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Working With Creatives: A Short Guide For Everyone Else

Creative types aren’t always easy for others to work with, but these four tips can help.

Working With Creatives: A Short Guide For Everyone Else
[Photo: Antonio_Diaz/iStock]

Being creative is obviously great–you’re always coming up with new and useful ideas, and companies are always claiming, at least, to be interested in hiring you (even when their actual management practices snuff creativity out). But working with creative people can be a challenge, especially if you aren’t particularly creative yourself.

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For decades, scientists have found links between creativity and other behaviors that don’t always lead to easy work relationships. Creatives are typically more neurotic, more antisocial, and less conscientious than others. No doubt it’s perfectly possible to be both highly creative and an extremely well-adjusted, emotionally intelligent, collaborative colleague who’s a dream to work with. But in case your creative coworkers aren’t all like that, here are a few tips to build an easier work relationship for both of you.


Related: Want To Be More Creative And Successful? Fight The Urge To Focus


1. Clear Some Space Beneath The Spotlight

Since workplaces, like societies, tend to thrive on order and predictability, creatives can pose a double threat: Intellectually, they’re less likely to conform to normative thinking, and behaviorally, they’re less likely to follow norms and rules, which creates uncertainty for others. As a large recent study shows, creative performance is often driven by two personality traits. The first is a preference for unconventional thinking, which can sometimes divert work conversations toward oddball or even inappropriate ideas. The latter concerns attention-seeking behaviors, which aren’t always helpful in the workplace, either.

What you can do about it. The best way to manage a creative’s attention-seeking impulse is just to go along with it. Avoid competing for attention you don’t need–though this doesn’t mean you should avoid advocating for yourself or taking credit for your own accomplishments. You can even stake your value in being the person who extracts the workable kernel of creativity out of your colleague’s weirder ideas, so they can become actual innovations.

As a manager, you can give your creative team members basic feedback on workplace etiquette to help them filter out some of their more inappropriate behaviors in high-stake situations, such as client meetings. But don’t expect them to conform or behave in tame or conventional ways all the time, because it just won’t happen.


Related: New Graduates: These Are The Unspoken Rules Of The Workplace No One Tells You

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2. Keep A Lookout For Fake News

Nietzsche once noted that you don’t have to be very imaginative to tell the truth; lying, on the other hand, requires a fair amount of creativity and imagination. Accordingly, scientific research shows that creativity enables dishonesty, helping people produce excuses and distort reality in order to justify their behavior. This doesn’t mean that creatives are all a pack of incorrigible liars, of course–only that they’re better at it. So while your most creative colleagues may be just as ethical, on balance, as your least creative ones, when creatives do try to lie, they might be more likely to get away with it.

What you can do about it. There’s no need to be paranoid that your creative coworkers are all trying to deceive you, but it’s worth bearing this correlation in mind, as context for any mistruths or exaggerations you do catch them in. In fact, you may want to give your creative coworkers the benefit of the doubt even when you don’t believe every single detail of their account; their tall tales might be motivated by boredom or a playfully mischievous mind-set.

So while nobody should tolerate manipulative deception or dishonesty at work, you may want to disregard small exaggerations as long as you trust your creative coworkers’ broader intentions. If you question the finer points of the story but not the integrity of the storyteller, consider letting it slide.

3. Pair Creatives Up With Their Detail-Oriented Coworkers

A good deal of research supports the common stereotype of creatives as spontaneous, passionate, and unpredictable. There’s a downside to this, since it may lead to poor impulse control when the situation demands it. That unfiltered behavior may seem charmingly authentic–though more so in some situations than in others.

What you can do about it. As a manager, it’s your job to find the best job fit for your team members’ personalities and abilities, so avoid assigning creatives methodical, detail-oriented tasks, and instead let them tackle the outside-the-box challenges you hired them for. It may also be harder for them to maintain even levels of motivation over long periods of time, as their inspiration and energy tend to fluctuate from one task to the next.

One solution is to pair up a creative team member with a conscientious, organized, predictable person who’s well-suited for project management and execution. Indeed, teamwork is often the best way to overcome the downsides to certain personality types, creatives included.

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4. Remind Everyone Of The Common Goal

While we tend to associate creativity with individuals rather than with teams, virtually everything that’s innovative and valuable in this world is the result of coordinated human action. Interestingly, teams with higher numbers of narcissists have been found to generate more creative ideas, though that doesn’t mean managers should focus on hiring narcissists.

Indeed, effective leadership requires curbing people’s self-interests to a certain degree, so they can pursue a collective goal. Creativity aside, anyone who’s had to sit through a tense, unproductive meeting knows how quickly two egocentric coworkers can derail a conversation, both of them unwilling to table their own ideas to consider other people’s suggestions.

What you can do about it. The best way to promote team creativity is to make sure the right composition exists to begin with. Are there enough idea generators in the group? Are they surrounded by enough executors? And does the team have a capable leader who’s good at managing the tensions among different personalities by reminding everyone of the common purpose they’re pursuing?

Just because creatives may be hard to work with doesn’t mean you can (or should) avoid it. In fact, all teams need to learn how to manage creatives if they want to avoid stagnation and stay competitive. The fact of the matter is that some individuals are much more likely to produce creative ideas. But when it comes to turning those ideas into actual products, services, and innovations, it really does take a village.