All of us have a preferred way of operating at work, our default mode, if you will. Mostly it is unconscious.

Often we make the mistake of thinking that everyone else sees things the same way that we do and this is where we can hit problems.

In my work training people to handle difficult situations, I use an excellent profiling tool that helps people to understand their natural communication and working style, especially when they experience a bit of tension.

Take the way a project is managed for example.

What is your starting point? One person will start out with building the relationships and gathering a strong network of people. Another might do a lot of background research on other similar projects, the history of the context or the latest research around the topic. A third person would start by getting down on paper the vision, strategy, goals, concrete outcomes and timescale. A fourth person might look at the core values and purpose and work on bringing together a team to work on building the project collaboratively.

You probably found yourself nodding at one of these examples and thinking, “well of course that’s the way to do it. Isn’t that obvious?!”. In reality, all of these approaches are valid and have different strengths to them.

The rub comes when two people with vastly different approaches are working together on a project, often for the first time. Add in different experiences, potentially different cultural backgrounds, workload pressures, diverse ways of communicating and handling disagreement and it’s no wonder that it can be a minefield.

If you’re in this exact situation and you’re thinking, “It’s me. There’s something wrong with me, I just can’t work with him/her,” I’m here to tell you that it’s not you. That bears repeating. It’s not you.

You probably just have vastly different styles to one or more of the others in your team, and you’ve probably never been taught the skills to handle those differences. Let’s face it, most of us haven’t.

It’s possible to work with people with very different styles to ours and to get on well. In fact, having diverse styles in a team setting is both a challenge and a huge potential goldmine. She will see things that you never would. He will stop you from wasting a lot of time (and therefore money) going down a rabbit hole. She will have the key connection that makes the programme fly. And so on.

For most of the people I’ve worked with, this is a complete revelation.

So what’s the difference between teams that manage to hold this diversity and make it work and those that crumble under the challenge? In my experience, there are three key pieces, self-awareness, skill and a commitment to work at differences. Where you have a team of highly self-aware and skilled people who are dedicated to sticking it out, style differences won’t lead to destructive conflict.

The good news is that all three elements can be learned.

People can grow in both self-awareness and their skill level with the right support, i.e. high quality training and ongoing coaching. Commitment to work through differences can be encouraged through developing an organisational culture that sees conflict as an opportunity for learning, growth and change.

How strong are these three pillars in your organisation? I’d love to hear!

Need help to build skills, self-awareness and confidence in handling differences?

Check out the Courses page of my website and look for Team Profiling here: