Adjusting Your Working Style for Different Stakeholders

Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.   - Dwight D. Eisenhower
  Image courtesy of supakitmod at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of supakitmod at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As you may have noticed by now, both in your career and your personal life, it is very common for your project stakeholders to think differently, behave differently, learn differently, communicate differently, and really do most things differently. That seems like an obvious statement… But the question is – what are you doing about it?

One of the best skills you can have as a professional is to be able to adjust your working style to enhance the interactions you have with others, and in turn, help them do their best work. It is part of building relationships – ones where people feel that you really understand them, that you are a good listener, and that they can trust you. Having the ability to adjust your style also allows you to be seen as someone who can work with anyone, which can help you get better assignments and build your network.

Even if you do try to take different working styles into consideration, it is not the easiest skill to develop.

First, you need to become self-aware of what your working style is. You can take one of the many assessments that exist online that will tell you a bit more about your preferences, your personality, and your strengths and weaknesses. Or you can ask yourself a few questions.

  • Do you focus on the big picture, or are you interested in the details?
  • Do you have a generally positive, neutral, or negative outlook on most situations?
  • Is your thought process on the logical, linear side, or more on the creative side with less boundaries?
  • Do you learn and comprehend best when you hear content, see content, or write content?
  • What are you most concerned about when it comes to getting things done – not having enough time, resources, or budget?

These questions, among others, can help you assess what your perspective is as you come into a conversation. Similarly, you can ask the same questions about your stakeholders and adjust your working style accordingly.

Big picture vs. details. Your data or analytical people likely are in love with the details, and perhaps the more creative or innovative thinkers trend toward the bigger picture. You may need to bring the data people up a level and the creative people down a level so they can have a discussion on the same playing field. It is also an advantage to have both kinds of thinkers on your team to have a diversity of perspective.

Positive vs. negative outlook. While you may think having people with a negative outlook on your team is, well, a negative thing. But do not discount the negative Nancy’s too quickly! You need people to be able to poke holes in the plan (with good intent) so you can identify potential risks and issues. But make sure the more negative team members do not bring down the positive people too much. You need your cheerleaders to motivate the team along the way, too!

Linear vs. creative. This one relates a bit to the big picture vs. details factor. Your linear folks can be really helpful when it comes to developing the timeline and identifying interdependencies with upstream and downstream processes. And your creative people can help ideate and think of out-of-the-box solutions for the problems you are trying to solve. The challenge may be when you ask people to act the opposite of their natural tendency, where they may show some resistance or not be as effective as they usually are.

Hear, see, or write. It was a few years into my career when I realized that I really need to see something to understand it, and if I write it down, as well – I am golden! Knowing how your team learns and comprehends information will alert you as to whether you should have more visuals to keep people tracking with the conversation, provide notepads for people to be able to write things down, or if having the conversation is enough for the content to stick.

Time, resources, or budget. Knowing which of these three simple items is most important to people will definitely tell a lot about what motivates them when offering ideas, providing feedback, or making decisions. Offering alternate points of view may help people think about things differently if they are stuck in one of these boxes.

You will likely have a mix of all of these traits on your team, which can be an advantage to you as you assign different work or need a certain kind of expertise. So get to know your team and think about how you can help them do their best work by catering to their working styles. It is a win-win for everyone! Answering these questions as a group activity may actually make everyone more aware of their own and their teammates' tendencies, allowing them to function better as a team.

So what combination are you? Off the top of my head, I am... detail-oriented, a positive outlooker, a linear thinker, a visual learner, and always concerned about time!