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Be Part Chameleon At Work

The echo of voices ricocheted down the hall.

I could hear two of my people talking; actually, I could hear one of them talking. A bit too loudly.

The murmur of another voice, interspersed with tones only slightly more forceful than the murmur, bounced off the walls as everyone in the office pretended to ignore them.

I let my people work things out on their own, but I was curious how this started and how it was going to end.

The murmuring one was in the marketing department, and he was at his wit’s end.

The loud one was in sales and he did not stop being loud long enough to even be aware how the other person was feeling.

“Sure glad we got that worked out,” the loud one said, nodding emphatically as he strode past my office.

OK, I thought. I wonder how the marketer perceived that exchange.

It didn’t take long until I found out.

“I’m not one to complain,” the quiet one said as he collapsed into the chair opposite my desk.

He sighed deeply, making glancing eye contact, and quickly looked at the floor.

I nodded.

He sighed again, as he rubbed his hands along his thighs. “But he never gives clear instructions, and he expects me to read his mind. Which I could do if he didn’t change it all the time.

“I’m feeling pretty bummed and burned, but I guess I’ll get back on his request. But he won’t be my top priority.”

This is where the Language of Colour I referred to in my last post comes into play.

Image: Contributed by author

This is a real life behavioural psychology summary of a red and a green in conflict. The red will be uncooperative and assertive, using a competing style to address conflict.

The green will be co-operative and unassertive, doing everything they can do to be accommodating and put this behind them.

The red will quickly move on to the next adventure, glad they were able to deal with the conflict so quickly and so effectively. Or so the red thinks.

By contrast, the green will stew and simmer for a few weeks until the conflict and the feelings of being steamrolled fade into the past.

The challenges are similar, but different with the other two core behavioural styles.

The yellow loves conflict and never fears it. The yellow believes in bringing conflict into the clear light of day, examining it from all angles and seeking to solve it. Acting in a collaborating style, the yellow thinks, “If we can just talk about everything, it will be OK.”

The opposite-styled blue is uncooperative and unassertive in conflict, preferring to hide behind the spreadsheets and trusting, albeit naively, that the facts will speak for themselves and he won’t need to talk. Blue’s preferred modus operandi is to avoid conflict.

The yellow believes that conflict can be resolved by addressing the emotions attached to the situation, and the blue believes logic and reason will make the resolution readily apparent.

So how do the opposing styles work together; how do they adapt to resolve conflict?

The red needs to “turn down the red” — cool the anger, listen more than talk, slow down.

The green needs to “turn up the red” — to be more clear and forthright in his expression. He also needs to know that when he turns up the red and thinks he is being rude, the red thinks he is just being assertive. The red is so keen on forward movement that he won’t find the green’s behaviour rude.

“Gee, didn’t know he had it in him,” might be a passing thought.

In the yellow-blue conflict, it is best resolved if the yellow can turn down the yellow a bit and turn up the blue. In other words, the yellow needs to slow down, decrease his need to be liked and pay attention to the facts.

By contrast, the blue needs to let go of the need for perfection, remembering the Pareto Principle — 80% of our results are achieved by 20% of our effort. To get to 100% results will take another 80% effort.

There are many, many work situations where 100% perfect is simply not viable.

If the blue can “turn up the yellow” and be more assertive and be willing to look beyond the facts to the people side of the situation, communication with the yellow will improve.

People are far more complex than these examples suggest. The combinations of individual style can make communication even more challenging. And different, less stressful scenarios can elicit more reasoned responses.

I know I can feel some resistance to being expected to change to suit someone else. And most people I know feel the same way.

But — and this is a big but — looking at the bigger picture — preserving the relationship, achieving understanding, getting resolution to difficult situations — these are big payoffs for adapting style for even fleeting moments in time.

Be willing to adapt for the sake of relationship.

Be a chameleon.

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