Humans are wired to be social and physically together. Research shows us this very wiring has evolved to help us survive in harsh and challenging conditions. That connection has been shown to lead to all sorts of positive outcomes, from longer life to deeper happiness.
Given the current shelter-in-place rules across the country as a result of COVID-19, and move to virtual teaming, how can leaders continue to connect with their teams?
Our team has used DISC as a framework to communicate when we are together in person. DISC is a profile that allows participants to know better how to communicate with each other based on communication preferences. Although there are many variations of DISC in the workplace, if you don’t have access to an assessment, there’s a quick way to determine what “style” someone is:
Are they fast to make decisions and generally questioning/skeptical in their interactions? If you answered yes to both, they’re likely a “D” style.
Are they fast to make decisions and generally enjoy large group interactions? If you answered yes to both, they’re likely an “I” style.
Are they more thoughtful in their decision making and generally enjoy one on one interactions? If you answered yes to both, they’re likely an “S” style.
Are they more deliberate in their decision making and generally enjoy working independently? They’re likely a “C” style.
So now that you have a guess at your teammate’s style, how do you communicate better with them during this time?
First, pause to think about what each style might need from you.
There are many resources that summarize each style. Here are how you can support each style during this work from home time:
D’s focus on controlling their environment and achievement. They need answers to the questions: What needs to be done, right now, to succeed? Help them answer this question. In virtual meetings, lead with the end in mind, give them the “bottom line,” and help them move productively. Do not take their shortness personally – D’s just want to get things done! In a virtual work environment, D’s desire reduced meeting time and increased work time. D’s have a desire to get through this crisis as successfully and quickly as possible which often interferes with empathy.
If you are the D Style, be mindful that some styles may need more time to adapt to change and may need more details and have more questions. Be patient and give people the time and connection they need. Pause to bring others along.
I’s focus on connection, being involved with people, and driving results. They tend to be social and enjoy connecting with others. They fear being left out. Shelter in place may be the most difficult for this group. They need answers to the questions: What are others thinking about? What is really going on? Am I a part of the group/important? Has anything changed in my role? Assure the I style that they matter, they belong, and show them enthusiasm. Give them a way to help rally the team. I’s are concerned with virtual engagement and spirit and morale during this time. They will find creative ways to positively impact team dynamics and employee connection in a virtual work environment.
If you are the I Style, be mindful that for many, all the Zoom and virtual meetings may be exhausting to others. Some may need time to just disconnect. Some may find more opportunities to connect exhausting. Make it okay for people to opt out of the virtual happy hour, turn their video off, and meet people where they are. Pause to give the introverts space to disconnect.
S’s focus on helping others. They want to help/support the team. They are “behind the scenes” players who are highly agreeable. They fear making mistakes, getting things wrong, being disliked. They need answers to the questions: What is expected of me? How can I best help? What is going to happen? Assure the S style that they are valued, that they are being helpful, and provide them space to ask questions/seek reassurance. S’s are focused on the well being of employees and will want to be actively involved in helping employees and the community achieve physical safety, emotional stability and mental well-being.
If you are the S Style, be aware that those who might regularly be able to read your non-verbal cues may not be able to do so effectively during this time. Make sure to self-advocate, ask the questions you need, and share your point of view for the benefit of all.
C’s focus on getting things right. They want to ensure they’ve accounted for contingencies and risk and are providing the best quality work. They fear having to re-do work, making mistakes, being seen as not competent. They need answers to the questions: What is the level of accuracy needed in this task? What is going to happen? They also need time to ask clarifying questions and benefit from specific direction in writing. Provide C’s with as much detail as possible and make sure to set the parameters for where it’s okay to be “good enough” versus where you want their C style’s need for accuracy to shine through. C’s will have a high need to know during this crisis. While they generally like to work independently, they will have strong need for regular updates, facts and details.
If you are the C, keep in mind that many people are dealing with lots of ambiguity. This is a time of constant change, and the level of detail needed may not be available right now. Focus on what you can control and be mindful that questions can sometimes be perceived as lack of flexibility. It is helpful to open questions with support of initiatives and a request for clarification, not a questioning of the goal (when appropriate).
Understanding these differences helps to explain why some colleagues want more communication and others want less. Why some colleagues thrive in a virtual work environment and why others struggle. Why some colleagues prefer video meetings and others prefer an e-mail. Why some need more connection and others need less. Creating an environment where everyone has time to learn about, understand, and appreciate the different personality styles and needs is critical during this time of uncertainty. Many of our customers, colleagues, even ourselves may not be showing up as our best selves. A simple pause to reflect on one’s own style and the needs of others using the framework above will help elevate interactions and relationships.
This post was written by Teresa Johnson, Laura Sanchez-Greenberg, Sean Jordan, and Laura Guilliam–a team of students in our executive doctoral program in values-driven leadership.