"I need you in this meeting. See that doorknob there? It has more matter than Brian's brain! I need you there to get through to him."
That is a real quote - with the name changed, of course. It captures a common scene in the business world, though. How many times have your team members been so frustrated with each other that they resorted to insults or personal attacks? When the stakes get higher, the outbursts are louder.
Does the emotional release feel good? In the short term, yes. But is it helpful? Does it create stronger team cohesion, improve productivity or solve the problem? It does not.
I'll share what came of the meeting at the end of the article. It is a long article, but hopefully you'll consider it a captivating read. First though, I'd like to share why I was the go-to person for mediating and resolving miscommunications.
The answer: Self-Awareness.
Self-awareness is the critical first step to self-leadership. When I started my personal and leadership development journey, I dove headfirst into self-awareness. In fact, I have a "Personal Development" folder in which I keep track of the different assessments/programs I have taken.
One handy tool is the Big 5 Personality Trait assessment. It is based on the decades of research of psycho-metric data across the globe. It is one of the most comprehensive and data-backed personality assessments. Because of the large data pool across time periods and cultures, it provides some of the clearest insights into humanity.
How does self-awareness help you in a team setting? It sheds light on your preferences, actions, reactions, emotions and frustrations. You'll realize why you are reacting. In many cases, it has nothing to do with the actual person you are talking to. It has more to do with the fact that the way you gather, process and communicate data is different than the person across from you. Once you get a grasp of that, you can learn to tailor your approach to your team member. You learn to communicate more effectively. And, you can significantly reduce frustrations, anxiety and all the other stressful emotions that are commonly felt in the workplace. One of the sub-modules in my Be A Self Leader program is dedicated to this personality assessment.
Here are the 5 traits. I have a brief description and real-life application for each.
Trait 1: Openness
This trait is broken out into creativity and intellect. People who are high in openness are interested in learning new things. They like novelty. They are more likely to engage in abstract thinking. They don’t like being boxed in.
People low in openness, on the other hand, like structure. They are pragmatic, value perseverance, and usually appear to be very data driven. Women and men don’t have any significant variance when it comes to openness.
If you are low in openness, you are more likely to look at the granular data level. You want to know all the historical facts and trends. If your colleague is higher in openness, they are more likely to be future and big picture focused. They are the ones that are more likely to suggest the "innovative" ideas at team meetings. When you bring up solutions, they'll accuse you of being too rigid. When they bring up solutions, you'll accuse them of being too naive or unrealistic. You can see the problem already. The problem isn't the other person. It is that you are speaking a different language. Next time your colleague has a new suggestion, instead of thinking "here comes the dreamer again", think "how can the data support this suggestion". Let them know that you appreciate their creativity, and that for you to buy in, your brain needs to see the data. Ask them to help you find the data that supports their idea. Instead of arguing with each other, work together to find the optimal solution.
Trait 2: Conscientiousness
This trait is broken out into industriousness and orderliness. It looks at your self-discipline. People high in conscientiousness are dutiful. They are willing to put in the hard work until the task is accomplished. They set goals, create plans, and execute. They are the reliable ones you can count on. They are very productive and usually always working.
People who are low in conscientiousness dislike schedules and too much structure. They like flatter, decentralized organizations. They often make messes or forget to take care of things. They are also more likely to procrastinate or not complete tasks. Women and men don’t have any significant variance when it comes to conscientiousness.
Perhaps you find yourself getting irritated and frustrated because some people don't get things done as quickly as you do. Or, perhaps, they don't notice the work that needs to be done. "How could they not notice? It is common sense!" Take a breath. You might be more industrious than them. Are you placing unreasonable expectations on them? Do you need to remind yourself to be a bit more patient?
On the other hand, perhaps you are the person who others are frequently getting frustrated with. If you are lower in conscientiousness, reach out to your more experienced team members. Ask them for a checklist or schedule to help you be aware of what needs to be done and when it needs to be completed. Ask them to help you stay accountable.
Trait 3: Extraversion
This trait looks at your sensitivity to positive emotions (especially in a social environment). It is broken out into two sub traits: enthusiasm and assertiveness. While other personality assessments use extraversion as a measurement of where your energy comes from (external versus internal), in the Big 5, extraversion is considered in slightly broader terms. People high in extraversion tend to be the center of attention. They love sharing information or starting conversations. They tend to be more enthusiastic and express happy or joyful emotions.
People lower in extraversion tend to dislike small talk. They think things through before they speak, and they usually don't like to divulge personal information. They are more likely to speak in a matter of fact or even tone. Women and men don't vary significantly at the trait level (extraversion), but they do have some minor differences at the sub trait level. Women are slightly higher in enthusiasm than men. Men have a slightly higher level of assertiveness than women.
Do you find yourself frequently annoyed at that person who talks loudly during the meetings? "Gosh, they are so full of themselves!" "They must love the sound of their voice." What kind of perception do you have about that person? How likely are you to want to work with them? But what if they are just high in extraversion? Perhaps they are naturally very enthusiastic.
Sometimes, other people come across as cold. Perhaps they are just low in extraversion. They might like working with you, but they don't like talking about what they did over the weekend. You might be attributing a malicious intent behind their actions, when they are just being polite. Dig deeper. Don't stay at the shallow assumptions.
Are you seeing how important of a tool this can be? That's why I spend the first module of the Be A Self Leader program discussing self-awareness.
Trait 4: Agreeableness
This trait is broken out into compassion and politeness. People high in agreeableness place social harmony above all else. They tend to work well with others, are kind, generous and optimistic about human nature. They are willing to compromise or sacrifice in order to keep the peace. Because of this, they are more likely to be taken advantage of.
People low in agreeableness put a larger priority on their self-interest. This doesn't mean they are not good team players. This means they are more likely to be considered stubborn, competitive and harsh. They speak their mind without excessive worry about how the other person will feel about what they will say. Women rank considerably higher in agreeableness than men. It is a 20-point difference! Keep in mind, this means the "average" woman and the "average" man. As with all averages, there are plenty of people who are not the average. It is always best to get to know people as individuals instead of making assumptions based on their external appearances.
Do you often shy away from conversations in which you might need to hurt the other person's feelings? If so, you're probably high on agreeableness. You're also more likely to be the person that covers for everyone. If your boss "needs" you to work extra to reformat that chart for the 10th time, you meekly say yes. Chances are, there is a steady resentment building on the inside. You feel that you are being walked over. Be careful. You might find yourself lashing out in a passive aggressive way or spreading gossip at the water cooler as a way to release some of that pressure building inside.
Your frustration with people might actually be your frustration with yourself. Deep down, you wish you could say no. You wish you had the courage to stand up for yourself.
Part of you is angry at yourself. But because you identify as a "nice person", you have a hard time recognizing that anger. Learn to set boundaries. Get help from your friends or a mentor. Learning to be judicially "disagreeable" is one of the best tools for your success.
An important note for the leaders reading this:
A leader that tries to be liked by all will soon be disrespected by most.
If you are the person who is lower in agreeableness, realize that you might need to tailor your communication in order to promote team cohesion. Perhaps you'll need to check in every now and then with the more agreeable person on the team to make sure they feel appreciated and heard. A little effort goes a long way.
Trait 5: Neuroticism
This trait deals with your sensitivity to negative emotions. It is broken out into volatility and withdrawal. People high in neuroticism get stressed out very easily and have a hard time controlling their reaction. They express their emotion freely and their mood is unpredictable. They are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem and be unsatisfied with their relationships or career. If something good happens, they are more likely to question it or wonder if they deserved it.
People low in neuroticism process their emotions quickly. They handle stress well and recover quickly. They’re good at staying calm and are usually satisfied with their relationships and careers. It is rare to see these people in a bad mood. They have very stable mood patterns and tend to react kindly even when provoked (especially if they are high in agreeableness). Women are significantly higher in neuroticism than men. This holds true across almost every culture and country in which this trait has been measured in.
Remember the comment I made about averages above?
Do you find yourself reading too much into people's tone of voice or what you think they might have meant when they said, "it's fine"? If so, you might be overthinking it. Stop worrying if you disappointed or let your boss down because of that one typo in the presentation. Whenever you are feeling overcome by emotion, take some time to determine what you are feeling, why you are feeling it, the potential roots of that feeling, and then decide if you want to feel it. Recognize that you might be reading too much into people's actions. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Especially when you are feeling stressed or working to a deadline. We humans tend to have poorer judgement when under stress.
If you find yourself on the lower spectrum, keep in mind that not everyone thinks like you do. Not everyone can handle stress as well as you do. Take the time to be a bit more empathetic and patient with others. Because you rarely show emotion, you might come across as cold or uncaring. Build those relationships by sharing how you process emotions or high stress situations. Giving your team insights into your mind could help them find ways to relate with you.
You've made it through the article this far! Congrats!
Yes, the exclamation marks are an indicator of my higher extraversion score.
Hopefully, you've seen by now how handy a tool the Big 5 Traits can be. I use it daily to better connect with my teams and clients. That is why I am frequently called on to help resolve miscommunication.
That meeting that I mentioned at the beginning of the article? It went smoothly. Everyone in the meeting kept a calm (head and voices). We were able to come to a mutual agreement and all parties involved left feeling heard.
Interested in seeing how you can use self-awareness to grow your career or relationships? Consider joining the Be A Self Leader program. In it, you will learn the essentials to become the leader of your self, so that you can be a more impactful leader of others.