Across the United States, most of us participate in the nearly daily ritual in which we unload our work-related stresses and frustrations onto our loved ones and friends. We bemoan the “tone problem” our colleague has when “asking” if we’ll help them with something. We are angry that, yet again, our supervisor completely ignored our idea in a team meeting. Even worse, another coworker mentioned the same recommendation during a different strategy session and was given credit for it! Or, perhaps we find our office mates are so quiet, rarely willing to talk to us, that we swear they each must have the personality of a limp loaf of bread.
Sure, some of us work in wonderful environments, but whether we’re involved with a great or a terrible organization, we each encounter aspects of our work that irritate us.
Which Stresses You More? People or Tasks?
Now do a self-inventory. When you find yourself talking to somebody about recent stressors at work, how often do these have to do with people versus tasks and processes? In other words, do you more frequently become frustrated by interactions with other people or by the tasks you’re trying to accomplish?
Odds are most of your work-related challenges and complaints pertain to people rather than tasks. Why? For two reasons. First, we’re relational beings and that means it’s easy to feel irritated, annoyed, or even attacked when a person doesn’t behave the way we expect or think they should. Since behavior can usually be changed, it’s easy to become agitated when someone’s actions appear inconsiderate, thoughtless, or rude. Second, even though processes can frustrate us, especially technologies that don’t work the way we expect them to, software, technical tasks, and equipment are not agentic, and therefore, when there are problems, we don’t take it personally. They’re objects. We may need to fix something about the process or the task, but we don’t feel like our character or personality is being threatened when it strains our workflow.
Problems that result from bad processes or tension experienced from doing a particularly unpleasant task are common, but it’s the people part of the equation that really attracts our attention and elicits our ire. Fixing a task challenge is almost always much easier than “fixing” a person!
Technical Skills + Emotional Intelligence = Effective Teams
Effective organizations excel in technical skills (tasks and processes) as well as people skills (emotional intelligence and interpersonal communication). However, many organizations continue to hire for, foster, and act as if technical expertise is the primary driver for becoming profitable and achieving their mission. Instead of striving to find and maintain a healthy focus on both sides of the technical-people equation, they usually end up dedicating a great deal of time to people-related challenges and issues that could have been avoided. Ironically, the increased “people issues” decrease their ability to achieve the tasks they are striving to accomplish.
Further, organizations that don’t prioritize emotional intelligence and relational skills soon find that their company cultures suffer—the quality of life among team members atrophies. Good people leave and the organization struggles to hold onto the technical expertise that goes with them.
A Bunch of Things You Can Immediately Do
So, if your team or organization is failing to meet objectives and not reaching its potential, it’s quite possible the company culture isn’t prioritizing or valorizing emotional intelligence as much as it should.
If that’s the case, here are a few basic frameworks and tools that might be of immediate use.
Learn the difference between trust and respect. Respect pertains to a person’s technical expertise while trust is directly related to their social and emotional intelligence. We trust people with whom we feel emotionally safe and have a natural and open social bond. We respect people who are very capable in their specific role or skillset. It’s possible to have trust and respect for a person, only trust, only respect—or to have neither of those for them. Discern which element is missing from your team and work on it.
Discover what your Behavior Style is and that of your teammates. Your Behavior Style is a pattern of behaviors that comes naturally to you. It differs from personality in that you can intentionally and temporarily change your behavior to fit the appropriate situation. By knowing your Behavior Style and being able to identify that of other people, you’ll find greater success in your relationships. Your teams will perform at a much higher level as well. (Take the Find YourSelf assessment to learn what your Behavior Style is.)
Practice sending emails to coworkers based on their Behavior Style. There isn’t one specific email format or style that works exceptionally well for everyone. However, each Behavior Style certainly has a preferred form of communication.
Reflect on whether you pass the “Smile Test” or not. It’s a quick and easy way to discern the difference between your intent and impact (how you “land” with other people).
Become aware of when your Behavior Style needs aren’t being met. This will help you to minimize tension-reaction behaviors, thus making your interactions with other people go more smoothly–even with that one coworker who seems to delight in upsetting you.
Steward power and influence in the right way. In order to make changes in the world, an organization, or our communities, we need power (influence). Identify which type of influence you have and which one best fits your situation. (Hint: some forms of power foster better relationships and bring about more positive changes than others.)
Develop the habit of navigating conflict properly. Building an increased awareness around the benefits of conflict is a major step forward in thinking differently and, ultimately, finding more success in our relationships (and projects). It is your responsibility to navigate conflict, not everyone else’s.
Exercise your ability to give and receive feedback without taking it personally. Receiving feedback often triggers the internal “fight/flight/freeze” mode in each of us because there’s a good possibility that what comes next will not be a positive experience. However, there are some things we can do to make receiving feedback a more productive encounter.
Keep in mind that everyone is creative. Cherish diversity of team members and their Behavior Styes. Innovation is more important than ever in the creative economy. And the teams and organizations that are going to thrive the most are those which encourage diversity and develop the proper relationship skills to withstand the fruitful tension of differences.
Avoid playing the victim when having a bad interaction. For healthy relationships, it is essential that we know and manage how we “land” on others. However, we also need to take responsibility for what we do when someone has a negative impact on us.
Routinely review the needs, strengths, and blindspots for each of the Behavior Styles. The more familiar you are with the tendencies of Analyzers, Controllers, Persuaders, and Stabilizers, the more quickly you can modify your behavior to make a positive impact, which will cultivate trust and respect among your teammates (and in your personal relationships).
Focus on patterns of behavior rather than personality. Our behaviors are outward expressions that extend from our personality but are far more flexible. Personality evolves over time and more closely reflects what we consider to be “who we are deep down,” while behavior pertains to the actual actions we take—we can change behavior situationally, temporarily, and intentionally. Since behavior is the only part of us other other people really have access to, the success of relationships hinges on our ability to “flex our behavior style” to better meet the needs of the people around us.
Remember that having the same Behavior Style doesn’t mean you’re more likely to get along. Having a Behavior Style in common can help but it hardly guarantees smoother interactions. No matter the Behavior Style combination, you’re going to fact tension and must understand a things to better manage conflict. There are three different possibilities that might precipitate conflict among people with common Behavior Styles.
Jeffrey serves as Communications and Marketing Director at Effectiveness Institute. He is also Editor in Chief of Erraticus, an online publication focused on human flourishing.
He is a former mental health professional and educator living in Cascadia.