March / April 2019

The Medium and the Message

Marisol Hydock

Teamwork and collaboration are becoming increasingly critical in today’s professional arena. The drive to produce innovative, disruptive products calls for interdisciplinary teams. To function effectively, these diverse groups require creative problem-solving, conflict resolution, and interpersonal skills. Even the hiring process has become centered on these skills, which have traditionally been called “soft skills.” All these attributes are impacted by the ability to work effectively with many different personality types and work styles. Although it sometimes takes a little workplace psychology, stepping out of your comfort zone to understand what makes your coworkers tick can lead to greater success and foster a culture of collaboration all around.

The first step toward working effectively with others is understanding their preferred type of communication. Do you know people that never seem to answer their emails? Maybe they get an overwhelming number of emails daily or maybe they are just “old school” and prefer a phone call over an electronic message. Or perhaps you’ve asked a complicated question that’s difficult to answer in an email. Try giving them a call; you might be surprised at how much faster your coworker answers your questions or completes your request.

Conversely, you might work with a new college grad who is comfortable with technology. If you have a quick question, perhaps a text will suffice without cluttering their inbox. Additionally, try to learn if your recipient likes all the details or just the highlights. Adapting your means of communication to the preferences of the person you’re contacting usually leads to faster results.

Once you establish an effective means of communication, there may still be behaviors that hinder collaboration. If these are truly bothersome (pick your battles!), then it’s important to discuss your issue with your coworker in a constructive manner. Make sure you don’t just complain about what’s wrong, but provide ways to improve the situation. If your coworker is the sensitive type, you may want to use the “sandwich” approach: Place your suggestion for improvement between two compliments about positive aspects. On the other hand, your coworker may be very blunt and objective. It may be best with this type to just cut to the chase.

Don’t forget to also explore external factors that may affect a person’s performance or interactions. Most important, make sure to keep your suggestions between you and the recipient and do not gossip about your grievances with other coworkers. Keep in mind that while most employees want to do well and provide valuable contributions, individual team members will still be diverse in their interests and personalities. Embrace these differences—success isn’t found in uniformity. A team needs gregarious, outgoing, and creative types as well as quiet, analytical, and thinking types. Use your differences as an opportunity to learn something new or improve skills that you may lack. Sometimes working effectively is just a matter of approaching a situation with the right mindset!

Adapting your means of communication to the preferences of the person you’re contacting usually leads to faster results.