By George Dutch
When clients tell stories about those times in their lives when they are doing what they enjoy most, they often reveal a load of information about their most natural way of building and maintaining relationships with others. The following info will help you recognize three categories of relational talents that may help you distinguish workplace issues that are draining or energizing your client. Remember, don’t read too much into one answer. What matters is a pattern of behavior, consistent over time in different situations. People don’t fit easily into categories; they tend to be more complex, nuanced, and subtle. Look for a pattern.
Joining Teams or Groups. Most work situations are organized around team projects. About 70% of the working population has a natural inclination to mix and match their skills with others towards a common goal. Do your client’s stories reveal an individual who constantly seeks out membership in social clubs, sports teams, professional associations, community services groups, churches/temples/synagogues, and so on? Natural team players tend to be sociable. Most of the time, they prefer companionship. Their idea of the best kind of holiday might be to visit the family cottage to enjoy regular meals and activities with family and friends in a relaxed setting. As you listen to their workplace stories, do you find they feel close to their co-workers? Do they prefer to work in an environment where they see the same people over and over? Do they enjoy going for coffee with the same bunch during breaks, or share meals and activities over lunch, or join them regularly after work for drinks or activities? Does this continued interaction increase their relational bonds? Now, ask them about activities they enjoy outside of work. Do the same relational behaviors show up? Do they hang out with a group of people at a club or a church? Do they gravitate to family gatherings or neighborhood events? If not, then the workplace behavior may be situational: they go along to get along. If your client’s stories do not ring the bell with these team player markers, and if they have a history of conflict or friction in the work place, listen carefully for clues to relational issues. Perhaps, they are one of the 30% who do not fit in with groups or teams.
Going Solo. If you find that your client tends to tell stories that show him or her working alone in a concentrated manner on a task or hobby without being interrupted by others, you may have someone who is happiest when they are completely in charge. They like to make all the decisions. They like to point to the results of their work and say, "I did that." That is because the natural inclination to go solo is a desire to develop and use expertise. They enjoy applying their "strong suit" to solving problems, producing results, or advising others. They like to draw others to them in order to share their expertise. They prefer to work 80% of the time on their own on a task with their expertise, even though they may be working on a task involving another person. They prefer to interact with others 20% of the time, usually sharing their expertise or knowledge. If they are not in a specialist role at work, they may express regret at not becoming a doctor, lawyer, accountant, dentist, electrician, pilot, plumber, academic, reflexologist, or any career that requires the application of a concentrated specialty. Do not confuse this tendency for solo activity with a personality trait of shyness or introversion. These individuals are often articulate and outgoing as accomplished teachers or public speakers in their area of specialty. They love to learn and will say so frequently! They have a natural inclination to deepen relationships. Their idea of a great holiday might be to go on a cruise with their spouse, best friend (since grade school), or sibling, or parents. Why? Because when confined to the close quarters of a ship, they would get to know that person better. Listen for clues about their tendency to maintain personal autonomy in group environments. They can be fiercely independent. They often resist outside influence or supervision, and you do not feel comfortable on teams or in partnerships unless they can maintain independence. And for good reason, because they are often resourceful and self-contained, even highly creative.
Playing the Field. This person has a natural talent for quickly establishing rapport with all types of people on first encounters, and constantly seeks activities where they can meet lots of new people, such as parties, concerts, social mixers, conferences, conventions, network marketing meetings, meet& greet nights, and so on. They adjust easily to the differences in new relationships. Perhaps they have moved several times in their lives, and quickly made friends in their new neighborhoods. On the one hand, listen for clues in their stories that reveal their excitement in easily meeting new people; on the other hand, they are not motivated to maintain, let alone deepen, those new relationships. Repeated contact generally does not enhance the effectiveness of those initial contacts. This talent is displayed one-on-one or with a group. Their idea of a great holiday might be to go to Club Med by themselves for a week. Why? Because they can enjoy intense interactions with many new people with no obligation to follow up with letters, phone calls, or Facebook friendships. They are energized by the initial encounters. In general, these individuals like to spend 80% of their working day interacting with others, and 20% alone learning, writing, working on a task.
Quick Quiz. When listening to client stories, which category of relational talent would you put them in with the following info? When considering their Christmas card list, are they communicating with many people, just a few in their inner circle of family and friends, or just a very special few? When they sit next to someone new on an airplane, do they start and carry a conversation; or do they call or text somebody they know; or, do they prefer to read a book, or work an assignment? Given the opportunity, would they prefer to spend an evening one-on-one with a close friend they see on a frequent basis, with club or team members, or meeting new people?