Personality at work

“What day of the week do you think we should hold our professional development Lunch ‘n Learn session?” I asked a work colleague. He enthusiastically replied, “On a Tuesday because everyone is here for meetings. It’s like one big party!” I posed the same question to one of our office administrators. She paused for a thoughtful moment. “I am going to strongly suggest that we do Wednesdays and not Tuesdays. Tuesdays are full-on meetings for a lot of people including Open Book, Senior Leadership Team, Partner Development, Sales Team and more. People will need down time on Tuesdays during their lunch.”

It wasn’t a complicated question yet it yielded such different answers. What is going on here? 

Take a minute and think about traits you dislike in individuals you find difficult to work with. Be specific. Your list may include: Bossy people. Micromanagers. Critical. Disorganized. Late. Impatient. Stubborn. Narrow-minded. Too emotional.

Now ask yourself, “Do I find these traits challenging in others because they are unlike me?”  

In other words, is the manager who critiques your work, scouring each detail and asking for five re-dos before accepting the final version, the polar opposite of you? Do you find yourself frustrated with the attention to minutiae and perhaps even calling this person a micromanager . . . or worse?

Now consider your list again and ask yourself a question that perhaps requires more authenticity and humility to answer. “Do I find these traits in others annoying because they are actually like me?” If I’m honest, sometimes I see the areas I like the least about myself more easily in the actions of another.

However you answered those two questions – are the traits challenging because they are like you or not like you – the bottom line is clear. We are all created differently. 

Begin with understanding
Different isn’t bad, it’s simply different. But the practical realities of working together with such differences often leave us baffled and frustrated. How can we make sense of our unique perspectives to reduce conflict and maximize productivity? Where do we turn for help so our teams function effectively?

I believe the answer begins with understanding our personality. For over 25 years I have led individuals and groups through an assessment process where people gain greater understanding of their God-given hardwiring. Our personalities are influenced and shaped by many factors over our lifespan including physical traits, health issues, role models, birth order, education, traumatic experiences and travel, to name just a few. All of these variables are added to that initial framework God gives each of us that can be measured through use of countless tests or inventories. I prefer to use one called the Personal Style Indicator.*

But can understanding personality really make an office or construction site or non-profit organization run more effectively? My experience tells me the answer is a resounding yes! 

Differing styles and learning the language
Consider a situation where a supervisor is highly action-oriented and values results over people’s personal lives. For example, years ago I worked for Lindsay, a highly driven man. He had a task-oriented approach to life and loved being in positions of leadership. He took risks routinely and acted decisively to get the outcomes he desired. He made projects happen. If we asked for a deadline on an assignment he consistently responded, “Yesterday.” We stopped asking.

When I first began working for him, I’d enter his office and begin chatting casually. It was like watching a fog roll in. The more I made small talk, the thicker the fog. So, I learned to walk up to his desk and with a glint in my eye, smack my hand down on his desk saying, “Mr. Brooks, we have a problem.”

Immediately I had his attention and his eyes danced with delight, seeming to say, “A problem? What problem? I love problems!” Then I’d briefly describe the situation, give my proposed solution and ask him what he’d like me to do. Nine times out of ten he’d say, “Great. Do it.” 

The key was brevity of discussion and demonstrating efficiency, forethought and desire to get results – all things someone with his personality highly values. In other words, I spoke his language.

But not everyone who appreciates tasks is so action oriented. How about people who thrive on attention to detail? These individuals excel when they can work independently in an unrushed, uncluttered space. Take my former co-worker, Linda, as an example. She had a natural hardwiring for organizing and creating systems. She took an array of materials for courses we offered and put together a series of shelves each labeled and corresponding to a day of our career transition program. Every handout was filed and each cabinet door displayed a list of additional materials needed in the classroom each morning. 

Individuals with this personality makeup have a God-given ability to take in information, analyze it and create order from chaos. They provide the world with quality control, planning and forward-thinking abilities, and a passion for research and information gathering. 

People with this more analytical approach need time to do their work and get frustrated when not given detailed instructions or “enough” information. And they appreciate the opportunity to talk about the details they have gathered far more than they enjoy sharing about their feelings.

So what about people who do want to talk about feelings? Who are they and how do they show up in the workplace?

Some people are naturally drawn to considering the needs of people over tasks. They thrive when given opportunities to love others and are known for giving compassionate care to people in practical ways. They gravitate toward one-to-one or small group connections where more depth of emotional sharing can happen. 

These people are loyal, hard-working, reliable employees who tend to prefer behind the scenes positions and not be in the centre of attention. They are great listeners and value peace-filled relationships. 

Conflict is often avoided by these individuals. As one of my clients said, “I hate conflict of any kind. I find it hard to be in the room even when someone else is arguing. It makes me feel awful.” And that becomes one of the greatest challenges for these gentle-spirited individuals – the need to see conflict as something natural and possible to navigate. 

There is another type of people person, ones who love to connect and have acquaintance with many and diverse people. They are born to network and thrive on opportunities to creatively influence others. They are idea people who love to talk and tell animated stories. They are drawn to jobs like teaching, sales, marketing, motivational speaking – anything involving lots of people, fun, attention and variety.

These individuals excel at brainstorming and generating ideas but implementation and maintenance of projects bores them and they lose interest. They can annoy others by their lack of attention to detail and time because they are so focused on the people they are enjoying. An office is a far livelier, dynamic environment when these fun-loving, often funny people are part of the team.

Through another lens
We are all created with varying degrees of each of the four styles described. Our strongest style areas drive our values and what we value influences how we interpret the behaviour of others. “I wish John would give me more information,” could be the cry of the analyzer, while the person caring deeply about people might ask, “Why can’t John slow down and show some empathy?” 

Choosing to view another’s behavior through the lens of their God-given style can reduce judgment, lessen misunderstandings and decrease conflict. It can also help co-workers interpret each other’s behaviour more objectively. In fact, maybe that person isn’t intentionally trying to irritate you after all.  

  • Shelaine Strom works with Food for the Hungry half-time as the Manager of Education and Professional Development. She also enjoys writing and coaching women in life transitions. She and her husband Bill live in Abbotsford, B.C. They have three young adult sons, three lovely young women and one precious grandson in their family. You can find Shelaine’s blog at shelainestrom.com.

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