Because work is a four letter word. But so is life. And so is love.

Getting Rid of that Pain in the Neck

Want me to head up the program committee? No problem. Chair the Regional event? Be happy to do it. HOWEVER… “that pain in the neck” has volunteered to be on my committee (again!). Apparently she admires my way of doing things and would like for me to mentor her.

But the questions she asks, the comments she makes, they drive me crazy. When she opens her mouth I can just see the whole meeting to go down a rat hole. Frankly, I think she has a personality problem. Maybe Dr. Jane could straighten her out.

The head of a company once wanted me to do the same thing. He wanted me to work with an individual who had “personality problems”. But I declined the request.
You see, my take on the situation was that the problem lay, not in the deep psychological structures of an individual (which none of us have the power or right to fiddle with anyway), but rather in the habitual work style behaviors of each member of the team. And in the area of work style, there was a lot we could do.

Work styles are patterns of customary, learned behaviors which we manifest when we come together in groups to get something done. Since work styles are learned, surface behaviors, they can also be unlearned or relearned with systematic instruction.

When we are working, each of us behaves within the context of a number of “styles”. For instance, in a committee meeting, learning styles, social styles, communication styles and inquiry styles are all operative.

Take, for example, inquiry styles. Inquiry styles are the customary verbal behaviors we use when we are trying to find out what’s going on. There are five different inquiry styles, and each one focuses on and asks questions about very different aspects of a given situation.

For example, you may find yourself frequently using phrases like, “Well, let’s look at the facts” and “What would that look like if…?” These verbal behaviors indicate a preference for the Realist style of inquiry. Realists like to focus on facts.

The pain in the neck, on the other hand, may tend to say things like, “Well, it seems to me that…” and “What would that mean if…?” These verbal behaviors indicate a preference for the Idealist style. Idealists like to focus on values.

Now, the best decisions are made when every style perspective is represented. However, the stress of problem solving often causes us to lock into our own preferred style and shut out the style perspectives of others. When, I’m locked into my own style, questions from other styles seem dumb or quarrelsome. And so the Realist begins to thing the Idealist has “personality problems” (or vice versa).

To avoid this pitfall, you need to identify your own work styles, understand the strengths and weaknesses of the other styles and then learn to practice “stylflex”, adjusting your behavior, when necessary, to bring out the style strengths of others. Training in stylflex enables everybody to play into each others strong suit instead of into each others weak suit. And then nobody becomes a pain in the neck.

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