In the workplace there are multiple roles, personality types and individual communication styles. As a leader or manager, there is no one-size-fits-all method to coaching the spectrum of personality types.
In product development and at the office we all have a shared goal – Work together to produce something tangible and cohesive for digital consumers. However, this social contract is not always an instinct we share, but rather, more of an obligation for some.
ROLES DON'T MATTER
In nearly every employee onboarding, there's a step where you get to meet your new colleagues. Every time you meet someone, the small talk usually includes the question, "What is your role and what tasks are you performing?"
This question is asked because your role in the team is important and what you do will likely impact that colleague in a large or small way. In most cases, it helps them understand how you can help each other but sometimes that question feels territorial – Usually, because a colleague is anxious that their process or role might change with each new joiner.
During the times when I was tasked with redesigning a process or workflow, I learned to approach it like I would a user problem – With stakeholder interviews, research on what's been done already and distinguishing the shared workflow issues from personal ones. When getting to know my colleagues, I'm not just looking at the quant or qual data behind what succeeded and what failed. I'm also getting to know WHO my colleagues are, how they communicate, who they complain about and why because this helps me understand which communication style they are most comfortable with.
When working on different user issues in the design process, there have been times where a Designer and a Product Manager clash and these inevitable statements get said, "That's not your job" or "That's not my job" or "We need to clarify roles and responsibilities before we continue."
It's best to handle those situations with creative empathy and take some time for a two hour team exercise involving key members and a RACI exercise. In the end, we all realize that even though our roles are important, they don't matter because some responsibilities overlap and that's okay. The outcome of the RACI exercise helps to visualize the black, white and grey lines. Some team members need those boundaries to function and that is okay too. And in other scenarios, you might be working cross-functionally with a department that's new to systems thinking and needs clarity on what their role is and where they can help.
Different people recharge & react, differently
Determining how some colleagues will react to an issue or strategy shift or organizational change is an art form and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to breaking the news on these topics. Whatever "-vert" you are, determines how you process information and react to it. It's worth it to note that the internet and some management stakeholders that I've met, seem to think certain "-verts" make better leaders than others. I tend to have a more Ratatouille way of thinking about it, as in, if it's the path you want to go on, then anyone can lead.
Introverts – They can make difficult decisions through careful analysis without feeling the intense need for social approval. They influence others and lead them to important goals with quiet power rather than displays of ego. They enjoy conversations that are deep and meaningful and work best in solitary environments that allow them to analyze issues more easily.
Extroverts – Someone who “recharges,” or draws energy, from being with other people. Sometimes referred to as Extraverts, they tend to enjoy social situations, feel comfortable speaking in groups, and prefer a having a busy schedule.
Omniverts – They tend to switch between reacting like an introvert and extrovert. This means their personality type is entirely situational – At a work conference, an omnivert could be a rockstar, socializing and making many business connections. However, at night, they recharge by locking themselves in their hotel room, [politely ignoring social time] with the team.
Ambiverts – They are those who balance introversion and extroversion simultaneously. An ambivert might command people’s attention during meetings, but they also pause, ask questions, and demonstrate good listening skills.
Not sure where you sit? Take this quiz and find out!
Moderating remote WORKSHOPS
As an ambivert, I tend to appeal to extroverts and sympathize with introverts, especially while facilitating a workshop or moderating team meetings.
Whether it's a remote or on location session, as a facilitator, my task is to create space for the quiet ones to speak up and steer alignment between the micro-groups that form. During in-person workshops, I've noticed that extroverts have no issue voicing their solutions and will quickly jump into an exercise before they've understood the instructions. Whereas, with the introverts, they tend to process and understand what to do quite easily and either ask permission to add notes to the board or quietly move forward while the extroverts discuss amongst themselves on how to approach the activity.
Remote workshops present a unique challenge for the moderator because the avatars for the introverts tend to move away from the others and it's more difficult to get the attention of a loud, chatty extroverted group when you need to course-correct them. This is where I've learned that it's helpful to have a co-moderator and make use of Miro boards by using the, "bring everyone to me" and their "timer" and "music" features. Extroverts tend to respond well when I keep my energy playful and introverts tend to like when I take the time to have a quick, 1-on-1 chat with them on the sidelines.
A good way to get everyone on the same page is to have the agenda and instructional slides present in the digital environment and make sure everyone sees them. This way, the remote participants are able to guide each other.
Since moderators can't pickup on social cues during remote sessions, try doing a "health check" with the group because maybe they're struggling to understand how the activity could be relevant to their team workflow.
Toggling between Leadership styles
Sometimes you have to compromise on your style in order to accommodate someone else's communication needs in order to inspire a positive relationship and motivate better results.
After all, you're not just creating a relationship with this colleague, direct report etc., you're also leading by example in the hope that they'll grow into positive, peer leaders or even servant leaders one day. When I first started working as a Product Designer in a large organization, I had a very extroverted Head of Design who told me he needed to "break me in order to build me into a better designer". He was referring to my introverted tendencies.
Similar to what Jeremy Bird, UX Lead at Target, says in his article on Why Introverts make Exceptional Designers, it's the leader who needs to compromise their preferred way of working, not the other way around.
If you have team members that lean toward the introvert side of the scale, but lean extrovert yourself, it is very important that you are mindful. Why? The reason is that you’re making incorrect assumptions about them and are not ‘caring for [them] properly’.
Candor can be kind
In my experience mentoring peers and leading reports, I learned four things:
Listening is more important than speaking
Brutal yet respectful honesty is a policy that most can appreciate
Managing reports is not the same as leading them
You can be a friendly Leader but never a direct report's Friend
I'm not going to lie, I am a chatty person and do tend to struggle with that first one. During my 1-on-1's, I take a mental note of a person's visual cues and ask them about their week, struggles, exciters etc. in order to give them an opportunity to share.
I think of the words "candor equals kindness" during the moments when I need to confront another on a mistake in order to remind myself to care personally for their wellbeing while making them aware of the mistake and how we / they could improve. That said, feedback should be mutual so if I share it, I have to encourage the other to give me feedback, in kind.
Leadership and managing are two very different things. Learning this took me a long minute when I was first given reports. I had to get used to my new role and in doing so I realized that our dynamic had shifted.
I was no longer their funny friend with good advice – I was the one filling out their performance reviews and thus, no longer welcome to the join Mario Kart sessions. When I gave feedback, I had to preface it by reassuring them that I wanted to help them solve blockers and that they're doing a great job. At first, reiterating my intentions felt like pandoring but I learned it's all about creating a safe space for them to open up.
After being on both sides of this, I've learned that a team lead cannot vent to their direct reports about their own blockers and personal issues. Even though, it's a very human thing to do, something about it breaks the unspoken social contract between manager and direct report. In my leadership journey, I noticed that for others, they can achieve a balance being seen as a friend and mentor role but that's never been the case for me. So I learned that I must either, compartmentalize in order to inspire and serve as a leader or... stay on the contributor track, in the vain hope that I'll receive an invitation to play Mario Kart again.
The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhou – A great read if you're transitioning from Senior to Leadership
Radical Candor by Kim Scott – Once, I had a male colleague say that the author was "too educated to be taken seriously" 😳
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – This recommendation is for that male colleague 😉