There are several different types of challenges in a work environment. In order to succeed, we must be able to identify these challenges and develop the appropriate skills to face them.
One obvious kind of challenge is the inherent difficulty to perform the tasks required by our professional role in the organization. Thus the sales person has the challenge of closing deals, the marketing person has the challenge of creating leads and the software developer has the challenge of implementing algorithms. When we choose a particular profession and go to college, our goal is to acquire the tools that will enable us to handle this kind of challenge.
However, there is also a very different type of challenge: interacting with our colleagues in the workplace. This includes the conversations we have with our boss, the collaboration with co-workers in our department and managing subordinates in the case we are in a leadership position. In general all these different types of relationships may become a dangerous source of conflicts and misunderstandings, but very few people actively invest their time in developing tools to handle these situations.
The first time I was exposed to the importance of managing relationships in the workplace was when I was still a Computer Sciences student and read Lee Iacocca’s autobiography. He was an American automobile executive who worked for Ford developing several successful new car models, and later became the CEO of Chrysler, saving it from bankruptcy at that time.
Iacocca studied Mechanical Engineering, but he also took several psychology courses. In his autobiography he writes about the relevance of studying psychology: “I’m not being facetious when I say that these were probably the most valuable courses of my college career.” He adds: “It makes for a bad pun, but it’s true: I’ve applied more of those courses in dealing with the nuts I’ve met in the corporate world than all the engineering courses in dealing with the nuts (and bolts) of automobiles.”
One of the topics I recently studied at ThePowerMBA was the diverse Personality Types. In particular, we covered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) framework, which has 16 personality types, that are the possible combinations of 4 dimensions:
- The first dimension is the Introvert/Extrovert scale. Introverts need more time by themselves, being alone and focusing on their inner world. Extroverts need to spend their time socializing with others, focusing on the outer world.
- The second dimension is the Sensing/iNtuitive scale. When processing information, individuals on the Sensing side focus on evidence and experience in arriving at a decision they are comfortable with. In contrast, people who are more Intuitive tend to interpret things and give them a personal meaning.
- The third dimension is the Thinking/Feeling scale. When making decisions, people on the Thinking side prefer to employ logic and a rational analysis. On the Feeling side, people are more driven by emotions and their personal feelings.
- The fourth dimension is the Perceiving/Judging scale. When dealing with the outside world, people on the Perceiving side prefer to stay open to new information and alternatives. In contrast, people on the Judging side want to arrive quickly at a decision.
The image below, from the ToolChest website, summarizes the 4 MBTI dimensions:
I recently read an excellent book about the importance of Personality Types. It’s called “Surrounded by Idiots”, by the Swedish behavioral expert Thomas Erikson. This book is based on the DISC method, which classifies Human Behavior into four types: Dominance (D), Inducement (I), Submission (S), and Compliance (C). In his book, Erikson describes the many differences among the four types, in a way that is both practical and entertaining. Based on his own experience as a consultant for big companies, Erikson focuses on the situations created by these four types in the workplace. He gives concrete advice on how to overcome conflicts and develop productive relationships with our colleagues.
In the opening of the first chapter, Erikson explains why it is so difficult to communicate effectively: “Everything you say to a person is filtered through his frames of reference, biases, and preconceived ideas. What remains is ultimately the message that he understands. For many different reasons, he can interpret what you want to convey in a totally different way than you intended. What is actually understood will, naturally, vary depending on who you are speaking to, but it is very rare that the entire message gets through exactly as you conceived it in your mind.”
Understanding Human Behavior
One of the aspects that was covered in my ThePowerMBA class was the importance of understanding Human Behavior in order to improve relationships in the workplace. There are several benefits we can obtain from an increased awareness about the particular needs and expectations of the different types of people collaborating with us in our jobs.
Everyday communication: understanding how others perceive the world enables us to adjust our communication to them. For example, a person who is detail oriented may want to analyze all the values in a report. For such a person, focusing on the big picture may be seen as something abstract and not actionable. We need to know if the person we are working with is someone who expects to learn all the details or if this person feels comfortable by knowing only the bottom-line.
Coordinating a team: assigning tasks to the different team members according to their personality types ensures higher productivity. Some people will prefer to work on problem solving tasks that require mostly analytical skills, while others will feel better brainstorming new ideas, using their creativity and imagination. While some people feel comfortable speaking in public, others will prefer to contribute by preparing written documents.
Dealing with emotions and stress: being aware of what causes us and others stress will help us avoid it. Most professionals prefer to work on a few well-defined tasks with clear deadlines, even if some people actually enjoy developing multiple projects in parallel. The pressure to multi-task and the constant interruptions in the workplace may have a strong negative impact on the employees’ emotional wellbeing.
In general, a better understanding of Human Behavior will be beneficial for all professional activities that require interactions with co-workers. This includes our personal relationship with our boss, the effective cooperation with colleagues in a project or leading and coordinating the tasks of the members of our team.
Talking to Strangers
Another very interesting book about this subject is “Talking to Strangers”, by the best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell. This book presents several real-world stories that illustrate the difficulties we have when interacting with other humans. In his book, Gladwell brings fascinating examples of misunderstandings and misjudgments. Unfortunately some of these stories had a tragic end, with the cost of innocent human lives.
One phenomenon described by Gladwell in his book is the “default to truth“: we tend to believe in the things people tell us. Therefore, it is very difficult for us, as human beings, to accurately detect that someone is lying to us. In his words: “You believe someone not because you have no doubts about them. Belief is not the absence of doubt. You believe someone because you don’t have enough doubts about them.”
It is essential for our personal and professional success to be able to understand human behavior. In order to acquire tools to improve our relationships, we should invest in learning about psychology and the different personality types. These skills can have a direct positive impact in the workplace and influence the development of our careers.