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How to better understand and get along with your coworkers (review of Surrounded by Idiots)

It’s actually easy being green.

What’s not so easy is having to work and live with us.

At our best, greens are a stabilizing influence on a team. We’re supportive, pleasant, relaxed, respectful and reliable. We’re good listeners, with a genuine ear for human problems. We won’t monopolize meetings for the sake of hearing ourselves talk. We don’t demand much, we’ll never kick up an unnecessary fuss and we’d prefer never to offend you or anyone else.

But we can also come across as stubborn, uncertain, complaint, dependent and awkward. We have a frustrating inability to change our ways and at times can seem indifferent, uninspired and unconcerned. You could look at us in a meeting and legitimately wonder if we still have a pulse. And don’t count on us to commit to, much less ever make, big plans outside of work. The bigger your plans, the more comfortable we’ll make ourselves on the couch.

The fun and fireworks begin when you mix us into a team with the other three behaviour types that make up the DISA (dominance, inducement, submission and analytic) system.

idiots“There are individuals around us who, under less favourable circumstances, we may find challenging to understand,” says Thomas Erikson, author of Surrounded by Idiots. “There are others we don’t understand at all, no matter what the situation is. And the most difficult to interact with are those who aren’t like us, because they obviously behave ‘incorrectly’. So much conflict could be avoided if we just understood why the people around us behave the way they do.”

Reds are bold and brash natural-born leaders. They’re quick to react and take direct action. They can also morph into impatient and unyielding control freaks who repeatedly and aggressively trample on everyone’s toes.

Yellows are creative and optimistic social butterflies with exceptional communication skills. They’ll also suck up all the oxygen in a room if given the chance and can come across as easily distracted, selfish, superficial and overly self-confident.

Rounding out the four personality types are blues who are analytical, serious, diligent and detail-oriented. They can also be slow to react, minimally interested in relationships, tedious, aloof and cold-hearted. A blue will not hesitate to remind you that being 95 per cent right still makes you 100 per cent wrong.

Blues and yellows in particular can quickly get on each other’s nerves while reds and greens are the other challenging and potentially combustible combination.

Yet we can all get along if we first recognize and understand each other’s behavior types and then adjust and adapt accordingly.  The majority of us are a blend of two or three colours while only a few us have just one behavior type.

“If you want to make headway with a large group of greens, you have to take command, get a firm hold on the steering wheel, and, in some cases, simply get into the driver’s seat yourself,” says Erikson. “Asking a group of greens to solve a task is as much use as trying to put a brake on a canoe. They won’t get started unless you put them on the track.”

And all of us should quit abiding by the golden rule. Treating others the way you want to be treated assumes everyone else is exactly like you. But the way a green wants to be treated is fundamentally different from a red, blue or yellow.

Erikson wrote his bestseller to help us better relate to and communicate with the people we work and live with. “Self-awareness, my friend, is the solution,” says Erikson.

His book will reassure you that you’re not actually surrounded by idiots and you’ll find practical solutions for better understanding and appreciating what makes each of us tick at work and home.

This review first ran in the Sept. 28 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.

3 transitions that dual-career couples must navigate to thrive at work & love

Can you really have it all when it comes to love and work?

Yes, but it’s a limited time offer available only to dual-career couples in their 20s.

So enjoy it while it lasts.

In your 20s, you can focus entirely on your career. You’re free to head into the office early, stay late, work through the weekend and hold down a side hustle. You’re what author and professor Jennifer Petriglieri calls an unbounded talent.

couples“They have few personal responsibilities or constraints like a mortgage, children or elderly relatives that compete for their time or bind them to a specific location,” says Petriglieri, author of Couples that Work – How Dual Career Couples Can Thrive in Love and Work.

Nothing changes right away when unbounded talents first become a couple. They still get to run their careers full out on parallel tracks with little friction. “Relative lack of constraints, abundance of tolerance and willingness to discount challenges, free couples up to do what they need and want, and they often do a lot.”

The world seems full of possibilities and young couples believe they can continue to have it all and burn the candle at both ends. “That is the powerful illusion that a promising career start and a blossoming love foster.”

The first of three transitions will bring that illusion to an end by your early 30s. The transition is triggered by a major life event like the birth of a child, a career that kicks into higher gear for you or your partner, an unexpected layoff or a serious illness.

Rather than have it all, couples start struggling to do it all. The solution is to replace independence with interdependence.

“When couples have interdependent careers and lives, they mutually rely on each other to be successful and fulfilled. The move to interdependence raises the defining question of the first transition: how can we make this work? How can we structure our lives to allow both of us to thrive in love and in work?”.

Petriglieri says couples that stumble through this first transition continue to treat their careers, commitments and lives as fundamentally independent. Instead of collaborating, they compromise. There’s a risk one or both partners will keep score of the trade-offs and feel increasingly resentful.

“True life partners are not independent, but rather interdependent. This mutual dependence requires couples to collaborate rather than barter. They need to dig below practical day-to-day issues that can be temporarily solved through trade-offs and address deeper questions of career prioritization and life structure.”

The second transition arrives in your middle years. One or both partners grow tired, bored, restless and get stuck in a rut at work. Having owned your choices during the first transition, you’re now questioning those choices. You may be looking at a new job or career.

“Fleeting doubts, troubling dreams and nagging questions are all hallmarks of the start of the second transition,” says Petriglieri.  “Rather than wrestling with the life events that trigger their first transition, couples must now contend with existential questions and doubts about the foundation and direction of their lives.”

The third and final transition arrives as the kids leave home, careers plateau and, in the lyrics of Leonard Cohen, we start aching in the places where we used to play. It’s a time of loss and limits, says Petriglieri.

“The final transition comes at a time of dramatic shifts in roles. As we enter this stage of our careers, spanning our fifties to retirement, the stability of the path we crafted at the end of our second transition is challenged by these role shifts, the identity voids they open up and the legacy questions they raise that go to the core of our being in the world.

“If our twenties and thirties are the ‘should’ decade where we feel compelled to establish our careers and families, and our forties are the ‘want’ decade where we craft our individual life path, then our fifties and beyond are the ‘must’ decades. The sense of urgency people feel is palpable.”

Petriglieri based her research on interviews with 113 dual-career couples.  Her findings and recommendations will help anyone struggling through the transitions or wanting a heads up on the challenges ahead.

Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.