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  • Writer's pictureLouise Carnachan

The Drive for Productivity

“I value expediency above all else!” my client declared proudly. As a busy person with a lot on her plate professionally and personally, she valued efficiency. Relatively new to her position, this was a woman with technical expertise—and virtually no understanding of this workplace’s culture or norms. I’d had hints from her colleagues that she was difficult to know because her office door was closed most of the time. She said that she didn’t want to disturb others when Zooming. While this was no doubt true, she also didn’t want to be interrupted. I couldn’t fault her for wanting to get her work done and go home to her young family. So, what’s wrong with the strategy of keeping your nose to the grindstone and not spending time getting to know your coworkers? A lot.

There are few positions in which you are completely autonomous. You need to learn the ropes in a new position, how things are done in this place. While it may be your fingers on the keyboard, at some point you’ll require others’ knowledge, experience or data. When you fail to create and nurture relationships, that assistance can be slow in coming, if it comes at all. The risk of making mistakes is high and your self-awareness about making them is low. Six months into her new job, my client had been stepping on toes and was oblivious; she wasn’t taking time to acquaint herself with peers. Colleagues provide clues about what is expected vis a vis the cultural norms—the unwritten rules which are presumed to be understood.

In the parlance of Social Styles (Merrill and Reid), my client was a classic Driver. These are the “get it done” specialists and we count on them to do just that. Never at a loss to provide direction and momentum, they have a plan, do a lot of the work themselves, and rapidly push a project over the finish line. Whether people go along with them willingly is the question. In their extreme form (like my client), they can offend or alienate others and either miss the cues they’ve done so or not consider it important.

In Work Jerks: How to Cope with Difficult Bosses and Colleagues, I wrote about another client who displayed many of the same tendencies. That person felt that if she slowed down long enough to say hello to people in the morning, it would take too much time. Consequently, she blew by her coworkers without so much as a glance in her rush to get to her cube. It was déjà vu when I suggested to my newer client that she might consider keeping her door cracked open when she wasn’t in a meeting. That way people could ask her questions. I also recommended she stop and say hello to peers if their doors were open. I was prepared to hear “that takes too much time” and had a strategy ready. Instead, she surprised me with, “I don’t really want to be my friends with my colleagues. I have a busy life outside of work.” I hadn’t anticipated that. Friendly at work need not equate to being friends outside of the job. However, this was an important insight. In her mind, relatively superficial interactions could lead to an encroachment of her personal time.

Drivers can be dualistic in their thinking especially if they’re also highly analytical. For them, it’s an either-or situation, no shades of gray. I challenged my client’s assumption that being companionable at work would lead to colleagues wanting to be part of her personal life. I reminded her that if this came up, she could set boundaries about her availability. Meanwhile, it was important to build those relationships. She needed to count on these people—and they needed to know if they could rely on her. She was still an unknown to them.

You may relate to the Driver even if you’re not as extreme as the clients I’ve described. If so, be aware of the tradeoffs when you short circuit relationships to pursue individual productivity. Quality often depends on other’s insights and opinions, not just listening to the echo chamber of your own mind. If you ever need to rely on them or ask for favors, you want to have already built a relationship. Otherwise, your request is likely to be a low priority. We do things for the people with whom we have connection. Remember that providing assistance is reciprocal. To only ask for help and never give it in return is manipulative and narcissistic.

If worry about spotty social skills is holding you back, here are some ideas. Ask questions about others’ experiences, especially the things you have in common (like your work). If you’re new, ask things like, “How are things different from when you started working here?” or “What’s something that you wish you had known about the job earlier?” If you’re past the initial phase of your tenure and have been solitary up until now, the shift to being more social should be subtle or it’ll seem weird. When a few of your colleagues are chatting in a public area, you might stop to listen and chime in. Ask about someone’s weekend. Comment when new photos show up on a coworker’s desk, drop by to say hello when a door is open, offer praise for a work accomplishment. The point is to look outside yourself and notice things about others that prompts friendly small talk. This isn’t about deep, soul-searching conversations, just a little social grease.

If you’re working with a Driver and aren’t sure how to flag down that speeding train, remember that they’re all about saving time and getting things done. Have a purpose for your (brief) conversation. Anything that suggests opportunities to make the work go more smoothly or faster is helpful. You could try asking something like, “What’s your opinion about how we…” or “Did you run into any issues when you… because we want to keep improving.” Excessively social conversation for them is “fluff” so watch for signs they’ve had enough. Additionally, if you do need to speak with them, let them know about how long it will take. Hearing that you only need ten minutes can reduce their anxiety if they see a request for conversation as an open-ended time suck.

Regardless of whether you need to moderate your own Driver tendencies or you’re wondering how to interact with a Driver, it’s all about flexing our personal proclivities to meet others where they are. Productivity, quality, and the enjoyment of work are all enhanced when those who work together take the time to get to know each other—at least a little.

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