Say what you mean and mean what you say… unless you really mean it

I was facilitating a group recently to help them improve the customer service experience they deliver to their customers.

During one session, part of the task was to list the challenges they faced when trying to take ownership.

The usual things came out: workload, out of date computer system, workload, too much work, bad computers, etc.

But there was an extra item on the list which we don’t usually see: personality clashes.

The next stage of the process is to move the list to the next group who come up with potential solutions.  All was going swimmingly until they got the Personality Clashes line on the flipchart, when a huge debate erupted, focussed mostly around the sentiment:

Get a grip or have a word with yourself or take a check-up from the neck up or (my own personal favourite) grow up – you’re an adult.


Cut now, to our business.  We use some personal records, which we have to keep safe.  One of our policies is to shred any papers we no longer need.  The shredder makes a fair bit of noise and Peter hates it, especially when he’s on the ‘phone.  We know this because we saw the spasm of pure anger crash across his face when Kelly shredded some paper.

But he didn’t say anything!

Why not?

Well, there’s no such thing, really, as a personality clash.  Personalities don’t clash, we react in either positive or negative ways to how other people act… which might be driven, in part by their personality.

However, more likely to cause difficulty is the way people approach interactions.  We tend to be either relationship focussed or task focussed.  Cross reference this to slow and fast decision making and you begin to see why there are… differences of opinion.

For example, someone who is task orientated and works quickly will get straight to the point, not muck about with tedious niceties, say it how it is (‘cos they’re not here to win the likeability contest) and generally upset those people who are relationship focussed and take their time.  They like to get to know the person so they can get the most out of them, they’ll spend time and be very caring.

To them the task based person comes across as abrupt and to the relationship person is, quite clearly, a ditherer… to the other.

This isn’t a ‘personality clash’, it’s just different ways of working.  And there are two things to be done to smooth the waters.

1: recognise the type of person your interlocutor might be and make allowances (or tell them that you don’t like their approach)

2: recognise the type of person you and make changes

Neither is easy, but both will yield results.

I’ve thought of third way – don’t use the shredder whilst Peter is on the ‘phone.

1 comment for “Say what you mean and mean what you say… unless you really mean it

  1. 23 August, 2011 at 08:14

    You may find the puzzle is related to one personality trait, empathy. Task orientated people can be empathic and appear considerate, relationship orientated people appear to be.
    Richard didn’t blow his top because he realised kelly lacked consideration, she wasn’t empathising with Richard. She didn’t think that the obviously cream crackered shredder would disturb him when everyone else knew it would. If Richard had blown his top he would have been considered inconsiderate when he isn’t, Kelly is. 50p. says Kelly is relationship orientated.

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