Building Teamwork Across Different Personalities

by Erin Wortham, People Engagement manager, Insights Learning and Development

“We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are,” Anaïs Nin once wrote. One place where it’s apparent that people hold different perspectives of the world and themselves is in the workplace. Realizing this, and acknowledging this in ourselves, is the first step towards building a team that can work well together in spite of differences, which may even lead to valuing diversity as a source of ideas and strength.

Managing multiple personalities in the office

One of the most common differences encountered in the business world is between introverted and extroverted preferences. On a bad day, people who prefer these different preferences can be in a meeting and completely speak past each other, or even come away with an entirely different impression of what took place and what priorities were agreed. Often this is a result of each person’s personality preference speaking to the other in the way that they, personally, prefer to communicate, rather than in the way their teammate prefers to communicate.

By learning to view the world through different perspectives, and being open to adjusting our behavior in the interest of adapting and connecting, each of us can help build a team at work that’s composed of complementary strengths and weaknesses. Here are some tips on how to better understand your coworkers and build the foundation for strong collaboration:

1. Pretend you’re a private eye

Make some observations of your own. Play detective by taking the time to spot clues about others’ preferences on your team by studying body language, verbal style, interactions, and preferred work environment. What can you pick up about them?

Do they like working in quiet spaces or prefer to be in the center of the action? Do they seem comfortable in social environments or more at-home at their desk working independently? Do they speak to process their thoughts or need time to themselves to prepare speaking points before presenting? Answers to these questions can help you recognize if your teammates lean towards an introverted or extraverted preference.

People who lead with an extroverted preference make up as much as 75 percent of the population, and sometimes it may seem that reward systems and job recognition are generally set up to value their extroverted energy.

“Typically, extroverts see introverts as unsocial, inadequate, shy, secretive and aloof non-contributors,” Jim Lew, a diversity trainer and organizational development expert, told Business News Daily. On the other hand, “Introverts describe extroverts as aggressive, egotistical, unaware, rude and socially needy. While there may be a kernel of truth to these generalizations, the tone is angry and accusatory, rather than appreciative.”

The goal in building and nurturing a solid team dynamic is to get beyond “angry and accusatory” by being open to different types of communication, and through a willingness to adjust your own style in order to tap into the strength of your team. An important part of getting to the point where teammates are appreciating one another’s differences is by understanding what your own interpersonal preferences are.  Learning and development solutions that use personality assessments can be helpful in diagnosing your own disposition as well as that of others you work with.

2. Learn their language

When extroverts and introverts clash, it’s often when they’re speaking to the other in the way they themselves prefer to connect, rather than in the style of the person they’re communicating with. Try something different: Communicate with people not in the style that you prefer, but the style that they prefer. When you communicate with a person in alignment with their interpersonal preferences, there’s a better chance your message will resonate if you adapt and connect to their preference, rather than your own.

If you’re communicating with someone with an introverted preference, for instance, instead of brainstorming ideas on the spot think about sending a note in advance so they have a little time to prepare their ideas. If you’re working with someone who leads with an extroverted preference, on the other hand, it may make sense to deliberately spend more time listening and letting them share their ideas out loud.

3. Fine tune, adjust, and repeat

No one is a pure introvert or a pure extrovert. All of us have introverted or extroverted tendencies to different degrees. Introverts can display extroverted behavior and the same is true of extroverts. This means to build a truly integrated team you’ll have to make an effort to understand each member of your team individually and stretch your preferences on occasion to adapt to your environment. It’s important to remember though that what works for one person, is not what works for all.

After observing and making note of your teammates’ preferences, think about how you can adapt and connect with each of them in a more effective way. If you have a colleague with a thirst for detail, give it to them before they have to ask. If you’re sitting next to someone who is all about the family, ask about their kids and what they did over the weekend. If someone prefers e-mail to face-to-face communication, consider doing more of your work with them in that way. It’s easy to adapt your approach once you know how different people prefer to work.

Putting it all together

Working together isn’t about making others change who they are. Instead, it’s about each of us recognizing our own interpersonal preferences, realizing that not everyone shares them, and staying curious about the preferences of others.

By reflecting on your own beliefs, needs, and motivations, you can better realize your strengths and weaknesses. The more you exercise your ability to articulate these and the more you open up to other people’s preferences, the more you’ll move from a place of judgement to a place of connection and acceptance. You’ll be well on your way to valuing and integrating what others bring to the table.

Erin Wortham Erin Wortham is the People Engagement manager at Insights Learning and Development and manages the organization’s global employee engagement strategy. Erin is a senior professional in Human Resources by the HR Certification Institute and Senior Certified Professional with Society for Human Resource Management.

Erin earned a Masters’ degree in Human Services from St. Edward’s University and a certificate in Human Resource Management from the University of Texas.

In her free time, Erin enjoys photography and being outdoors with her two dogs.

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