You’ve been asked to work on a project with a colleague with whom you’ve clashed in the past. But your manager says the two of you need to learn to work together. You know your personal style – you like to work alone, thinking through issues and challenges before you discuss them with. Your colleague, on the other hand, likes to discuss everything, thinking out loud as he goes It’s been a source of friction between you two on many projects. You think, “why can’t he just take some time to think before I discuss this with him?” He thinks, “why can’t she just help me work through my thoughts so I can come to an answer right away?” The manager says you need to get on the same page to successfully get this project done. But how?
Just as your backgrounds or experiences may be diverse, your work styles may be as well. In most cases, we aren’t cognizant of this fact. We just know we have a difficult time working with someone. Your style is a part of who you are just as his style is part of who he is. But how do we figure this out to the benefit of all so that we add value in the workplace and in our lives?
Dimensions of Diversity
Diversity is often viewed and discussed as outward characteristics such as race and gender. As the world becomes more connected, we realize diversity has many aspects beyond the obvious. Kaleidoscope Group’s Dimensions of Diversity model explains four realms of diversity: primary (e.g., age, ethnicity), secondary (e.g., education, marital status), workplace (e.g., occupation, skills) and style (e.g., leadership style, work habits). While workplace and style dimensions may be more difficult to identify and incorporate, KG has a tool that can identify a person’s strengths in these two categories. That tool is Clifton Strengths.
Clifton Strengths is an assessment tool to help people understand who they are at their core – the strengths that give them passion, help them create and drive their lives. This assessment focuses on what is right with people and measures the particular ways in which an individual tends to approach their work, their relationships, and their lives. It does this by examining a person’s talent, which encompasses their personality and attitudes, as well as their knowledge, skills and abilities. The results provide a lens for understanding who a person is and their distinct characteristics. It identifies an individual’s natural way of thinking, feeling and behaving that remains regardless of role, situation or interaction.
The tool helps us identify our strengths and our blind spots due to those strengths. When a group of people is aware of their strengths and blind spots and those of their colleagues, we understand why people do things the way they do. With few exceptions, employees are motivated to get to the end goal, to do what’s needed and to provide the services and products their managers and customers expect with the best outcome. But we all arrive there in a different way. When strengths are known and valued on a team, what was a conflict in the above scenario becomes an understanding of the diverse ways people navigate the world and we begin to see value from a different perspective (inclusion). We allow people to work the way that best uses their strengths while they enable us to do the same. In the above example, understanding that the key Strength of the woman was strategic thinking while that of the man was communication would help us see that she needed a little time alone with her thoughts before engaging while he needed to “think out loud” about how to do the project. Recognizing this, the two could set a timeline that would contain both styles – perhaps give her an hour to become familiar with and think through the project and then regroup. During this hour, he could write down the ideas flying through his head so he’s sure to capture what he’s thinking. When they regroup, each is more likely to come at the work in a collegial way rather than as a source of frustration.
The Value of Difference
Through one-on-one and team coaching on strengths, people begin to understand the value of each distinct way of working and how to leverage each other’s strengths. Many of my clients have experienced ‘aha’ moments during coaching when they realize that the colleague they are learning about has strengths that may sometimes clash with theirs, but nevertheless, they are just as valuable. The outcome is that people begin to embrace each other’s uniqueness and even seek colleagues to partner with who have a strength that may be less strong in them. The awareness and understanding of yourself and your colleagues garnered through Strengths begins to shift the culture towards more inclusiveness. Employees become more engaged through a shared language and understanding of what makes them and their colleagues tick and conflicts are easier to resolve.
*The Clifton Strengths Assessment was researched and developed by Don Clifton, CEO of Gallup, who is often considered the father of strengths psychology.
Michaelle Van Linden is a senior consultant with Kaleidoscope Group and a certified Gallup Strengths Coach. She has consulted with, and coached, numerous individuals and teams in the use of Strengths in their work and personal lives. She has coached small family-run companies and large multinational corporations, both non-profit and for-profit organizations and students in high school and college helping them to see the value of their strengths to create better, more fulfilling lives. To find out more about Clifton Strengths, Michaelle can be reached at 847-910-9083 or firstname.lastname@example.org