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To work well with others, understand yourself

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Group work is a delicate thing.

From classroom groups to workplace groups to extracurricular groups, how you behave and the ways you interact can make or break the outcome. To make your work more successful and productive, it’s important to realize that people work differently, and those differences make us more creative.

I recently learned about the “Four Essential Working Styles” of a group. It’s a way to identify a your personal working style, to learn about the personal working style of the other members of your team and to understand how being aware of these differences can improve your group’s interactions.

Here’s how it works: The activity is based on a compass, and you pick the compass point that you most identify with. As you read the descriptions below, think about which style most suits you:

North - Action: Just get it done! Like to act, try things out, plunge in. People are apt to say, "Enough talk. Let's move on this!"

South - Community: Consider everyone's feelings. Like to hear and honor all voices before acting. People often check to see if everyone is OK. They may speak up when a break is needed.

East - Vision-Making: Look at the big picture. People will often inquire about why something is being done, what the purpose is or if an idea has implications that haven't been considered.

West - Structure: Pay attention to the details. People often ask when, how, who says, how long, what time?

Once you’ve identified your personal working style, the next step is to analyze yourself a bit further. What are the strengths of that personal working style? What benefits do you bring to a group? On the other hand, what are your limitations? What challenges might you bring to a group? And lastly, what do people need to know about working with you to make work more productive?

Thinking this in-depth about your own style can be quite eye-opening, but it’s especially effective when you do it as a team.

The last time I did this activity was with the 2013 Young Professionals Connection board, and as we went around the room, the differences between the groups were plainly apparent. The West group (Structure) said, “We need all of the details. Send us bullet-pointed emails,” while the East group (Vision-Making) said, “Don’t bog us down. We prefer phone calls to long emails.” The South group (Community) said, “We want everyone to feel comfortable, and we take criticisms personally,” while the North group (Action) said, “Give it to us bluntly.”

At this point, I suggest looking around the room and taking note - especially of the people on the opposite side of the room. Once you recognize your different preferences, working together becomes much more productive. We don’t all work the same, but we can work together.

-Emilee Richardson
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