Knowing our Colleagues’ Work Styles is a Secret to Working Efficiently, Influencing Others, and Succeeding

Think about and even jot down the names of your colleagues you work with often. Now rate your current relationship on a scale of 1 to 5 with each, with five being superior — you work really well together, and one, you get frustrated with that individual.

With your list in mind or even in your hand, think about how much you know about anyone you scored three or less. What is their work style? Are they goal-oriented or relationship-oriented? How do they prefer to communicate? What is their approach to conflict? What are their biggest work-driven stressors? How different are their approaches to work from your own? Have you ever thought about these traits or characteristics before about yourself or colleagues?

You will most likely not be surprised to learn that we tend to feel more at ease with and get along better with individuals who have a similar work style to our own or a work style we respect. Conversely, we can tune out or even ignore individuals with a different work style or who we don’t particularly like.

There are four high-level work style categories, and about 25% of people fall into each. So, we share a similar work style with just 1 in 4 of our co-workers. That means we may unknowingly tune out 75% of the individuals we work with — wow – right? Consider how that can impact understanding versus misinterpreting others.

There are few jobs today where individuals thrive and perform well alone. But, as we all know, humans are unique and complicated. We have individual talents, different stressors, competing personal and work responsibilities, personal traits, different approaches to work, and more. To be successful at work, we need to know how to navigate the uniqueness of our colleagues to ensure we work effectively together.

The four general work styles are defined by how individuals approach relationships at work and their overall communication style in relation to their preferred work environment. Different organizations have different but similar names for these work styles. Here at Brize, we refer to them as Harmonizer, Introspective, Energizer, and Captain.

Each work approach classification has pros and cons, so no one is better or worse than another. They are just different. If you are unaware of how individuals approach work, you may misinterpret your colleagues’ behaviors. For example, some people are so averse to conflict that they will do anything to avoid it, like appearing to disappear when things get tense. Others who are not as bothered by conflict might misinterpret that person’s disappearing behavior as not caring about their work or a lack of commitment, which is not the case. They are just uncomfortable with conflict and sometimes even healthy debate situations, so they try not to be involved in those situations.

Some individuals focus heavily on creating friendships at work before getting down to the tasks at hand. Others see relationship building as secondary to accomplishing goals. These individuals are often mischaracterized as uncaring and only focused on personal success. Their goal-oriented nature doesn’t mean they don’t care about building strong relationships, typically quite the contrary. They just have a different primary focus because of their goal-oriented nature. Neither is right or wrong, just different. Knowing our colleagues’ work styles will eliminate misinterpreting their behaviors.

Here are just some unique elements of each work style.

Harmonizers are relationship-oriented, preferring friendly relationships and focusing on understanding the motivations and well-being of others. They speak softly and have a tactful and pleasant demeanor.

Energizers are also people-focused and enjoy developing relationships. As their name suggests, they are energetic individuals who speak quickly, animatedly, and excitedly. They are also persuasive because they are masterful at sharing their vision

Introspectives are task-oriented individuals. They are deliberate, tactful, and cautious when sharing their thoughts or feelings and have a calm and reserved demeanor.

And finally, we have Captains who are goal-oriented individuals. They are not afraid of conflict and are also good at resolving it.

Observation will be the most effective tool you can enact to understand the work styles of your colleagues. Start by taking note of how different individuals start their interactions with others. Do they like to catch up with someone before jumping in to work topics? If they start with small talk, notice how comfortable they are at it? Does it seem forced? Are they uneasy or even anxious, appearing to want to move on to work-related topics? Also, observe how they engage during work topics. Do they seem bothered by fact-based debates or disagreements? Or do they join in and attempt to define a solution or compromise? How quickly do they appear to make a decision? Are their comments more direct or indirect? Answering these questions will start to reveal your colleagues’ work styles.

And what about you? What do you believe is your work style?

With that answer, turn back to the list of who you work with often and your assigned relationship rating. Do you work more successfully with others who have a similar work style? If so, you’ll want to develop stronger working relationships with those you rated a three or below.

Beyond these four generalized work styles, other human factors impact our ability to work productively with our co-workers, especially stress management, an ability and willingness to adapt, confidence levels, energy sources (extrovert or introvert), and fear of failure, to name a few. Understanding our colleagues more deeply is not as daunting as it might sound. It just requires an understanding of each topic and then awareness of our own and our colleagues’ unique characteristics. At Brize, we help our users gain this greater awareness of self and others.

Understanding our colleagues’ work styles is foundational knowledge to building good, strong working relationships. Working productively with our co-workers does not happen instantaneously. It requires time and commitment. But the payoff of this investment will lead to personal career success and, more importantly, happiness.