Thinking Out Loud

Giving Direction

Alisa is a team leader at a marketing firm. Her team has six members working on a project for one of their bigger accounts. Alisa is conscious of giving praise (when it’s deserved) and holding everyone to high standards. She stays connected with team members through regular staff meetings and pushes herself to make one-on-one contact as much as she can, given her busy schedule. She is also respectful, listens well, has an overall positive attitude, and gives clear directions.

Alisa organizes projects primarily in the visual-spatial realm, i.e. she pictures all of the pieces of the project and how they relate to each other. She “carries” the whole picture in her mind’s eye, adjusting the parts as she gathers new information. This, of course, is invisible to others around her but gets communicated in her descriptions as she speaks.

Months ago, she realized that her descriptions didn’t connect well with one of her team members, Jeremy—that communicating the whole picture and the relationships between the parts wasn’t very effective. When she did this, Jeremy asked a lot of questions and required a lot of clarification, though Alisa believed she had been very clear. Frequently they didn’t communicate well at all.

Because of this disconnect, Alisa changed her tactics and started conversations by asking Jeremy questions, hoping to discover what information/resources he needed and where he was in the process of completing his work. This worked better but was still cumbersome and confusing.

Then during one exchange, when Jeremy made a passing reference to his logical approach to a project, Alisa got the missing piece: Jeremy’s processing style is strongly logical/sequential and he doesn’t see the overall picture she describes in her own strongly based visual-spatial orientation. It has no order for him so he doesn’t recognize the relationships between the parts. His reasoned and linear orientation produces a different set of relationships: specific steps, or goals, that he works through sequentially.

Now, Alisa and Jeremy collaborate differently. Jeremy shows Alisa (on paper) his timeline and how he sees the project progressing. Alisa uses that to show Jeremy (more concretely) how that connects to the bigger picture and she has learned to give sequential directions to Jeremy in a linear format (step 1, step 2, etc.).

Discovering and then working directly with each other’s processing strengths cuts down on frustration and conflict, as well as gives a pathway to successful collaboration.

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