There is a lot of training centered on labeling other people’s personalities and then using those categories to communicate better, read people, work together or build relationships. Sometimes these approaches take the form of being a color or giving your personality a name. These approaches fall under the broad category of personality typology and all focus on pointing out people’s particular attributes. Personality typology aims at helping us understand our differences and how we can use that knowledge to relate more effectively.
While it is valuable for people to understand that others have different communication styles, physical appearance, backgrounds, perspectives or approaches, I think this methodology only addresses a part of what true communication or relationship building is all about. Personality typology can be a great conversation starter but it benefits from adding a couple of components.
I prefer to focus on the things we have in common. I’ve noticed that people have little problem identifying the things that are different about other people but have a harder time finding what they share with others. It helps to start by not forgetting that we all have things we have in common. Personality typology tends to focus on differences: you’re this and I’m that. This is great for pointing out differences but less effective for bringing people together because it focuses on the things that keep us apart. I’ve found that a far more productive approach for helping people connect is to emphasize the things they share and build on those.
Another key element that leads to friction is labeling people. Labeling tends to put people into supposedly neat categories that don’t really reflect who they are at a deeper level. So we’ve gone through our training and now we can all walk around and point at each other as being this or that. That’s great but it doesn’t get to the crux of understanding another human being. Labeling can be effective to point out obvious differences but a deeper understanding of what really makes people tick can give you far greater insight.
So what can companies and individuals do to really bring their people together and help them get along wonderfully? It takes a change of focus and perspective that moves away from fixating on differences. Think about the following ideas and how they might help your employees (or you) create stronger connections.
- Focus on the things people have in common.
- Practice active listening to learn about others.
- Spend time learning about others by listening.
- Forget labels and find out what people really love doing.
- Build empathy by creating conversation groups.
- Ask open-ended questions to learn about others.
- See the world through someone else’s eyes.
- Don’t react to differences; take it as an opportunity to learn.
- Practice collaborative problem solving skills.
- Celebrate people regularly.
As you’ve noticed, this approach is about highlighting and celebrating the great things about other people. The trap many of us fall into is believing that the world is about all these people who are really different from us and who we must be wary of. Yet the vast majority of people in the world want the same things we do. They want to live happy lives with a great career, family and friends. If we shift to thinking in those terms we actually make our lives easier by not having to remember who shakes hands how or what will offend which person. By emphasizing the things that bond us we create an atmosphere where the differences don’t matter as much.
Ask yourself how effectively you practice the ten key skills we’ve talked about. Successful people and companies understand the value of stepping outside themselves and learning about their people. Getting along with others is not so much about the things the keep us apart, it’s about the things that bring us together.