"I asked for some feedback and all I heard was criticism. I wish I'd never bothered." If this scenario sounds familiar, you may already have resigned yourself to the fact that there are some people at work with whom you simply won't get on.
Although you click with some colleagues, there are others who seem to be on a different planet. Some people bruise you with their bluntness, while others never say what they really mean. Some people leave everything to the last minute while others try to control every detail. And some say nothing in meetings, while others never shut up.
They haven't set out deliberately to get on your nerves. It's just that you aren't on the same wavelength. Different personality types respond differently under the same circumstances.
The trick is to identify the personality type you're talking to and tailor your message accordingly. That way you'll not only reduce conflict, but you'll get your message across more effectively and, ultimately, do a better job.
Know who you work with
The key to careers success in the new millennium, according to Adrian Gilpin, director of training consultancy the Institute of Human Development, is knowledge of people. Whatever your job, to thrive you must be a communicator. No matter how brilliant you are, you'll only shine when you are clearly understood, and you can only be understood when you understand others.
The thrust of Gilpin's argument is that there is a lot you can do to stop your colleagues irritating you. Elizabeth Wilkinson, a careers advisor at the University of London Career Service (ULCS), couldn't agree more, which is precisely why ULCS recently launched a course to tackle communication problems in the workplace.
The concept of the workshop - Why do your colleagues get on your nerves? - is deceptively simple. By gaining an insight into how your colleagues think and feel, and by evaluating key personality traits, you can predict your own and other people's behaviour in all sorts of situations.
We're not talking psychoanalysis for dummies. It's more a case of looking out for the telltale signs and acting on them. "Whatever you're doing and wherever you work, it's very important to have some insight into how you work, how the people you work with work, and how you interact with them," said Wilkinson.
The ULCS course is based on the principles of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a psychometric tool used to determine types of behaviour.
"People have legitimately different styles," Wilkinson explained. "Our course aims to give practical tips on communication and problem solving, and aims to give you a better understanding of yourself and the approaches of those who work with you. If you're not clicking with someone and not getting on, it's worth trying to change your tactic. This is as much about understanding yourself and your preferences."
Are you 'thinking' or 'feeling'?
For example, if you ask someone for help or feedback on a piece of work, a 'thinking' person will tend to pick out all the flaws for improvement ("I always assume people know what they do well"). A 'feeling' person, meanwhile, tends to appreciate the positive first, which in itself can be perceived as insincere by a thinking person. The opportunities for misinterpretation are rife.
If you're in a meeting, you'll find that the extroverts in the group tend to start speaking as soon as they get an idea, then formulate their argument and work out what they're trying to say as they go along. The introverts, meanwhile, tend to think about what they want to say before they speak, by which time the extrovert has already dominated the discussion. The result is frustration and potential conflict.
"There are no right and wrong types of people, and it's not a question of us telling you what sort of a person you are. MBTI is about preferences," said Wilkinson.
This means that while you may have a tendency to behave in a certain way, being aware of your own character traits makes it possible to adapt the way you react. It's rather like being left-handed and learning to write with your right hand - you get better with practice.
And there's no harm in passing on these tips to your colleagues. "People like to make things better for themselves. If they think they're more likely to communicate better with their colleagues by using these tips, they will try them," said Wilkinson.
Know your audience
The MBTI theories are equally valid outside the confines of the office, such as in day-to-day dealings with individuals you're trying to sell to or simply impress. If you're an enthusiastic dotcom entrepreneur trying to sell your idea to a venture capitalist, the conceptual approach may not get you anywhere if your audience is inspired by facts and figures.
If the prospect of having to analyse the personality of every single person you speak to leaves you cold, Wilkinson has some general tips about how you can apply the principles of the course to everyday working life.
"Step back and look at what's going on. The chance is, if they're annoying you, you're probably annoying them," she said. "Everyone has a different way of doing things and each way is valid. Conflicts often happen when people are very different. You need to accept that the other personality types are OK. Appreciate yourself - but understand others too."
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