Using Personality to Break Down Communication Barriers at Work
You’ve probably heard of The Five Love Languages, a bestselling relationship book by Gary Chapman. In it, he talks about better ways of engaging with your romantic partner based on how you each express yourself romantically and by understanding each other’s needs.
Some people really like being surprised with a gift. Others might rather you show your affection by helping out around the house – nothing says I love you like emptying the dishwasher or cleaning out those rain gutters! While some need to hear how much they are loved, others just want to sit together and enjoy the comfort of being close… while binge watching Game of Thrones of course.
Understanding what makes our partners tick and being able to give them what they want, in a way they will appreciate, helps forge stronger relationships. If you know who your partner is and what they need to thrive, you are better prepared to prevent and resolve conflicts. It’s why the love languages have become so popular over the years, and why people keep coming back to those core traits.
Much attention is paid to love languages, but figuring out your work language is something that is often ignored.
As much as people hate to admit it, we spend more time interacting with our co-workers than we do at home with the people we love… which is why it is important to understand the people you manage to ensure the environment you are creating within your office thrives as well.
Much like problems within a relationship, a lot of problems at work come from A) not being able to read minds (we can’t help with that) and B) not understanding the underlying “work language” of your employee. We can help break down that barrier.
A behavioral assessment, like The Omnia Profile, interprets that work language. It translates a person’s traits and preferences into a how-to guide on properly incentivizing, communicating and engaging your employees, telling you what the individual needs to be successful.
The first trait is assertiveness, it determines what motivates you. Individuals can have varying degrees of assertiveness, from the bold and forceful to the meek and mild. Naturally assertive employees are focused on personal accomplishment. These are the kind of people who excel in commission-based sales positions and are on the lookout for opportunities for advancement, whereas cautious employees are team oriented and look for ways to help other people.
The “assertives” can come off as being pushy or forceful, especially to the cautious crew, not because they are being a jerk, but because, based off past successes, they are motivated to get the job done their way. On the flip side, someone with a high level of caution could be seen as a pushover because they are willing to compromise and take direction. Neither are necessarily fair assessments.
The next trait is often simplified as Extrovert vs Introvert, but that really just scratches the surface. Socially reserved employees are analytical and fact-driven; their conversations tend to get to the point and give you just what you need to know. When you want specific information imparted to a customer, clearly and concisely, the analytic is the one to go to every time. Sometimes they can seem aloof to their gregarious counterparts, though.
Socially confident employees are more emotionally based in their responses. It’s about how things make them feel and the connections they make with other people. They are great in positions where you need to network and have a lot of face time in order to build and maintain relationships. They can come off as being needlessly chatty to an analytic, though. The analytics want to get right to the task, while the sociable want to get to know each other better first, because that is how they build the bonds needed to feel a part of the team.
Then there’s pace, which is all about sense of urgency and patience.
I’m sure everyone knows that person who, if they aren’t working on ten things at once, keeping all of the balls in the air, they aren’t happy. Those are the multi-taskers; they tell you they work best under the pressure of a deadline. Single-taskers, on the other hand, need to have things ordered and deal with them one at a time. They often come off as being overwhelmed in a hectic workplace, because they most likely are. They need to be in a job or environment where they can get through each thing on their plate before moving on to the next. This can be frustrating to someone with a dizzying sense of urgency, who may not understand that everyone is not wired the way they are. They often run into folks who see them as a whirlwind who doesn’t know how to relax, and who takes on more than they should.
The last language clue comes from an employee’s need for structure and their attention to detail. Look at this as having either “results oriented” or “procedure oriented” priorities. An independent, big-picture person is not about, “Is this done perfectly?” but rather, “Is this done?” A structured, meticulous person, on the other hand, is viewed as a perfectionist who wants to make sure every procedure is carefully followed, because “That is how things get done right.” Often they end up with the same result, but take different ways to get there.
Structured workers are often annoyed with an independent’s inclination to “wing it” and wonder why they have to go back over procedures with them to correct mistakes. Whereas an independent is more likely to wonder “Why are we still talking about this?” and if a mistake is made, where possible, correct it and move on.
Each of these areas is a potential for conflict, but when you understand the people you are working with, it is also a tremendous opportunity.
Very few people are completely off the charts in any of these four categories, but seeing where each individual is, and how that relates to the rest of the team, can help a manager better assess where personnel resources are being allocated and how to get the best out of them. It can also help co-workers understand why people do things a certain way, and what they can do to assist each other in a way that would be constructive rather than counterproductive.
Using an assessment as a pre-hire tool can also help you avoid making costly mistakes, like hiring an aggressive competitor for customer service or a methodical single-tasker for a job where workload priorities are constantly shifting. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hire them; there are many reasons why someone might otherwise be a great fit for a position, but having an understanding of where potential conflicts are, can help you smooth out concerns before they become an issue.
Much like a love language, it is not just a single component that makes a relationship work. We have to think about how all the components of behavior interact with each other inside the same person. It’s about understanding what motivates each unique member of your team and how to adjust to that to make sure everyone is getting what they need to be the best they can.
Knowing your work language, and those of the people around you, and being able to use that information appropriately, strengthens not just individual relationships, but the entire company.