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Accept People’s Differences

Have you ever stopped to think about the very different ways that people tackle their assignments and relate to their clients and colleagues? If so, then you have probably noticed that some people seem to wear their personalities on their sleeves and others keep their real concerns to themselves. With some people, what you see is what you get. With others, it takes time and trust for them to open up. You may have noticed that when it comes to communications some people just want the broad picture whilst others prefer chapter and verse. Those who want the broad picture are irritated with a detailed report full of appendices and statistical analyses. Those who prefer details are usually uncomfortable with having a broad outline only. You may have observed that some people make their decisions in a completely impersonal way. Emphasis is placed on fairness and equity. Justice is the order of the day. Others find it almost impossible to take decisions without considering the personal dimensions. Sentiment may be valued above logic. If forced to choose between tact and truth, tact may win the day. Some people keep detailed ‘to do’ lists, know exactly what they are going to do for the month ahead and even plan their holidays a year in advance. To others, these ways of behaving are a complete anathema. Adaptability and spontaneity are the characteristics that appeal.

Some of us think that people are uninterested or withholding information in a meeting when in fact they are working things out in their heads. Others have the impression that someone is uncertain or inconsistent when that person is thinking aloud. Some people fall into the trap of believing that others are unimaginative when in fact they are raising realistic and practical questions. Some of us make the mistake of thinking that our colleagues are procrastinating and unreliable when they are trying to keep options open. Some people see others as rigid and controlling when they are in fact preparing careful plans and schedules. Sometimes our judgements of other people are biased as a result of our own ways of seeing things and making decisions. Some of us even go so far as to fall into the trap of believing that everybody else sees the world in the same way that we do.

Team leaders who take people’s differences and the root causes of their own preferences into account find it easier to communicate and develop a good rapport with their colleagues. It is useful to have some guidelines to help us to understand these differences in a straightforward and relatively simple way. A good starting point is the work of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung and the mother-and-daughter partnership of Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers. Jung’s 1923 work Psychological Types provides the basic personality classifications. Myers and Briggs subsequently designed a psychological instrument that explains differences according to Jung’s theory of personality preferences.

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator is one of the most widely used psychometric tests of preferences. It is used throughout the world and has been translated into many languages. An effective way for leaders and their teams to understand differences and the implications for communications, relationships, ways of working and so on is to complete the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and to reflect on the results. Many businesses and other organizations, especially those that take leadership development and teamwork seriously, arrange for this to happen.

Abbott Mead Vickers is a high-performing advertising agency. It is also a good place to work. It was ranked in the 2001, 2002 and 2003 Sunday Times Best Companies to Work For league tables. Myers Briggs is used extensively as part of its leadership and team development programme. Development Director Alison Chadwick explains the benefits:

Although most of our people tend to have good self-awareness and understanding of others (these are important hiring criteria after all) we find that Myers Briggs gives an extra dimension. It is robust but easy to understand and the insights it provides help people build and maintain productive and harmonious relationships both internally and with clients. It helps our leaders manage diversity and gives them insights into how they can beneficially adapt their styles to the preferences of others. This is especially valuable for teamwork. With an understanding of Myers Briggs it is easier for team members to welcome and work constructively with differences between them, and to gain more cohesion as a team. Another benefit of Myers Briggs is the perspective it can give people on how they react to stress. Advertising is a challenging business, and insights that help people manage stress are always valuable.

A simple description of basic differences follows. It is based on the work of Jung, Myers and Briggs. It provides a starting point for understanding how different people tick and how they like to be treated. Readers who are not familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator may feel that it would be useful, subsequently, for them and their teams to complete it and to discuss the implications with a qualified adviser.

Four factors that influence the ways in which people behave are considered:

  • how people prefer to relate to others;
  • how people prefer to gather and use information;
  • how people prefer to make decisions;
  • how people prefer to organize themselves and their work.

People have to relate every day with clients and their colleagues. Some people prefer to do this in an extraverted way, meeting frequently with others, talking through ideas, taking initiatives in relationships and being sociable and expressive. Other people are rather more introverted, preferring to think things through by themselves before talking with others. Sometimes they prefer to communicate in writing. They often wish to be private and contained.

When gathering and using information some people are more comfortable with facts, details and practical applications. They trust experience and they like to work with ideas that have been tested. Others are happier with the big picture. They tend to look for future opportunities. They enjoy ideas and looking at patterns and meanings in data, and they trust inspiration.

When making decisions, some people are very analytical, use cause-and-effect reasoning, strive for objectivity and solve problems with logic. They sometimes appear to be tough minded. They like people to be treated equitably and with justice. Others tend to make decisions primarily in keeping with their values and beliefs. They like to consider what is important to them and to the others involved. They may appear to be tender minded. They like people to be treated from an individual perspective. They are empathetic.

Finally, some people prefer to behave in a planned and orderly way, seeking to regulate and manage their lives. They like to resolve issues quickly and move on. They make plans, short and long term, and are methodical and systematic. Others prefer to live in a flexible, spontaneous way, seeking to experience and understand life rather than to control it. They like to collect as much information as possible before arriving at decisions. They like to adapt to last-minute options. They often feel energized by 11th-hour pressures. These differences are summed up in Personality differences .

Here are some tips for working constructively with your team members by taking individual differences into account:

Working with extraverts:

  • Let extraverts speak their minds without always holding them to what they say.
  • Communicate face to face whenever possible.
  • Give them plenty of opportunities to express, to talk and to share.
  • Provide plenty of positive feedback.
  • Be tolerant when they think aloud.

Working with introverts:

  • Give them time to reflect.
  • Follow up important conversations in writing whenever possible.
  • ‘Open the door’ for them in meetings by specifically inviting them to contribute or asking if they wish to comment.
  • Provide peace and quiet for concentration.
  • Be tolerant when they need time to think before responding.

Working with those who have a practical preference when gathering and using information:

  • Provide information in a step-by-step fashion with lots of facts and examples.
  • Dot Is and cross Ts.
  • Focus on rules, deadlines, traditions and rituals.
  • Give specific answers.
  • Concentrate on the immediate and short-term issues and benefits.
  • Be literal.

Working with those who have a creative preference when gathering and using information:

  • Give them plenty of opportunities to contribute their own ideas.
  • Focus on reason and principles.
  • Use insights and imagination to provoke discussion.
  • Don’t worry about not being literal.
  • Concentrate on the longer-term issues and benefits.
  • Harness their problem-solving capabilities.
  • Working with those who have a preference for bringing analysis to the decision-making process:
  • Give them plenty of opportunities to analyse data.
  • Give them a chance to challenge ideas.
  • Appeal to their sense of fairness, justice and equity.
  • Use cause-and-effect and pros-and-cons analyses with them when assessing options.

Working with those who have a preference for bringing personal values and beliefs to the decision-making process:

  • Allow for their values when they are seeking to understand and decide.
  • Recognize their strong concern for harmony and support among colleagues.
  • Provide lots of positive feedback.
  • Emphasize the benefits to people of proposals that you make.

Working with those who prefer a structured approach to life:

  • Provide agendas, schedules and plans.
  • Give plenty of advance warning of changes.
  • Try to avoid too many surprises.
  • Don’t leave issues open for too long.

Working with those who prefer a flexible approach to life:

  • Provide plenty of room for manoeuvre.
  • Recognize that they have a strong need to determine matters for themselves.
  • Leave things open as long as possible.
  • Provide scope, where possible, for a flexible approach to assignments and projects.

Clearly none of us should follow these suggestions in a slave-like fashion. There will be many occasions when the nature of tasks and the requirements of the firm in which we work prevent us from behaving in these ways. However, they are useful tips to bear in mind and to apply in a balanced way when circumstances permit.