I saw this morning a tweet from consultant Jeremy Scrivens* which struck me as being very true:
It is easy to feel a natural flow or harmony with people who are similar to us, who employ similar processes to manifest similar talents. And it is just as easy to misunderstand, sometimes unconsciously and sometimes wilfully, folks with different personality types, different talents, and different approaches to things. These people may jar on us as we probably do on them and the “corresponding struggle” that I assume that Jeremy was alluding to in his tweet can emerge, sometimes productively but often disruptively, occasionally even nastily.
God forgive me, I have been as guilty as anyone of making a hasty judgement and thinking dismissively of others because the differences between us have seemed to be so impenetrable, although I have tried very hard not to let this show as outright rudeness.
But I have also, at other times, enjoyed very harmonious and productive working relationships with people who were radically different to me in background, talent, skill, and methodology. When this happens then I and that other person have been aware of our differences as complements, not obstacles. It is a relief, then, to have that other very different person who is able to step up when your own limitations come into play, and nice to know that you are sharing this burden in the same way so as to benefit them and whatever project it is that you are both working on. Any “corresponding struggle” that then takes place between two different natural talents or strengths might manifest more enjoyably and creatively as an intellectual tussle that refines or hones ideas. Having the privilege to observe at close quarters a trusted colleague with quite different abilities to yours can yield fascinating perceptions and stimulate new trains of thought or ways of doing things.
In my past I have, at times, found myself in a role where I had to be the go-between (to put it crudely) between people who were quite different, either because their attitudes towards a certain issue were polar opposites, because they were different personality types or because they were from a different work culture (say, an artist trying to talk to a bureaucrat). Sometimes I was able to help the two parties negotiate their way towards common ground and thereafter a way forward together, and sometimes not.
Over the years the pattern I have noticed for when people (myself included) have been able to work with radically different others has boiled down to this simple thing: where the two people share personal values then they can find a way to work together, and then to even build a rapport. Where folks place their own bloody egos or ambitions first then any opportunity to find shared values around the quality of outcome for a project and / or the way you treat other people will be obscured and lost; jostling for position and defensiveness colour the working relationship.
The trick is to develop a workplace culture and work processes that allow people the time and space and focus to dig down and find out what values they have, and what common ground they can share. The challenge here, perhaps, for people who manage businesses, people or projects is to examine the way their workplaces function, be honest about any obstacles that are in place, and then be willing to change, perhaps innovate, to clear them.
*Jeremy Scrivens is a very nice man and a “Work Futurist & Social Business Culture Catalyst – Helping Enterprises to build positive, kind cultures to engage, collaborate, innovate & grow social business”. I got that description off his twitter account. Or you can check out his website here.