Megan and Nadia had worked in the same company for years, but in different departments. They were both passionate about their work and were fun-loving people in social settings. Because of this, they respected and liked each other, and they were genuinely excited when they landed on a team doing a product launch. Megan and Nadia would be collaborating closely on branding and their Project Manager, Jasmine, was happy to have two motivated people on her team, as well.
They had a few productive team meetings to develop a project timeline, but when they got to work Megan and Nadia immediately started to butt heads. Megan plowed forward with agenda items in a way that Nadia could see was ruffling feathers on the team. In short, it made Nadia uncomfortable when Megan prioritized efficiency over quality interactions.
But when Nadia tried to bring up her concerns, Megan shot back with agitation about Nadia’s failure to address some issues that may have cropped up because of Nadia’s effort to keep everyone comfortable and happy.
Their frustrations with each other were bubbling up in meetings, and Jasmine was at a loss for how to manage it.
Jasmine called into an Aspyrre Group Coaching call one day, sounding tired and frustrated. “I thought this product launch would be a breeze because I have such great people working for me. Instead, I’m finding the team is causing so many headaches because they are having personality clashes. We need to be able to work efficiently since we have less than a year until launch, but I can’t seem to figure out how to resolve the conflicts.”
Jasmine’s experience was not unique to their team. These kinds of conflicts come up on a daily basis in every type of work setting. The good news is that they can be managed. Work conflicts usually stem from a core difference in style that pushes our hot buttons. Once the negative dynamic is established, we often find ourselves falling into a self-perpetuating cycle of negative interactions and outcomes.
That said, with a little insight about what was driving these behaviors, Jasmine could find ways to help her team communicate and work more effectively together.
There are few classic social styles that we see in work environments. People don’t always fall squarely into one type, but they tend to have a dominant style. Within just a few minutes of listening to Jasmine talk about her team’s situation, I realized she could use some perspective on her team’s dynamics and conflicts.
We outlined the 4 Key Social Styles, and how these styles often clash in a team setting:
Are task oriented and extroverted – they “drive” towards a goal, and pay attention to what tasks need to be done to get there. They are so focused on pushing to get these tasks done that they often miss cues from team members — offending people without realizing it. It can feel like they are walking over others, pushing their agenda with no regard for what others want or need. This behavior pattern is especially offensive to people who have the opposite “Amiable” style because they are highly attuned to people’s feelings and can’t imagine that the Driver would be unaware of how they are affecting people.
Are people-oriented and extroverted. They are fun, the life of the party, joke a lot, and often get things done through people by influencing the energy in the room with their powerful emotions. Expressives get frustrated when they can’t connect or get a response from others, and may increase the drama and sense of urgency to elicit that response. This behavior pattern is especially offensive to people who have the opposite “Analytical” style, as they live by logic and accuracy. The idea that a person might exaggerate or embellish a story for effect seems dishonest to them, and the overwhelming emotion feels out of control, so they withdraw, judge, and often refuse to interact altogether.
Are people-oriented and more introverted. They’re great listeners and like to empower others, and as such they make wonderful managers, great team players, and facilitators. They are very attuned to people cues, and want people to grow and be happy. They often avoid conflict though, because they hate it when people are upset. So they may not be as direct in conversations as they need to be. This results in less clarity and negative issues or behaviors on their teams going unresolved. Drivers get extremely impatient with this behavior, as it slows down progress towards the goal, and often they dismiss amiables as too slow or unproductive, and go around them.
Are task oriented and more introverted. They are deep thinkers who are most concerned with high quality and getting things right. They can pour through large volumes of data, understand complicated documents, and produce brilliant work, but they need a lot of quiet time and the space to get their work done. They often resent deadlines, because they lead to sloppy work, and they don’t see the need to report their progress to others on a regular basis. This is because they’re too absorbed IN the work to be aware of the people waiting around for the results of their work. This behavior is especially frustrating to Expressives, who value ongoing communication and think Analyticals are incredibly rude to leave people in the dark, especially when they don’t respond right away to phone calls or e-mails.
What Jasmine Learned about Her Team’s Personality Styles
After hearing these personalities described, Jasmine could quickly see that Megan was a “Driver” who was offending the “Amiable” qualities in Nadia, by prioritizing tasks and deadlines over thoroughness and relationships. And likewise, Nadia’s need to explore all the options and keep everyone happy slowed down the process and irritated Megan. They were both getting trapped in seeing the other person’s approach in a negative light.
In contrast, Jasmine saw their opposite styles as an asset to the whole team, and part of what made them excellent people to work with. She wanted to bring them both around to her perspective so that they would have a base level of respect in future interactions. She saw a lot of her own qualities in the Expressive type, so she decided to use that to her advantage. Her own positive outlook and charisma could help neutralize the mounting negative emotions and help Megan and Nadia see each other through a more complementary lens.
While Jasmine knew she wanted to use her style to transform the situation, she wasn’t sure how exactly to do that. So she asked the group for some ideas. Once she had a little time to process them, she decided on a strategy that she thought would work well for the specific situation.
What Jasmine Did
Jasmine decided to take Megan and Nadia out to a dinner. Since they’d liked one another socially, she felt the relaxed environment might remind them of the qualities they appreciated in each other while helping to ease some of the tension. It would be a social dinner for the first hour with the intention of having a meeting at the end.
Since Jasmine was confident the tensions would resurface when they talked about work, she decided to use that as an opening for addressing the challenges they were facing. Her own personality would be helpful when it came to discussing the conflicts, because she felt she could normalize and neutralize their differences. This new perspective could help put a stop some of the blame that was going around and create a paradigm shift between the two.
On the evening of the dinner, Jasmine was happy to see that her instincts had been right. She had set the tone by pleasantly banning all talk of work for the first hour. The three women had some fun conversations and even had a few good laughs. By the time they finished dinner and pulled out their notes, everyone was feeling relaxed and getting along well.
The meeting portion of the evening started out well as a result. They were able to agree on some strategies for the next few months. When it came to updates on their past few weeks of work, the mounting frustrations began to surface. Megan and Nadia were respectful on the surface, but they clearly disagreed with the way things should be progressing. Jasmine took a deep breath and jumped in.
She addressed the tension very directly by saying, “It seems like I’m seeing some differences in style that are creating challenges for the both of you. Is that something you’re noticing, too?” The women were taken off guard by the matter-of-fact and neutral way Jasmine managed to address the elephant in the room. They looked down at their papers for a minute and Jasmine let the silence linger. At last Megan agreed, “Yes, I think that’s probably true.” This opened the way for dialog.
Jasmine tried her plan of normalizing these kinds of differences in style, in an attempt to neutralize the negative emotions being attached to them. She kept it very brief and explained what she was observing through the lens of the different work styles. She also suggested that each of their approaches brought a strength to the team, so she wanted to find a way to harness those strengths. “Is there a way we can divide up the work better so that it plays to your strengths? You are both so talented yet I feel we aren’t using your skills well if you’re feeling frustrated.”
By approaching the conversation with neutrality, facts, and a solution-oriented attitude, Megan and Nadia were quickly able to grasp the dynamics and come up with some possible solutions. Megan could focus on execution of concrete documents and presentations for their team while Nadia would primarily handle background research and brainstorming concepts.
They also came up with a few ways of talking about their differences when they cropped up that would keep it light and non-judgemental. Nadia could say, “Megan, I know you really want this to get done today, but what if we gave ourselves one more day and were able to come up with a better result. Would that be acceptable?” Or Megan could say, “Nadia, I respect your thoroughness, and it’s still important for me to meet this deadline. Can I help us wrap this up quickly, while you confirm important details?”
This small shift in perspective and approach left room for Megan and Nadia to respectfully manage their different styles, while remaining true to their own style. They tried these systems out over time, and Jasmine also took them out for weekly lunches to maintain the sense of collaboration, and to see how they were managing. By staying actively engaged, Jasmine was able to guide them when clashes came up that they didn’t know how to resolve.
What Jasmine, Megan, and Nadia Learned and How They Changed Because of It
By dividing teamwork in a way that played to each person’s strengths, Jasmine created a catalyst for a better relationship dynamic. This shift also relieved enough tension for Megan and Nadia, so they were able to create easier openings to address issues when differences did crop up. The two were more often able to see the other’s qualities as an asset, rather than a frustrating barrier.
By distancing their style and behavior from who they were as people, and seeing their differences as part of a larger group dynamic, they could navigate their differences with much less judgement. If Megan was pushing to meet a deadline and was abrupt with people in the process, Nadia could see this as the typical behavior of a Driver, whose style helped to keep projects on track. Or when Nadia spent longer on a negotiation than Megan would have — yet came out with a mutually positive outcome –Megan could see the benefit of the Amiable’s people-oriented behavior.
It wasn’t always possible to take this positive approach. Megan and Nadia had some very real differences, and sometimes the gap was wide enough in approach that one person’s style seemed completely unacceptable or counterproductive by the other. But a key difference in how they managed this frustration now, was their ability to see that each was a good person who simply had a different style from their own.
Jasmine also felt better equipped to manage day-to-day conflicts with all of her teams. Now that she understood the four social styles — and the ways people could inadvertently push one another’s buttons — she was able to step in and diffuse the tensions before they got out of hand. She also had better insight into how her own personality was alienating to some of the more analytical team members, and she could modify her approach with them as needed.
When we are entrenched in our own way of approaching our work, other styles can seem really ineffective, or even downright offensive. This type of limited perspective can lead to conflict that becomes very personal.
If you serve in a management capacity and have experienced challenging team dynamics, you may find that the 4 Social Styles will serve as a powerful tool for empowering your team members, creating positive change, and improving your group’s outcomes!
Feel free to contact Aspyrre and we will be happy to bring social styles training and or coaching into your organization to help your team work more effectively together.
Written by Heather Rice in collaboration with Nahid Casazza for coaching content.