Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world we work in always exuded comradery and cohesiveness? If people always respected each other's differences? We spend an extraordinary amount of time at work with our coworkers. Each person has a unique set of characteristics and personality traits derived from their upbringing, family dynamics and even generational experiences. So, when conflict arises and people find it challenging to work well together, it can lead to low morale and a decrease in both productivity and job satisfaction.
In fact, 32% of employees surveyed by Aetna International said they took a sick day because they were feeling stressed.
Personally, I relieve stress by being out in nature and photographing wildlife. I will photograph the same animal, flower, landscape—you name it—from various angles because multiple vantage points can enable one to see life from a broader picture. That concept can carry over into the workplace.
The Power of Understanding
We often share more in common than the disparities that separate us. Having a difference of opinion can sometimes make us feel alienated from others. But it can also be very healthy. It enables us to have a viewpoint from someone else’s lens. If we know what makes a person tick, we have a greater understanding of the way in which they see their world around them and the reasons they respond to things the way they do. Knowing, for example, that someone prefers to analyze a lot of data and facts before making a decision lets you know they’re likely to ask a lot of questions. They want to ensure they make the right decision based on available information, not to make you feel as if you’re being interrogated (although at times it may feel that way).
The key is to use techniques such as reflective listening by paraphrasing and restating both words and feelings, so the other person feels understood. For example, employees want to know if they share an idea with their supervisor that they will weigh the pros and cons—actually consider it—before making a decision. It is completely acceptable to agree to disagree and compromise for the sake of moving forward towards the overarching goal. But what people say matters! And happy employees are beneficial to your organization. Michael C. Bush’s TedTalk, “This is what makes employees happy at work” reports 40% of employees are unhappy at work. He explains why and shares ways to increase employee satisfaction through trust, mutual respect, and fairness. Strong communication is also key.
Strategies for Unification
The ideal situation would be to have teams working together effectively, efficiently and in harmony towards a common goal. When things are not working well, it could stem from a variety of things. A recent blog, “How to Improve Group Dynamics in the Workplace” identified six root causes of negative group dynamics. The author, Jacob Thomas, also shared his thoughts on five personality types that can be disruptive with team dynamics:
Aggressor | Negator | Withdrawer | Recognition Seeker | Joker
Thomas states, “If any of the people on your team can be classified in one of these ways, the overall success and effectiveness of your group will suffer.”
We know the only person we can control is ourselves. So how do we bring these different types together and make it work? One method is through personality assessments.
I’ve taken several throughout my career. Some measure strengths, others explore social traits, but they strive to identify characteristics that will facilitate a better understanding of each other. Taking these assessments, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), not only helped me learn more about why I do some things the way I do, but also why colleagues behave the way they do.
Forbes featured an article by Christine J. Culbertson (Boyle), who shared insight on the Merrill-Reid Method, which categorizes people into one of four quadrants.
Each represents the style with which a person prefers to give and receive. People are a combination of these types but generally will have one “core” quadrant they gravitate towards.
Culbertson says, “by understanding people’s personalities and social styles, you’re creating a valuable experience because you’re communicating with them in their way, validating them, their wants and needs, and powerfully impacting your relationship.”
In addition to understanding one another, we also need to have self-awareness. What makes you motivated to do your best? What stressors are influencing your productivity? Do you allow negative thoughts to infiltrate discussions with colleagues? The World of Work Project's article, “Self Awareness In The World of Work” shares the importance of being self-aware, why it matters and ways in which to improve it. They also make the case for using assessment tools for self-discovery as much as learning about others.
All Relationships Require Effort
All relationships take effort and hard work. None of us is 100% in alignment with our partner, child, parent…so it makes sense we won’t always see eye-to-eye with our coworkers or supervisor.
Relationships don’t just happen. Putting effort into a relationship makes it stronger. Both people need to invest reciprocal time and energy. While no relationship is always 50-50, if one is disengaged, it will be a struggle to keep putting forth an unbalanced effort and the relationship will suffer.
- Find ways to show your appreciation for coworkers who go the extra mile. Take time to acknowledge and celebrate birthdays, work anniversaries, a colleague achieving a new degree or certificate.
- Offer to actively listen when someone is having a challenging day. Ask them—do they want solutions or comfort? Often people are not necessarily looking for you to fix their issue, rather just want to be heard.
- As human beings, we are far from perfect. And just as we would hope someone would for us, extend grace when someone makes a mistake.
- Give people the benefit-of-the-doubt. Perhaps they didn’t intend to sound harsh in an email. Maybe in their effort to be brief, they came across as being short. Perhaps their humor was misunderstood. Texting and messaging is wrought with ambiguity so rather than jump the gun, speak to the individual and seek clarification.
Remember that life is a journey and many types of people cross our paths for a reason. Cherish those opportunities to get to know people and value differences. You don’t have to agree with everything, but rather use those varying perspectives as opportunities to learn and expand your horizons. It could be good for you as a person and great for your business!