In workplaces and other spaces, can we all just get along?
Column by Jim Bishop
That was her response when I told Susan Landes Beck, who was leading our in-service seminar at work that I had the same “25” score in the various categories across the summary scoring sheet. All administrative faculty and staff had been asked to complete a 20-question Gilmore/Fraleigh Style Profile for Communication at Work and bring our results to the workshop for interpretation.
The seminar and the exercises we did focused on the vital need to work at understanding what makes us tick, why we approach tasks a certain way and how that affects interaction with those around us with differing work and management styles.
When things are “calm,” persons tend to operate a certain way. When a “storm” hits, we react and act differently. My scores indicated very little difference in responses between the two arenas.
Of the four overall categories, according to the survey we took, I’m an “Analyzing/Preserving” type personality. I tend to work cautiously, questioning whatever project I’m working on and drawing on past experience, institutional history and proven track records in determining the next steps in a given process.
What was implied in Susan’ reply is that either I’m significantly schizophrenic or somehow manage to adapt to whatever environment and work situation I find myself in.
That’s not a bad thing, I believe, to be able to adjust certain areas of my personality into whatever form is needed to function, to cooperate with and help move things towards a solution or goal.
So, am I a working class chameleon? Perhaps. I can think of worse critters to be compared to.
I’ve been at the same workplace, Eastern Mennonite University, in a similar position nearly 37 years, which I find hard to believe at times. Yet, I believe I’ve stayed put and felt content and satisfied (most of the time) for two basic reasons: the infinite variety inherent in my job – no two days are alike – and an ability to “roll with the incoming tide of change,” both in the much coming and going of personnel and in having the capacity to adapt to persons I’ve had to answer to.
Over the years, I’ve worked for four different presidents. When I first came in 1971, I answered directly to the president, which actually worked well in my role as director of media relations (I’ve been given several different titles over the years as well). Since then, amid numerous administrative restructurings (I’ve seen it all) over the years, I’ve had 10 different supervisors, each with a different management style.
I feel fortunate in that over this long time span I can count on one hand those persons who I felt were difficult to work with across the entire institution.
Another aspect of my personality comes to the fore: I don’t enjoy committees and avoid them whenever possible. I much prefer being assigned a task and running with it even though I want to feel part of a team. In everyday settings, I work better as a solo act, but when serving in some public capacity, such as speaking or interacting with an audience, I feel confident and capable of giving it my best effort.
I believe I’m a “survivor” for so long at the same workplace because I’ve somehow managed to adjust to many changes – even though I don’t like a lot of change – in personnel, in a host of management approaches, in technology that has drastically altered the way work is done. Longevity in the same position has also provided a broader-range view of things and a historical perspective that I can offer to help further the mission of this institution.
Conflict is an inevitable part of life – at work, in families, in congregational and other situations. But, the more we make special effort to understand why we act and respond as we do and the more we understand why those around us behave as they do, the better we can relate to each other and the more productive we can be in contributing to the good of the whole, whatever the setting.
Works for me …
Jm Bishop is public-information officer at Eastern Mennonite University. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.