to get your work seen and your projects approved. 

I take this perspective and apply it to everyone: my peers, my subordinates, my subordinates' subordinates, my customers. Everyone. I do my best to understand each individual and to go at least halfway to meet them, so that we can do productive work together, and so they feel that they truly can bring their whole self to work and be appreciated for their efforts and abilities. 

Everyone is a Puzzle

When I explain this to people, the most common response I get is, "But that's a lot of work!"

It is, but it pays off handsomely. It allows you to allow everyone to be their best selves. 

Everyone is a puzzle. Some need to be cajoled, some need to be inspired, some need to sleep on things, some prefer direct feedback all the time, and for some direct feedback all the time would be hugely uncomfortable. 

How you do this is up to you. Figure it out. Do the work. Get to know the people you work with as people, rather than treating them like machines. 

Meet in the Middle

The other objection I often get to this approach is that it must require me to be a chameleon. If I'm working so hard to adapt to others, doesn't that mean I lose myself? 

No. It's okay to meet in the middle. I'm me. I have my own quirks and foibles, my own preferences. At the same time that I'm working to adapt to my colleagues, I hope that they're returning the favor. 

This is well worth the investment of time and effort. It will make you a better, more inclusive, and more thoughtful person--at work, and beyond. 

Published on: Oct 31, 2019
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