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Why even the best and the brightest need to learn adaptability

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

Over the course of our careers, we learn to lean on our strengths to augment our talents to get to where we are. We are all individuals with different talents, and successful people have learnt how to harness their best individual traits to achieve professional success. At some point however, overusing strengths creates weaknesses. Too much of a good thing is not a good thing. This may sound illogical and yet it is the crux of why some mid-career level people face frustration and road blocks to what was prior to that a smooth sailing career path.

Take for example someone who excels in a highly technical field such as engineering, medicine or information technology. The demands of the field include the ability to be analytical - someone who has strong problem solving skills, are detailed in their analysis, and sometimes even pedantic. The lens that technical people see the world often have an analytical filter. They value precision, so they expect people to respond with the same precision they demand from their profession. But what made them good technically, what got them to management, may be their biggest barrier to further success - because as a manager, people skills are far more important than technical skills. And yet, people skills was not one of the pillars that they leaned on to get to this point.

People from non-technical and less task oriented personalities face a similar problem. Those whose strengths lie in the areas of people skills – who have the ability to relate to others and who have built their careers by being able to work well with those around them – often view the world through a people/relationship filter. With this people lens on, it is difficult to understand the personality of highly technical people, who may seem “annoying” as they demand high precision and accuracy with every task, without much thought to the people who are carrying out the task.

In order to expand on our ability to communicate with people of different personalities and behaviours, one key thought must be removed – and removed with sincerity and honesty. This thought is “people do things that bothers me”.

Most of the people you interact with on a daily basis do what they do to fulfil their own needs and expectations without much thought to your needs and expectations. This does not mean that we are surrounded by thoughtless, heartless people. It is a recognition of the concept that most people do not usually choose to deliberately ignore your needs or attack your values. It is hard to move forward if we choose to believe otherwise, as the conflict becomes an issue of whose needs are most important.

In the application of DISC Personality Styles, the technical/analytical person likely has a strong C (Conscientious) style personality and the people/relational person likely has a strong I (Influential) style personality. If both choose not to recognise that the other person does things in a certain way because that way was best for their own needs, it will become a conflict and perhaps even a personal battle.

For e.g. the C style person demands correctness in every task he does. In a team setting, he exhibits very little consideration for the effort or feelings of those carrying out the task, focusing only on the outcome of the task. He measures his own success by measuring the success of the task. The I style person on the other hand, has a different set of success measures. This person values the friendliness and rapport of the team members and finds it crucial that everyone is engaged on the task.

Note that both are doing what is right in their own view and it is their every right to believe so. Neither are doing something just for the sake of being a poor team member. It did not stem from a personal conflict either (although the continuation of poor communication may give rise to personal conflict). Neither deliberately chose a certain success measure for the sake of annoying the other. The truth is in a group setting, the ability to leverage on the strengths of both the C style person and the I style person are crucial to achieve group success as a whole. The key to achieving something beyond what you can as an individual lies in the ability to adapt.

Recognising the need to adapt your behaviour to different situations is key to professional and personal growth. We are not advocating a change of your personality – you are who you are and everyone is unique. But recognising that you are biased to a particular behavioural style will help to open a new perspective. The ability to unlock further personal and professional development lies in being able to flex your personality under different situations. Consider the possibility of flexing and adapting to other styles versus overusing your core strength in all situations. In the example above, if the C style person recognises that the I style person is doing what they can to keep the team engaged and enthusiastic, which is an ability that the C style person lacks, the C style person can adjust by leaning on their own I style a little more and adjust accordingly. Over usage of the C style strength of demanding correctness and accuracy without any people skills will eventually hit a roadblock as it is simply not understood by the I style person. Similarly, the I style person can ask questions to understand the reason for certain steps that the C style person is taking to achieve the task so that they can be engaged in the process.

Treat others how they need to be treated, not how I need to be treated. This thought which goes against the well-known golden rule of “Treat others how you want to be treated” is a concept made famous by Rosenberg and Silvert – the gurus of personality styles and it definitely warrants consideration. Rosenberg and Silvert agrees that the golden rule of “Treat others how you want to be treated” does apply in matters of respect, honesty and integrity. But in areas such as communication and working with others, it is important to recognise that good communication begins by being able to understand and adapt to the style of others. When speaking to someone who finds details important, adjust your style to provide the necessary information and ensure that it is complete. When speaking to someone else who wants to get straight to the point, provide them with the important points first and be succinct. Adapting communication styles when communicating with different personality types can be an eye-opener. Instead of always going with your own style, try seeing it from the perspective of the receiving end, and adjust accordingly.

There is great value to all of us to recognise that we are surrounded by people of

different personality styles. Achieving greatness beyond our normal pillars of strength, usually requires us to work with other people – and the difference in styles of our colleagues and team members to our own is exactly what provides a critical balance of perspective and the ability to achieve more. And yet, if we fail to recognise the different styles, and understand that each personality style has their own needs and ways, working together becomes a constant conflict of personal needs. In contrast, being adaptable to different circumstances and needs, opens up a realm of new possibilities.


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