Building Your Business by Working with Different PeopleFebruary 18, 2013 | By Wayne O'Neill
How are you doing at working with different kinds of people? How do you grow your company when people are speaking so many languages? Bringing diverse perspectives from the technical and nontechnical worlds together produces some of the most creative business solutions and innovative results. However, with unique perspectives come multiple talents, personalities and challenges in collaboration. With such a variety of perspectives, how can you collaborate when you don’t even seem to be speaking the same language? Although our world has become more global, we are not talking about how many foreign languages you need to know to thrive in our global economy. In fact, we are not talking today about how to get along with personalities such as: The Chatterbox, The Gossip, The Chronic Complainer, The Lazy Lounger, The Credit Grabber. What we are talking about is how executives, sales & marketing, operations, technical and nontechnical people are all important parts in building bridges to our clients, but are wired differently. We think differently. We process differently. We interpret data differently. We speak differently and hear differently. We are motivated differently. Communicating effectively and collaborating creatively can help your business or organization grow, improve operational efficiency, and create competitive advantage.
How do we overcome our frustrations with working with people who are different than we are and learn to effectively communicate and collaborate?
Businesses invest billions of dollars in information technology, yet, every year in the U.S. alone, an estimated $80 billion are lost to projects that failed to deliver the intended business value. According to Paul Glen, CEO of Leading Geeks, part of the overlooked reasons for breakdowns in technology projects is not the technology, but the lack of understanding technical people…geeks.
As Paul Glen says, “Technology doesn’t grow on trees. Someone has to evaluate, select, build, install and support it, and those people are geeks. There’s no other way to get the technology you need to be successful. It doesn’t matter if you get it from an internal department or from some outside vendor. In the end, geeks are the gatekeepers. You need them to get your job done. Geeks gravitate to technical work because of some common personality traits which can make them both great technologists, and frustrating collaborators. ” He goes on to explain that geeks are often frustrating to work with because:
- They are difficult to understand because they speak in incomprehensible jargon.
- They talk down to you and think you are talking down to them.
- Don’t seem to understand what’s important to you and feel you don’t want to understand what is important to them.
- Focus on details and think you focus on vague generalities.
- Won’t get to the point quickly and think you dismiss their ideas and opinions reflexively.
- They can’t commit to deadlines
- Think you won’t make the decisions they need from you.
- They always underestimate the cost. They hate estimates as they are almost always wrong which makes them feel set up to be viewed as a liar or a fool since estimates are an approximation, a best guess given existing uncertainty. They also fear being punished for giving a good faith estimate since it will be treated as more than it was meant to be, just an educated guess.
- They don’t trust new executives if there is frequent turnover and will not follow them if they have been betrayed in the past. Why invest in someone who is not going to last?
- They are not fired up by inspirational speeches, bonuses, made up awards, family picnics or even training on cool new technology that they may never get to use
- If they are fearful and do not feel emotionally safe, they will focus on protecting themselves rather than on their work. They will exhibit this by: reluctance to commit to a delivery date, hiding problems and errors, refusing to take responsibility for failures, and avoiding difficult conversations.
- Most come to work already engaged and energized by one or more things, like the technology, puzzles, opportunities for learning and advancement, the impact of work on others, or the peers with whom they get to work with.
Knowing this can help you better understand that it is not personal, it is just the way they are wired. Understanding attitudes and behaviors and following these 8 suggestions will help you navigate the geek culture and work together more effectively:
- Include technicians in major decisions. To exclude them makes them feel insulted, that their talents have been disregarded. Plus, they often work closely with clients and have unique input.
- Emphasize consistency and predictability. Geeks love computers because when you turn them on, you get the same result each time. They wish their mothers operated as predictably.
- Monitor only as needed. In intellectually demanding, creative work, interruptions can disrupt thinking and result in hours of lost productivity due to the break in concentration.
- Set a safe tone so geeks feel free to experiment and fail without being accused of being incompetent. If geeks feel safe, they will be more likely to openly acknowledge problems and collaborate on solutions. Try to learn the other person’s language.
- Listen carefully and patiently. Though people are smart, they may not always be the most articulate communicators. Ask questions even if you are afraid of looking stupid. People appreciate your wanting to understand what they are trying to tell you.
- Steer conversations. If smart people seem to be going on and on about nothing, they are probably trying to tell you something important, but are struggling to put it into words that make sense outside of their world.
- Define problems very carefully so they don’t waste time and energy on solving the wrong problem. Try to view problems through their eyes – enticing opportunities, challenges and noble callings that needs their skills in order to solve.
- Create an environment where intrinsic motivation can thrive. Examples include: Select people for work that they are already interested in. Give people a sense of the larger significance of their work. Be clear about the role a new technology plays in a business. Be specific about what competencies workers must demonstrate in order to advance their career. Turn work into projects with identified goals and success then geeks will love it as it will feel more like a game. Instill a little healthy competition to enhance group cohesion and get group focus. Design interdependence as it is easier to put in extra effort for a colleague who is relying on you to complete your work than some externally imposed deadline. Limit group size. Control resource availability and balance just the right amount of money, people, time and training. Offer free food…intermittently. Provide a place where employees are excited to come to every day and feel appreciated and fulfilled.
For insights in working more effectively with executives, click here to read my blog, “What Senior Executives Wish You Knew.”
To grow your business or organization, we need to invest time to build relationships that lead to better collaborative results. We need to take time to truly listen to one another and try to understand each other’s language. Showing up at each other’s meetings communicates that people are your priority and that they matter. More projects will succeed when key questions are answered and geeks do not have to guess or spend lots of time and money building the wrong things based on mistaken assumptions. What you give attention to speaks loudly as to what and who you value. If technology is important to your business or organization, then working well together with your technology team will save you time and money and get you the technology you want.