The reason we find other people so challenging to work with is very simple: Your work style, which I call your productivity style, might clash with the work style of another. That difference in productivity style leads to misunderstandings and tension that, more often than not, impede you from effectively completing your best work.
Your productivity and effectiveness are directly connected to your ability to work well with others, and workflow differences threaten to cause misunderstandings.
In any given situation, you will find four types of productivity style: prioritizer, planner, arranger, and visualizer.
- A prioritizer prefers logical, analytical, fact-based, critical, and realistic thinking.
- A planner prefers organized, sequential, planned, and detailed thinking.
- An arranger prefers supportive, expressive, and emotional thinking.
- A visualizer prefers holistic, intuitive, integrating, and synthesizing thinking.
To work well with your colleagues, first think of them individually. What do you know about them or what works for them?
Next, tailor your communication with them to their preferred work style. Answer and address one of these four questions based on their workflow preferences.
If your colleague’s workflow style is analytical, data- and fact-driven, and linear, answering and addressing “what” questions is the key to successful communication and interaction. For example, ask:
- What is the goal?
- What is the projected outcome?
- What are the facts?
Ambiguity, assumptions, and fluff create confusion for them, so avoid frustration by answering “what” in every email, conversation, and project plan. Present information briefly, precisely, clearly, and accurately. You cannot be too succinct or factual. An email that is only a few letters really does work well for prioritizers. And they really do not want to hear about your weekend or the goal your child scored on Saturday.
If your colleague’s workflow style is organized, sequential, planned, and detailed, answering and addressing “how” questions is key to successful communication and interaction. For example, ask:
- How do you want to approach this project?
- How frequently do problems occur?
- How has this problem been solved in the past?
Vagueness, imprecision, and lack of structure are frustrating and annoying. When communicating with planners, use complete sentences and present information in a concise, consistent, detailed, and step-by-step format.
Detailed information and action plans are preferred, and planners expect communication and work to be delivered on time. Deviating from agreed-upon project plans is exasperating. An email with bullet points or numbered next-action steps is preferred.
If your colleague’s workflow style is supportive, expressive, emotional, and intuitive, answering and addressing “who” is the key to successful communication and interaction. For example, ask:
- Who are the primary stakeholders in this project?
- Who will benefit most from this process?
- Who else is involved?
Sterile, monotone, impersonal interactions are off-putting and undermine your relationship with arrangers. Present information openly and informally in a discussion format. If you are face-to-face, maintain eye contact.
Relying solely on facts and data to make your point is irritating and off-putting to arrangers. Instead, start your emails with a salutation or a brief interpersonal question or anecdote, and then transition to your request.
If your colleague’s workflow style is holistic, integrating, synthesizing, and big picture, answering and addressing “why” questions is the key to successful communication and interaction. For example, ask:
- Why is this project better?
- Why are we doing things this way?
- Why does this matter to the organization?
Too many facts, details, and rigid structure are wearisome and uninteresting. Present information using metaphors or visual aids that place specific details within a big-picture overview or conceptual framework aligned to the organization’s broader strategy.
Ensure that there is flexibility to move away from a planned agenda or project plan so there is room to explore innovative approaches. In your emails with a visualizer, remember to include the context or big picture so they can place your request within a broader framework.
And if you can’t discern the workflow preferences of your colleagues, simply answer what, how, who, and why in your email, conversation, or project plan. It might take you a couple more minutes, but doing so may eliminate multiple back-and-forth email conversations.
Working well with others is critical to your success. The first step is to think critically about tailoring your communication to the workflow preferences and productivity styles of your colleagues by simply answering who, what, how, and why.