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Workplace Doctor: How colleagues with different styles can work in harmony

Contrasting working styles can cause conflict in a workplace. So how can a team with different approaches become more aligned?

My colleague and I work together to complete tasks but we have totally different styles. While he is task-orientated and just wants to get things done, I am more people-orientated, preferring the input of several minds on each task. Our different approaches often cause conflict between us – something we both accept. How can we align our different styles to achieve a more fluid outcome? STM, Abu Dhabi

Dear STM, diversity makes the world go around, or so “they” say. I used to want to sit with those “they” people, and get to the bottom of their thinking as I just couldn’t “get it”. Back in those days, an attitude of “it’s my way or the highway” was entertained. But not any more.

As the theory goes, task-orientated folk work more on the slower side of things because they are involved with analysing the work from every angle. They are off collecting facts, seeking alternatives and always working from the inner perspective. You may or may not know what’s going on within that person, yet be rest assured that something is happening, as the results will be forthcoming at some stage – deep analytically justified results.

On the contrary, people-orientated folk, like you STM, love to get things done, with a huge blob of creativity, connectivity and fun. Everyone around will know how you are feeling throughout the process. Working on the faster side of things, you will probably present solutions that won’t necessarily be thought through thoroughly but rather look good and be socially acceptable. In a nutshell, that’s the difference and I’m sure you can now clearly see the reasons for the misalignment.

You say there is often a state of conflict between you both; I say, it’s more likely you are poles apart. And how great that is. In your workplace, I bet there are times when creativity and connectivity will take the task to a whole new level, producing unknown solutions never thought of before. In this case, your colleague will need to pick up the pace, let go of the analysis and learn to follow his gut. At other times, analysis is key – would you jump out of an airplane if your pull-chord wasn’t folded correctly? In these life or death, safety and security-orientated situations, you will need to slow down, stick to tangibles that have proven evidence and allow the homework to be done.

Some teams can really benefit from having a balance of all behaviours, yet such a team would need awareness to appreciate how and when to apply each other’s strengths. After all, life with opposing behaviours can often seem a little like “push me-pull you” situations.

There are ways to achieve a fluid outcome simply by appreciating and allowing for the behaviour of others. We all have a natural behavioural style and no one is better or worse than the other. If workplaces really understood this and recruited accordingly, you would probably work in different departments. For example, your behaviour would br likely to fly in a marketing or training role, whereas your colleague’s behaviour would respond well in a financial strategic environment. Yet when they do come together on one work project or in one department, find a way to balance the positives of each behaviour, allowing them both to contribute in their own way.

Let’s revisit the first line of your letter once again and change just one word – the word “but” to the word “and” as demonstrated here: My colleague and I work together to complete tasks and we have totally different styles. Identify possibility in difference. Diversity and balance does indeed make the world go around.

Doctor’s prescription

Apply equal doses of “give and take” on a daily basis.

Debbie Nicol, the managing director of the Dubai-based business en motion, is a consultant on leadership and organisational development, strategic change and corporate culture. Email her at debbie.nicol@businessenmotion.com for the Workplace Doctor’s advice on your challenges, whether as an employee, a manager or a colleague

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Updated: March 25, 2014 04:00 AM



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