Have you ever worked with someone and admired something they excelled at with seemingly no effort? Maybe it was how they were able to deliver candid feedback with confidence and empathy. Perhaps it's how they remain upbeat despite working through challenges every day? Maybe they tend to stay organized and task-oriented and impress people with how well they keep it all together? No matter your job, workplace, or sense of identity, we all have unique strengths that come more naturally to us than others.
Understanding our natural strengths versus what takes more effort for us to master can help us throughout our careers. Selecting a new job, gaining awareness of our areas of improvement, or developing into an effective leader are just a few examples. When we boil it down, there are three groups of behaviors that impact how we show up at work to those around us: our energy, sensitivity, and control. These traits may be observable by others, or they may be invisible, but a motivator for you. Either way, these elements are a part of your personality DNA, so it's good to familiarize yourself with them.
We all have a finite amount of energy that helps us complete our day-to-day activities, and we all spend this energy in different ways. In Birkman vernacular, your effort might naturally tend towards Social Energy, Physical Energy, Emotional Energy, or a combination of all three. It's essential to know how you usually spend your energy to use it most efficiently and learn the ways you can recharge to stay productive.
Why This Matters
Your energy determines how you naturally direct your focus. If you are typically more social, you might be someone who enjoys group tasks or be the person others come to for support. However, it's essential to keep in mind that we all spend our energy differently, and this can cause conflict at times. When people spend their energy in ways that don't align with how you tend to behave, it can be easy to have judgmental thoughts. You might think a person doesn't work as hard as you. Or maybe you think they aren't as caring or passionate as you.
However, how we spend our energy is not always a choice. Our tendency towards how we spend our energy is something deeply ingrained within us. It's good to speak with people openly about their viewpoints before assuming they have the same interests and skills as you do.
For example, you might find it easy to be continually active because that's how your energy naturally comes out. You may make quick decisions, work long hours, and spend your energy working getting many things done. However, your coworker might tend more toward social energy. For them, fixating on task-related work for too long would drain them. Similarly, small talk might drain you, but it energizes them. Neither preference is better than the other, but your preferences make some tasks much easier for you to execute. If you are action-oriented, you might not appreciate how a highly social person with less physical energy adds value. Talking to others about their natural style can help. A final area we might expend our energy is through emotion. People who exhibit this behavior find it easier to express and receive feelings in any setting. Your emotional energy is an important area to be aware of because it has the potential to cause tension when two parties disagree about the appropriate level of expressiveness in a situation. Those with low emotional energy prefer to stay solution-focused, while high emotional energy guides people to problem-solve by talking about emotions.
That is not to say that we have no control, free will, or the ability to change how we expend energy. We can intentionally redirect our efforts, but it will take more work and be more challenging than acting on our natural personality.
It's also important to understand that how people show up on the surface isn't usually how they want to be treated in return. We all have a set of behavioral Needs within our personalities. For example, you could be seen as highly social by other people, but have a strong need for personal time away from others to avoid feeling drained. The same types of reversals can play out with Emotional and Physical Energy. So it's important not to assume what others want from their environment based on observing their surface-level behavior.
Understanding behavioral energy levels within yourself and others can build appreciation and respect among even the most contrasting personalities. It's also helpful to realize that even those with seemingly endless energy will have behavioral traits that can drain them! However, you may not expect it simply because their need to unwind shows up differently than yours.
A great skill to have is the ability to navigate tough, sensitive conversations in the workplace. For these discussions, it is crucial to be aware of your communication style as well as how you want others to approach you. These factors explain why a person might be more receptive to specific methods of communication and reject others.
Just like energy, we sometimes treat others differently than we like to be treated. Though one might use tact to soften the delivery of tough messages, they may prefer feedback to be given to them in a straight-forward manner with no frills. These hidden preferences are nearly impossible to uncover without self-awareness and a psychologically-safe environment in which people feel comfortable to take interpersonal risks.
Why This Matters
Your approach to sensitivity impacts business activities such as performance reviews, how you deliver feedback to coworkers, and your tendency to speak up when you disagree with others. This tendency impacts how much emotion you prefer to use in business conversations and the degree to which you self-monitor behavior and messages.
Understanding our tendencies in this area also helps us to avoid comparison. Rather than feeling that you're overly sensitive or that you lack emotion, remember that each end of the spectrum has strengths and weaknesses. The key is getting your needs met as often as possible, so the strengths of your personality shine through. You are more often more effective when you utilize your innate strengths rather than striving to act in a way that is not natural to you.
Let's look at an example of this. If you tend to speak to others in a frank manner but prefer others to use a little more sensitivity, there are likely times when people offend you inadvertently. They may give you the same direct style of feedback that you tend to provide. If this happens consistently, the strain of blunt feedback might wear you down and cause you to react in a frustrated manner that isn't beneficial to either person. If others knew that you preferred to give feedback directly, but liked to be spoken to more gently, this is avoidable. Stress often comes from our unmet Needs and can inhibit us from effectively utilizing our natural strengths. Open communication is the first step to meeting those needs.
It is essential to understand control—how someone influences the environment around them through verbal expression and adherence to rules. Knowing how you interact with others in this way can nurture healthier work relationships. Two areas that help you understand how you tend to manage people and how you prefer others to manage you are how often you assert your opinions and insist on how things are done.
Let's break down the importance of these behaviors. First off, it's important to note that once again, there is no right or wrong style. What's important is knowing how to understand your control mechanisms, and how they may be helpful based on the environment you are in. Those who tend to drive conversations, challenge the status quo, and speak authoritatively are necessary to drive change. On the other hand, those who are more agreeable and use suggesting statements help provide a balance of sensitivity and comfort to conversations.
Why This Matters
Opposite personalities tend to attract the most controversy and conflict. Whether you like to be in control or avoid it at all costs, insistence and assertiveness can quickly damage work relationships when misunderstood. Understanding where people stand on this topic can save relationships and allow distinctly different individuals to work together effectively. Knowing these tendencies can help build stronger, more emotionally intelligent teams from the start. For example, if your team currently consists of employees who don't prefer to speak up, bringing in a more assertive individual might be the best move. Or, if a candidate for hire tends to be very persistent and the hiring manager needs someone coachable and flexible, it raises awareness of this potential conflict from the beginning.
Don't forget—how people act is not always how they want to be treated. Be sure to have open conversations with your teams to avoid incorrect assumptions. Sometimes even the most assertive people prefer agreeable relationships and vice versa.
How Birkman Helps
Discussing these topics can be tough. How do you even start a conversation about behavioral tendencies and preferences? Our clients use Birkman as a tool to create psychological safety through a safe, common language to ensure everyone is using nonjudgmental terminology to discuss behavior. We understand that all personality traits have positive and negative behaviors that must be addressed to produce self-aware employees and leaders. We break down behaviors so that you can measure the strengths and areas of improvement on your team for more targeted talent development.
Talking to your team members about their preferences is vital for your team's success. If you're looking to build a strong foundation for a team that collaborates highly effectively, check out our High-Performing Teams workshop. We offer several consultant-led workshops that boost team engagement and performance through the discovery of individual behaviors and personalities. Finally, we offer Birkman at Work Toolkits that enable you to run your own team building without having to do much of the work from scratch. Let's Connect and discuss how you can best help your team based on your business needs.