Know your co-workers, family, friends and those you lead

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Lyle Swapp
  • 501CSW/FM

“I just can’t stand it! He is ALWAYS asking me why we are doing something, why we need it, and always asking if I have thought of all the options!”

My SNCO sat in front of me in frustration, ready to lay the book down on our airman. As I listened, I realized the issue at hand was not necessarily insubordination, as was being insisted. The issue was more that my SNCO was not aware that the “why” coming from our airman was not challenging in nature, but instead investigative, conceptual, and even analytical.

Our airman was not asking “why” to be disrespectful, he sincerely wanted to know. He needed to know. “Why?” was the driving force behind his action and perspective. Once he knew “why” he could figure out the how to “get ‘r done.” He was what is known in personality test circles as “bright green.” This caused a disconnect with my SNCO, who was focused on the “rules” and “authority,” the “established” method, the “right and wrong” – he was “bright gold.”

How many times has this situation played out in your organization? In your friend circle? In your team? In your home? How many times do you just want to say, “because I said so!,” or “why don’t you understand?!” Or, how many times have you bemoaned a leader or coworker who just doesn’t get you, or doesn’t value your part in the team?

I recognized these types of personality conflicts being played out all the time in my classes, teams, work and family. Yet, it was not until I attended a personality test discussion during a professional development course at Maxwell AFB that I started to understand why these conflicts occurred. I learned to not only defuse them once they started, but potentially avoid them altogether in many cases. It was all based on learning to truly know yourself and those you work with, live with, play with and even lead.

The process must begin with learning your own personality. John C. Maxwell, a renowned speaker on leadership, notes that the influence we can learn to have, plays a big part in how we work with others, especially those we lead. He also states the “solid ground” of personal character is the foundation of how we work with and lead others. Zorka Hereford, another author on self-awareness, states “knowing and understanding yourself better, in turn, leads to better decision making, setting and reaching appropriate goals and ultimately living a more productive life."

There are many ways to start this process of becoming more self-aware – I started with learning the True Colors of personality, then added the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tests, and continued to read what others have learned and studied in personalities. Whatever method you use, make sure to begin with a focus on what your personality is, your strengths, your weaknesses. Do not pigeon-hole yourself into just one type of personality – we all “play” as many of the types of personalities each day! Be honest with yourself; masking over uneasiness only leads to incorrect learning and application and eventual disaster in your relationships, whether in the home, school, work, or play.

It is important to note here that personality traits can strengthen and weaken over time and even change altogether due to life circumstance – so make sure you test yourself periodically. This change can be temporary or much longer in duration, approaching permanency. For example, when I was younger, I had a stronger “green” aspect in my personality, that is, I was analytical and valued knowledge and understanding. I was also “orange” in that I enjoyed spontaneity and “gold” in that I valued tradition and stability. When I was a young teenager, my father passed from Lou Gehrig’s disease – a muscular dystrophy. This profound experience in my life toned down my “green” and “orange,” strengthened my “gold” and moved my “blue” – empathy, compassion, meaning in life and spiritual, to a greater strength in my personality. I moved from being green-orange-gold-blue to being gold-blue-green-orange. I used my need to understand, “green,” to manage my “gold” and “blue” personality traits.

Erik Erikson has stated, “The more you know yourself, the more patience you have for what you see in others.”

As I started to focus on what type of personality I had, I started to see the traits I was learning about in other people around me. I started to see that my personality strengths conflicted with those of others and how I should approach those potential conflicts to still maintain my influence and solid ground. For example, I knew if I was working with a “bright green,” I needed to focus more on helping them know the why and see the bigger picture and how I approached my decision. When I was working with those with more “orange” than I had, I learned I had to be patient with their need for impulse, spontaneity, and eagerness. There are so many tactics you can learn in working with other personalities – start today!

Knowing yourself, and then learning to know the personality traits of those you work with, lead and live with is the key to successful and rewarding relationships on all those areas and circumstances. It does take patience, humility, perseverance and focus, but the benefits far outweigh the effort!

So what happened with that “insubordinate” airman? This process is a constant learning curve and not all situations of applying personality trait tactics work out well. Yet, in this one, I recommended to my SCNO that he change his approach to first explain the issue at hand and how he arrived at the decision he made before giving direction to the airman. I challenged him to invite the airman at times in the decision process and encouraged him to respond with “what are you looking for to understand better with this” when the airman asked why. Though reluctant at first (bright golds do tend to get touchy with bright greens), he employed my recommendations. After 2-3 months of not hearing much more about the issue, I asked my SNCO how it was going on with the airman:

“Great! He is such a hard worker and has even found ways to do things better! I am thinking of putting him in charge of a section now.”