Have you ever met people at work with whom you really got along well? Have you ever met people at work with whom you don’t? What causes these great differences? Too often, we are expecting others to be just like us. When they fail to meet our expectation, we decide we don’t like to work with them. It would be so much easier if the people we worked with just all behaved the same. It would be easier if they listened to what we wanted to tell them, acted in the ways we expected, and thought about things in the same ways we did. It would be easier — but it will never happen.
How are we different?
Our backgrounds which include how, where, and when we were raised, all play an important part in our differences. Our experiences play a big part. Our economic backgrounds matter. Our wired personalities from birth do as well, in addition to our beliefs and values. When we come to work we bring many desires, concerns, and challenges from home with us. As a result, the expectations we bring to work are large and many times are not possible to be met. This can lead to conflict, and it often it does.
The best way to understand others
The HR professional understands that people are different and knows that the best way to understand others is to become more self-aware. This starts with a curiosity around understanding others in order to develop insight into our own behavior. The deeper insight we have about ourselves, the more effective interactions we will have with others. This takes work and is a lifelong process. The ability to get along with others will impact one’s career more than anything else. This starts with a healthy self-concept which determines one’s behavior. When we understand ourselves and are at peace with ourselves we have greater patience and understanding for others. At work, it has been my observation that many people have not taken the time to become more self-aware. They wear masks at work which may not reveal who they really are and how they feel about themselves. I have observed that people become defensive or protective when discussing personal information. As a result, for these people their relationships with others are shallow and superficial. This gets in the way when seeking positive working relationships at work. To enable yourself to be not so sensitive, it is important to self-monitor your behavior. It can be healthy to seek out objective information about your behavior from others who care. The more self-aware you become the more tolerant you will be of others.
What does personality have to do with it?
Everything! So much of our behavior is affected by our core personality which stays with us most of our life. Personality is a complex combination of characteristics which include mental and physical attributes which determine our identity. Personality is who we are and why we behave the way we do. Our personality is stable over time and across many different situations. For most people we develop our personality habits which drive our behavior. So many factors affect our core personality. As a result, at work these core attributes all seem to collide especially when trying to get things done with others. The HR professional understands that helping people understand and appreciate the diversity between people is the best approach for healthy and productive relationships at work.
Emotions and behavior
When people get upset at work many times the anger or frustration is only triggered by one event but really is associated with another event. Sometimes we forget this. We make assumptions at work. We label people at work too often. We say this person has high potential and this person is slower than others. One person might be labeled too vocal and another person too timid. We forget that all of these emotions and behavior at work is part of our core personality and the way we view the world and others. Rather than trying to change people, the HR professional knows it is better to have tolerance for ambiguity with others. This helps one to communicate better, be more adaptive and sensitive to other’s characteristics. As a result of people differences, organizations develop their own personalities based on the people they have hired. This is why it is so critical to work in a culture which fits one’s personality and values.
Implications for the human resource professional
The HR professional knows that people are complex and their behavior is a combination of reactions based on how they think and what they have experienced in the world. The best strategy for developing people at work is to value the differences. The HR professional understands that diversity increases creativity and innovation. It also increases conflict. Sometimes conflicts are helpful for development. With greater self-awareness we will accept who we are, work on those elements which need to develop, and accept that others are in different phases of their own self-development. Are there people differences at work? Yes! Do they impact behavior? Yes! The HR professional accepts this as both the challenge and opportunity of leading others.
Next steps for HR and the organization
In order to move your organization forward, ask:
- What educational opportunities can you put in place to enable people to understand and value the differences in others whom they work with?
- How can you encourage a person to be a role model who values diversity in others?
- What processes can you put into place to educate the workforce on organizational values and behavior?
- Where are the challenges in your organization with regards to behavior and what could be done to bring greater self-awareness and people development tools to your organization?
- What are the top three challenges and developmental opportunities where you work with regards to people and their differences?