How to handle diverse working styles

June 14, 2019

By Cheryl Meyer at Financial Management on June 10, 2019

It’s no great secret that everyone works in different ways and that diverse working styles often conflict. This can translate into lost time and productivity, workplace stress, financial costs, and employee despair and departure.

“Conflict is an unmet need, and it escalates when nobody deals with that need,” said Shay McConnon, CEO and chairman of McConnon International Ltd., a Barton-on-Sea, UK, consultancy that specialises in workplace relationships. “We judge behaviour from the impact that the behaviour has on us, rather than the intention. I feel hurt, and I conclude you meant to hurt me.”

But tension can be defused if professionals recognise others’ working styles, along with their own, and then communicate and adapt. This is especially key for managers, most of whom supervise employees whose processes vary greatly.

“To get the best from people, you need to understand them” and treat each individual differently, advised Alison Love, head of Resolution at Work, a UK-based provider of mediation services. Conflict, she noted, often emerges when managers lack skills to address these differences.

So what are the various “working styles”? They run the gamut and depend on the source. McConnon defines professionals in four categories: those who want cordial and thoughtful relationships; the go-getters who are always rushed and brusque; those who are objective and aim to get things right; and people who are a mix of all three.

Cynthia Tobias, a Seattle-based speaker and author of The Way We Work, said some people function best in the morning, while others are night owls; some learn and work best by hearing, while others are visual; and some people are methodical, while others are global and contextual. “We’re not born in a box or category, but our pre-wiring determines a lot of how we choose and use our strengths,” she said.

Love takes her list from the book People Styles at Work ... and Beyond, by Robert Bolton and Dorothy Grover Bolton. The pair define four distinct working styles, Love explained: drivers, or task-oriented individuals; expressives, the blue-sky thinkers and creative types; amiables, team-oriented people who are empathetic and sensitive; and analyticals, the workers who are quiet, focused, and detail-oriented.

Trouble is, no matter what the list, not all styles mesh. “I have struggled with analyticals in the past because the detail stifles me, and to me the big picture is more important,” she acknowledged.

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