Sunday, November 20, 2011

What We Have Here is an Opportunity to Communicate at Work

My friend and colleague Lisa gave a seminar on the Enneagram last night:  in some ways, I find it a deeper dive on the Myers-Briggs assessment. Lisa uses it in her practice, The Right Fit Coaching.  

Whether you're using the DISC, Myers-Briggs, Enneagram or other instrument to determine communications styles, I have found that such instruments can turn personality conflict issues into more objective discussions of individual style and consequently how to most effectively navigate and communicate through our respective differences, especially in the workplace.

Early in my HR career, my HR teammates Steve and George appeared solemnly at my office door threshold.  They filed in, shut the door and each took a seat in front of my desk.  "What's up, guys?" I queried.  This was an unexpected visit.  George began.  "Deb, we like you and we think you're very smart."  Steve nodded in agreement.  "Because we like you, we're here to give you some advice to support your success,"  George continued. 

I leaned forward in my chair.  I respected George and Steve as well, and I was learning a lot from them.  "Okay, I'm all ears,"  I replied.  Steve shifted uncomfortably in his chair and looked at George.  George smiled at me.  "Bluntly, you're a show-off and a career-climber."  I was a bit taken aback and not quite comprehending the feedback.  George, Steve and I were all wearing safety glasses, metal-toed safety shoes, dirt-streaked jeans, polo shirts and hard hats.  Somehow, I envisioned a more glamorous environment (a la Katherine Hepburn in Adam's Rib) with accompanying wardrobe accoutrements for dialogue like this.  "What do you mean?"  I sputtered.  "I don't understand."

Steve spoke up.  "At every staff meeting, you have to talk about your latest HR challenge,"  he clarified.  "We work on the same issues and you don't see us talking about our work."  I was still confused.  "I talk about my HR challenges because I'm looking for your feedback and coaching:  that's how I learn,"  I explained.  "I'm sorry if you think I'm showing off.  I'm sharing with the purpose of learning from each other."  Both George and Steve looking at my face, then at each other.  "I believe what you're saying," George continued.  "But we both find it irritating.  Can you at least not talk as much?" 

"Sure,"  I replied, still puzzled about the formal chat.  "I enjoy working with both you."  George rose to leave, and Steve followed suit.  "Great!"  George said.  "Thanks for the time."  I was still processing the conversation.  "Wait, before you go:  could we talk to Bill (our boss) about this?"  George and Steve looked at each other.  "In the spirit of supporting our work together."  I continued.  George smiled, and nodded.  "Yes, that's a good idea,"  he replied.  They both left.  I rose from my desk and went to Bill's office.

"What am I doing wrong?"  I asked Bill after I shared my recent visit from George and Steve.  Bill thought for a moment.  "Have you ever taken the Myer-Briggs assessment?" Bill asked.  "Yes, a couple of years ago,"  I replied.  "I'm an ENTJ."  Bill smiled.  "Don't worry, I'll take care of it,"  he replied.

And Bill did take care of it, in short order.  He arranged for a Myers-Briggs team building session for our HR team with an outside consultant who was certified to administer the Myers-Briggs assessment.  Turns out I was the only Extrovert (E) on my team (Myers-Briggs E's think and talk at the same time) while the rest of the team, including George and Steve, were Myers-Briggs Introverts (Is) who think and then talk:  sometimes, not until the next day.  And that my type, the ENTJ, represented only 3% of the entire population; and only 1% of all women were ENTJs.  And the success profile at my organization was ISTJ.  And finally:  that ENTJ was not a typical Myers-Briggs profile for HR professionals.  For example, Steve Jobs was an ENTJ.  "So," our Myers-Briggs consultant explained, "Deb is a contrast when compared to the rest of the team, where Introverts are the norm.  Now that you all know that, you can focus on the facts, rather than the personalities."

The Monday morning after the HR team-building, George and Steve appeared at my office threshold again, and sat down, definitely with a different tone.  Steve spoke first this time.  "We wanted to apologize for accusing you of being a climber," Steve said.  "We know now that it's the way you're wired, and that's not your intention," George added.  I smiled back at both of them.  "Thank you, I really appreciate that," I replied.  "However, I'm also now aware that I'm the equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard for both of you, based on our profiles.  It's also my responsibility to manage myself with both of you, and modulate accordingly."

And in typical Myers-Briggs Introvert style, they both smiled, nodded, said nothing, and got on with their day.  And so did I.

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