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Career Coach: Is your style causing problems for you?

By Joyce E. A. Russell,

The news talk shows and columnists have been quick to analyze the Republican presidential candidates and their personality flaws. If we aren’t hearing about Mitt Romney’s “poor connection and lack of empathy” with voters, then we’re hearing about Newt Gingrich’s potential for “emotional outbursts” or “roller coaster moods.”

Perceptions of the candidates’ styles seem to be an important factor in how we evaluate them. As leaders, they won’t get elected or be able to influence us if the public can’t get past their stylistic “problems.”

The same is true in organizations. When I ask individuals who among their peers they do and do not want to work with, they have no trouble giving names and stating their reasons. Their reasons usually come down to two factors — performance or personality.

Here are some of the primary issues that seem to cause stress among peers and reasons for why they don’t want to work with a particular individual:

An abrasive style, tactlessness or lack of empathy. Smarts can’t save you. While your peers might put up with you longer if you’re intelligent or have some particular expertise, that doesn’t last forever. After a while, the abrasiveness hits a nerve. As one employee said, “There are plenty of smart people out there; it’s easy enough to find one who is smart and empathetic.”

Intimidating, domineering or condescending style. Treating some individuals as if they aren’t at the same level or using sexist, racist or other offensive comments in the “spirit of being funny” offends the targeted individuals and others who don’t appreciate a disrespectful, insensitive attitude.

Disengagement or inconsistent engagement. Peers have trouble with individuals who seem enthused for some projects, but tune out for others. They want consistency.

Unwillingness to change. Peers are not willing to accept excuses like “this is who I am, and I can’t change that part of me.” They figure if you’re willing to change so many other things in your life (technology, partners, cars, houses), you can make some personality adjustments.

Undependability. As one person noted, “when someone waits until the last minute to do their work, it stresses the entire team.”

Disorganization and lack of focus. One person mentioned a colleague who “always derails the conversations, goes off on tangents and causes the group to lose focus.”

Poor communication skills, especially failing to listen to other’s views. Coming across as overbearing, stubborn and opinionated rather than being open to hear diverse perspectives.” Being a devil’s advocate all of the time, without ever offering any praise or positive comments.

Negativity, moodiness or bad temper. Individuals want to be around positive, hopeful people.

Don’t be the source of the problem. Collect candid feedback from others on your work style. Be sensitive to the reactions of others and be open to adjusting your behaviors to fit the current situation. Research has shown that people better at self-monitoring are often more effective in managerial positions because they are required to read situations and play multiple roles when communicating with different types of people.

Factors that employees have told me they most appreciate in peers include:

Collegial skills — a willingness to put the team or others first and help out the group, being inclusive by ensuring everyone’s ideas get heard.

Consistent high-quality work performance, regardless of the project

Timeliness of work — delivering when you say you will deliver, and if you can’t make a deadline letting people know. As one person noted “colleagues who overpromise and under deliver are the worst because they hold up the entire team.”

Positive “can-do” attitude and enthusiasm for the project at hand. Willingness to learn. Appropriate sense of humor. “It is contagious and makes us all want to work together.”

Dedication to the project. As some have said “it’s a person you can count on who won’t rest until the project is completed.”

Consideration of others and being trustworthy — being sincere and genuine and truly caring about teammates. No hidden agendas.

So, if you want to be able to lead or influence others or even get them to pick you for that next project, think about your own style and what might be holding you back. As for our presidential hopefuls — no one expects them to have perfect personalities. Wouldn’t it be nice if they could just admit some of their flaws and let us know that they are trying to improve them?

Joyce E. A. Russell is the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at jrussell@rhsmith.umd.edu.

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