Several years ago, I was preparing for a week of Safety Leadership training with clients in the energy sector. I was going to be working with a co-facilitator whom I knew casually but with whom I had never actually delivered a course.
In preparation for this workshop, I emailed my co-facilitator, Jack. It is customary that we “divvy up” the segments in the workshop and designate the primary facilitator at that point. In that email, I suggested the following: “Even when the other is taking the lead, I hope that any of us can add to the conversation when we see a valid point to make. So even if it’s not one of our “turns,” we can speak up. It enables us to “back each other up,” so to speak.” Sound advice, I thought.
Jack responded: “Rob, concerning your comment about adding an important point: since we are all professionals, I hope these types of interventions will not be necessary because those interventions can make the days longer than necessary.”
[WHAT? What’s up with that comment? From my perspective, I was suggesting that we each be open to the other “adding in” so that the client would get the very best of what we both had to offer. In my mind, this was a “no brainer.” He seemed to be telling me, in a very diplomatic way, to keep out of his speaking parts. What a clown!]
Persisting, I tried to explain my thoughts to Jack again: “I appreciate your comment regarding respecting participants time. I have a concern, though, that we not sacrifice understanding. Would you agree that when we see an opportunity to reinforce learning, we should do that? In whatever segments I lead, I will periodically turn to you and see what you would add to the conversation. Your thoughts make it richer for the participants, and my looking to my co-facilitator models the type of collaboration that we want them to grow in as well. I understand if you don’t want to do that, but I think that the standard for all of our decisions should be about what will help our clients learn the best.”
[There. That should take care of it. Now he will SURELY agree with me.]
Not so. Jack returned with “First, I trust your professionalism; second, I may be deep into thought about positioning my approach to my part and may not be tracking what you have been saying; third, I prefer not to script what we do or plan our interactions. I want to trust you and you trust me, as professionals.”
By this time, I am ready to pull my hair out (and for those who have seen my picture, there’s not much there to play with), so this was serious! I was tempted to respond back and simply mandate that we do it my way.
Fortunately, I remembered that I am not at my best when angry and tired, and looking back over the emails, I began to see a pattern.
Unsatisfied but with a glimmer of the real issue, I finished the email exchange with the following: “I sense that we are talking past one another, not fully understanding what the other is saying. I also think we may be approaching this differently based upon our style differences. Let’s talk when we meet next week.”
What had dawned on me was the simple fact that he and I have different DiSC Styles. We use the DiSC instrument to help our clients understand their personal approaches to their work, how to work better together and have more productive work relationships. In DiSC language, my co-facilitator was expressing the attitudes and behaviors associated with someone who is High S. I, on the other hand, am High D.
High D behaviors include taking charge, quick decisions, readiness to change the game plan to get better results, assertiveness. High S behaviors include attention to process, a more methodical pace, adherence to the chosen course of action, a quieter demeanor. When someone with strong D tendencies is under stress (as I was), he or she will often be MORE assertive and controlling, to the point that the other person perceives them as pushy and harsh. When someone with strong S tendencies is under stress (as Jack was), he or she will often cling to previous plans and dig in their heels, even when the circumstances on the ground have changed and it’s apparent that a new plan is needed.
In short, we had the makings of a perfect little storm between the two of us. Without ever having worked together, we only needed one or two more email exchanges before we would each be convinced of the insanity of the other. And fortunately, as I’ve already mentioned, I disengaged from the brewing conflict when I saw what was underlying the discussion. Based on my understanding of work styles, I chose to:
- View his behavior with a less critical eye; this enabled me to listen more, which engendered trust.
- For the moment, go against my natural tendency to control and leave control with him. When we met together prior to the workshop, I emphasized my faith in his professionalism and did NOT bring up the issue of whether I might add my comments. The end result was that he trusted me more, and once he saw that I had a depth of experience to share but that I wouldn’t take over or otherwise diminish him in any way, he welcomed my inputs.
BOTTOM LINE: We both got what we wanted, which is the BEST outcome in a conflict situation. Again, the answer was simple: it just took one of us to have and act upon a working knowledge of behavioral styles.
— Rob Benson