Thinking Out Loud

Neat Freak or Organizer?

Each workday afternoon at around 4:10 Joan begins straightening up her desk, putting files and objects where they belong, hesitating now and then as she holds or looks through some papers. Overall, she moves energetically and seems very purposeful and cheerful as she edges toward quitting time at 4:30.

Lila, Joan’s boss, gets irritated when she sees Joan shift gears and start the straightening process, and most days has the same string of thoughts: When we have so much work to accomplish how can Joan justify taking so much time to neaten up? And why does it take her so long? Lila wonders if Joan is obsessive-compulsive or simply oblivious to the volume of work that needs to get done.

Other than this annoyance Lila and Joan have a good working relationship, and the overall quality of Joan’s work is good. Six people in the department are under Lila’s supervision and the working atmosphere and relationships are positive and productive. Still, Lila finds herself increasingly frustrated by this particular pattern she observes in Joan.

During the communication styles workshop with this department, we focused on what I call “unique and ordinary talents” — abilities/interests we don’t necessarily think much about because they are so ordinary and natural. In fact we often don’t notice them as abilities or talents, we just do them. At one point Joan said, “I just love organizing things. My mind categorizes details and ideas all the time. I can picture where things belong and how to make stuff efficient.”

Lila’s ears perked up at this comment, and although she felt the annoyance related to Joan’s straightening-up routine, she asked a good question. “Joan, what do you mean by efficient?” Joan began describing a project at home in her woodworking shop and how she had arranged different work stations to accommodate each stage in the project.

Then Lila made an observation — “Joan, I notice that you take time at the end of each day to organize your workspace.” — to which Joan responded, “I’ve done that ever since I was a kid. It’s how I think through things and organize the flow of work I’m involved in now and projecting it ahead.”

Then the light bulb went on for Lila. “Joan, do you have any ideas about how we can organize the Glaston survey project?” Without missing a beat, Joan started describing exactly what she would do. This was not in Joan’s job description but she already had analyzed the project and had it organized, which left everyone in the department a bit stunned listening to her complex description.

Joan has very strong logical, visual-spatial, and sequential processing skills that result in her exceptional ability to organize systems for efficiency and maximum productivity. It’s automatic for her and is fun and energizing. Needless to say, Joan got more organizing opportunities following the survey project, which turned out to be very successful.

Although at first glance Joan’s organizing behavior appeared to be a waste of time, it was, in fact, related to some natural processing skills — what I call “unique and ordinary talents.” The Communication Styles Framework helps identify our core processing strengths, which gives clues and cues to important behaviors (abilities) that we often overlook.

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