Thinking Out Loud

What Are We Looking At?

Justin worked hard to stay connected to his team. He interacted daily with each of the six members whether he needed to or not. It was just his way—make pleasant conversation to keep things friendly, ask personal questions about member’s kids or vacations, and keep up to the minute on project details. No one doubted Justin’s motives. They knew his heart was in the right place, that he wanted everyone to get along and cared about doing everything well. But . . . they all found him annoying, and it was beginning to erode the overall positive working environment.

The owner of the small marketing agency where Justin works began to notice the tension and tried to find out what was going on. The team’s quality of work was good; that wasn’t the issue. She discovered, however, that there were no weak links in the team and everyone basically liked their roles and what they did, so she concluded that it was a personality conflict between Justin and his team and recommended communication training to help them learn how to discuss these personality conflicts.

When we illuminated the communication styles differences of team members, some things were immediately clear. Justin’s way of continuously interacting reflected his strong interpersonal nature, naturally causing friction with the four members who were more intrapersonally oriented. Just identifying that difference cut down on some of the conflict.

More interestingly though, Justin also discovered that his strong visual-spatial orientation manifested in a way he had not recognized before. “My mind pictures spirals,” he said. “There are spirals  connecting to spirals, and I pick up data from other people and attach it to one or more spirals that I naturally visualize. It’s how I think and organize my mind—and of course no one else realizes what I’m doing because it’s invisible.”

Following up with the team, we made other important discoveries. Two team members have strong logical components to their processing/communication styles and organize information in sequence on a timeline. One of them said, “You mean everyone doesn’t do that?”—a serious and rhetorical question.

What happened next was actually great fun and energizing for the team. Justin placed a large sheet of paper in the middle of the table and sketched his internal spirals, attaching words and symbols signifying the data he had gathered from a recent project. Another team member drew a time line and organized his data along the line. Others participated by making various markings to connect information from the spirals and the timeline.

The spontaneous and creative solution that emerged for this once-struggling team was natural and exciting—and not at all a conflict of personalities.  Recognizing exactly how our strongest communication style components manifest often creates pathways to group problem-solving and team

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