I started managing folks back in the old days, back before flat screens and smart phones. Before I was promoted and managed managers, I managed employees directly. One of them was aggressive, persistent, loud, bad at math and quite a bit older than me. Her physical style was slow moving and relaxed. I am more of a consensus seeker, great with numbers, in your face when pushed, persistent, and quiet-unless I am speaking in front of a group-then my voice carries. One of my assistant managers once described my physical energy as a flea on a hot tin roof. Mixed metaphors I know, but maybe accurate. Since I speak and train for a living now, this makes sense.
Do you think that the woman and I naturally got along? Nope. I didn’t like her voice or her style, and always wondered if people who were bad at math should be allowed to vote. She thought I was nervous, numbers oriented, wishy-washy, and small. She was a big woman who had been a model in her youth.
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Are any of the attributes that I described for either of us necessarily bad or good? Nope, they are simply a matter of style. We are comfortable with the familiar and most familiar with ourselves. If we are fast, we are typically uncomfortable with slow. If we are loud we are uncomfortable with quiet. If we are physically fit, we are uncomfortable with those who are not. If we are musical we are uncomfortable with those who are tone deaf and so on. Look at the following grid, where I have placed some of my attributes and some of my employee’s. My attributes in blue and her attributes in green.
As human beings we have been trained by a hundred thousand generations of evolution to be wary and careful of differences. Different means dangerous. Different means not of my family, not of my clan, not of my tribe, not of my race, not of my religion and so on. Look at opposite ends of a grid, slow in one corner, fast in another, loud in one corner, quiet in another. Older vs younger are at different ends of the grid. The further you are from someone, the harder it will be for you to be comfortable with them.
So what do we do? We retrain ourselves to look for similarities and things in common. Look at the middle. The employee and I were both persistent, both hated liars, especially those who lied to our customers. We both put our customers’ interests first last and always. Without our loyal and well-served customers we would have to close our doors. Loyal and well served customers meant ongoing business and referrals.
Moral of the story-I worked very effectively with this woman, the one whose voice set me on edge and liked me even less than I liked her, for fourteen years. She made our customers and me a lot of money over those years. I made sure I supported her in doing this and helped her make a good living. I kept her out of peoples’ faces and she pushed me to assert myself. I quieted her when it was appropriate and she made sure I was loud enough to represent our customers’ interests. Because we pushed each other, we made a great team. She was always tall and I was always short. There are some things you just can not change.
Action Items/Activity Triggers
- Realize that differences will make us uncomfortable. Accept it.
- Look for similarities and create a relationship around similarities.
- Try to find complimentary differences. Isn’t that what a team is?
- Enjoy better relationships in your family and work.
Style differences cause instant conflict. You can have major style differences with others and work effectively with them, if you search for shared core values.