Three Surefire Ways to Improve Your Relationships with Different Personalities
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Three Surefire Ways to Improve Your Relationships with Different Personalities

Business Meeting

Three Surefire Ways to Improve Your Relationships with Different Personalities

Last week, I was concluding a team-building series with a dynamite business team leader and his carefully selected team, which blended the best of the former team with newcomers from other companies and industries. We’d been focusing on understanding each other on a more personal level, with each team member sharing what he or she believed to be a common stereotype about their personality and why it wasn’t true.

The team had immersed themselves in a rich discussion getting to know the complex and competent individuals with whom they worked. Not a single text was checked. No laptops were opened. After two hours of completely absorbing discussions, it couldn’t have been clearer that personality type is a starting point for understanding yourself and each other, and not about putting one another into tidy, sanitary little boxes with no room for individual development, growth, expression, or differences.

The team was in a very good place that day. They’d done exceptionally well coming together as a team to turn around sinking sales figures, and even surpassing their quarterly goal a week early. Improving their interpersonal relationships was one of the keys to that improvement. They had worked hard at it and were still working hard at it and aiming even higher.

It wasn’t because the relationships were bad. They weren’t. They team already got along fine. It was because they realized that by getting to really know each other and understand their differences, they could leverage these to be stronger as a team, and build an enormous edge over their competitors, where each sales person was little more than a commission-driven island.

Still, in the midst of all this zippy, cheerful energy, the leader’s brow suddenly furrowed. We’ve worked together a long time, and I knew that look. Every time he reaches a goal, he looks back to see how to make to make the process more efficient. And like many TL readers, he’s not above having a little fun along the way. No wonder he is so successful. I could see that the process of improving interpersonal working relationships would be no exception.

Sure enough, out came the question, “So, Jennifer, how do you get better at this without practicing it a million times?!” Wow, a million times. I’m pretty sure I can improve on that. That’s a pretty low efficiency bar. But why do it myself? We put our heads together, and today I’ll share with you what we came up with, and one addition of my own.

  1. Stop assuming you have to get better at interpersonal relationships alone. Instead, role-play with someone else. For example, since this was a sales team, they had prepared pitches to sell to different personalities, and I asked them pair off for role plays so that they got to practice their pitch on someone of that type and get feedback on how effective the pitch was, and what would improve the pitch. It was a very powerful coaching experience.

    The team decided to add pitch practice to some of their staff meetings, and made an agreement to role play with each other on an ad hoc basis. You don’t always need an expert – your peers can provide feedback that greatly accelerates your growth. This was a great opportunity to gain an edge over their competition. They were a diverse team in terms of their personalities, so getting feedback from everyone would round out preparation for the most critical pitches, lessening the chance of a surprise during the real pitch.
  2. First, focus on observing just one thing and adapting to it. For example, 25 years ago, when I first understood how many people actually gained energy from their inner worlds more often than from the outer world, it was amazing to me. I learned that someone like me could be exhausting just by coming in so close, talking a lot, dropping by their cubes, wanting to talk about projects in the break room, and all manner of other behaviors that I previously had not ever thought about.

    So for two weeks, I didn’t think at all about anything else I had learned about interpersonal relationships. I just focused on that. I noticed who tried to get away from me in the break room. I noticed who leaned back when I leaned forward. I started reflected on how annoying I must be. At first I felt bad, and kind of embarrassed. Then I laughed at myself. Then I started adapting.

    It’s not important that you understand the whole wide world of personality type and adapt to it every minute in order to improve your interpersonal relationships. Just pick something and notice it, and notice your own reaction to it, and then start adapting. Then pick something else, and as the shampoo bottle says, rinse and repeat.

    When you’re ready and so inclined, you can go much, much deeper, but you don’t have to go much, much deeper in order to get much, much better. You just have to start doing it and keep doing it.
  3. When it comes to personality type in particular, take what uninformed people say with a grain of salt. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) is one of the most popular personality instruments of all time. It’s also the most complex of the more popular instruments, and this leaves plenty of room for poor memory to combine with over-enthusiasm to lead to absolute certainty about complete falsehoods.

    Trust what your report, legitimate publications, and your certified interpreter have to say, or just ask me directly on the blog, LinkedIn, or Twitter. Even on the LinkedIn discussion boards, I see errors all the time. Trust me on this — if you tell your direct reports, “You can’t understand the strategy of the business because you’re Sensing types, so I’ll handle it” not only are you stating an error of fact, you’ve just worsened the relationship, not improved it!

How do you get better at this without practicing it a million times? What are your thoughts? Please join the conversation at