Since the beginning of time, mankind has marveled at the oddity of the others sharing their workspace. Why did one cower in the back of the cave when a dinosaur lumbered by, while another ran to the entrance to take a peek? Why did the tribe need both impulsive warriors and plotting cowards to survive?
Today we still wonder about those sharing our workspace. However, with years of psychological study behind us, personality inventories and observations allow us to narrow our view to four dominant “interpersonal styles”, which we might use as a general overlay to help us interpret the moods and actions of our fellow beings, and to better appreciate and reward their contributions.
Directive. This colleague likes to be in charge, and to at least control their personal environment, and so will gravitate toward leadership opportunities. This is the “because I said so” parent who lacks patience with long explanations for why they want something done, and done now. Strengths: This person will thrive in challenging situations or with difficult assignments, especially if they hold authority or see an opportunity for advancement. He or she will be motivated more by prestige (title) than money – unless salary is how the company recognizes authority and prestige. Concerns: The worst nightmare would be losing control of a situation or workplace. Also, this person does not want to be (1) tied to a routine, (2) taken advantage of, or (3) patronized. People skills may appear “brusque” to others.
Expressive. Very often this person is involved in a caring profession, sales work or general support. This is the “people person” who focuses their energy on others, the one who wants to help. He or she particularly enjoys solving other people’s problems. They need people to talk to in a workplace and prefer freedom from control. Strengths: This person will excel at working within a team environment. Awards programs are motivating, or the opportunity to earn social recognition. Concerns: This person does not want blame – they don’t want negative feelings attached to themselves, or people upset with them. Their worst nightmare would be public humiliation or being blamed for things having gone wrong.
Analytical. This person is focused on doing things the right or correct way, and so exact job descriptions and controlled work environments – no sudden changes – are preferred. Strengths: This person will work best in an established workplace which desires to operate at a status quo mindset, though they are very valuable to a start-up that wants to mitigate risk. He or she is motivated by security. Concerns: working for an impulsive manager who does not clearly communicate the “why” behind desired changes. This person is not comfortable with spontaneous displays of emotion, and dislikes unwarranted personal criticism – which could be the comment that they are resistant to change when, in fact, they more see themselves as wanting change at a reasonable or considered pace.
Adaptive. This tends to be more of the middle-manager personality, a person who has a specialized area of expertise and who might have risen in the company due to that, more than due to a desire to lead, because they are happiest when working as part of a group. His or her focus will be in cooperating, in getting along. Strengths: This person enjoys the status quo but can become a proponent of change if given time to adjust. They will honestly invite input from other group members. Concerns: Instability. This person needs clarity of expectation; if they perceive lack of leadership from a superior, it could adversely affect their performance.
Why does this matter? The workplace truly does need all four of these dimensions expressed to thrive. No one is just one flavor (or color, or initial group, or whatever euphemism we might use to assign a category). We each are a blend – some more multi-faceted than others — but we will have a dominant interpersonal style. The most effective manager will recognize and even hire to our interpersonal styles rather than fight these differences, and will then take care to mitigate our concerns and maximize the most appropriate reward opportunities.