Managing Working Relationships

This is an interesting workshop that I ran at the beginning of the week; the title is more inclusive than its predecessor which would be something like “The Student-Supervisor Relationship”. Ostensibly what I set out to do was to help researchers (both students and staff) understand a little more about their preferred ways of working and to talk through some strategies that I’ve used to balance my own relationships in my working life (although I’m pretty sure that some of the following insights help with other avenues of life as well).

Disclaimer time:- I’m principally talking about the Myers Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI) here and I’m not a certified expert. I’m not a fanatic of personality typing and generally I steer well clear of schemes that classify folks into ‘types’ or those that make value judgments about competence based on typing.

Having said that, my experience of MBTI in the context of working relationships (particularly that between a research student and their supervisor) is a useful tool to help understand that other folks have different preferences when approaching certain things which can be infuriating if your preference is not at all similar. Just by understanding that these approaches are driven by our preferences instantly reduces that feeling of frustration because it makes you realise that it isn’t a conscious choice in the most part.

I used some slides to illustrate the dichotomies as described by MBTI, as opposed to administering the MBTI instrument, no pronouncements were made other than for me to reveal that I am an ISTP.

EDIT: If you want to find out more about your own preferences using this tool then the UWE Careers Service has a subscription to a type dynamics assessment . You will need to physically be on the UWE network to use it. If you are not from UWE, maybe your own Careers Service has a similar scheme? Why not ask and find out?

I think folks spend a lot of time thinking about the difference between an “Introvert” and an “Extravert” – there is an important difference in MBTI parlance from that of the everyday use of the terms. Put simply it is about where your focus is in terms of energy, I once heard it described as the difference between being battery-powered or solar-powered which I think is a neat way of putting it.

However it is described I can safely assert that I am very much an introvert. This is both wonderful and, at times, exhausting. I do have to spend lots of time interacting with people, standing up and talking, talking and more talking but I do love my reflection and recharging time.

I think Susan Cain sums it up well in her TED talk (Can you tell I like TED talks…!)

The other area in which I demonstrate a pretty strong preference is in the dichotomy termed “Judging” vs “Perceiving”. I am strongly the latter. Some people earn the label “Mr Last Minute”, well I am the Captain of all last minutes; in fact as a PhD student I wrote up the bulk of my thesis in a matter of weeks because there was an immovable deadline. But here’s the rub, since I’ve become more aware of my preferences I now know that I can’t behave like that all the time, there are many situations where I have to resist my urge to wait/to gather more information/holding off on committing/it’s never too late to have another good idea- because I work with other people for whom that approach frightens and stresses them. I care about the state of health of my colleagues so inevitably I work at minimising the stress I cause others.

Another important element of working with others is the giving and receiving of feedback. In Academia, there is a notorious lack of sugar coating anything and quite often a lack of clarity about things to improve. So I spent time on how feedback should be done…

A couple of things to point out here. I used JoHari’s Window only to illustrate the conundrum around feedback. I’ve seen this model misused so many times where folks have been left feeling dysfunctional because of the misunderstanding around the “Blind Spot”. Basic concept here is to try and increase your public facade. This model demonstrates that in order to achieve that you have to do two things that make most people feel vulnerable:

  1. Disclose more about yourself (decrease the amount that is private and hidden from others)
  2. Seek feedback from others (decrease the amount that is unknown to you – blind to you)

Once this becomes clear, then JoHari’s window isn’t quite so scary and just becomes another of putting a vocabulary to ones own development.

But I think the best thing to take away from feedback is to realise the analogy of it being a a gift. Some gifts you receive from family are useful and some not so. You would always thank someone for giving you the gift even if you chose not to make use of that gift.

Last thing I touched on was about Eric Berne’s concept of transactional analysis as a way of explaining how sometyimes it’s easy to predict a reaction from others depending on how we approach it. If we communicate like a parent, this model suggests we should expect the receiver to react in the exact opposite state, i.e. to react like a child.

I can’t say that I’m really into these models but they do provide a way of engaging in a discussion about how we work and collaborate with others which is, after all, what I was trying to do…

What do you think?