Let’s be honest. As leaders we are all too aware of colourful workplace quirks. We all have at least one quirky trait that others might find challenging. It could be a glass-half-empty outlook. A bad habit of backstabbing absent colleagues in the lunchroom. The grunt involuntarily over a sandwich? Or sigh when given a task? An over-achiever with a tendency to brag? Or a know-it-all with whom every conversation is a competition? Heaven forbid – does someone smell?
With a little authentic and sensitively delivered feedback, these are all traits that can be reversed – as long as our clever self is open to changing for the better.
On the flip side are the more personal aspects of our makeup that we can’t do anything about. They’re the characteristics we’re born with, our makeup as a person, or conditions we develop through no fault of our own. The way we look, move or behave.
From behaviours to birth marks, mild obsessions, twitches, even comb-overs, height and weight. These aren’t just foibles – they’re features that can make others seem different to our own perception of what’s normal. But they are that person’s normal. If you’re not careful, these things can play out with awkward moments in the staff room, dead air in the conversation, averted gazes.
But no-one is perfect, and those attributes can mean a person brings something unique and highly valuable to the workplace.
We applaud leaders who look beyond these traits and recruit on merit. You know best practice is to create a culture of diverse minds, where employees engage with each other not because they can cluster together comfortably, but because they see their business being stimulated and enhanced by others who think differently. You know that looking different has little to do with a person’s smarts.
In this digital world, where enlightenment is merely a moment’s Google away, there’s no excuse for uninformed ignorance.
Here are 3 strategies to help you lead your employees to put embarrassment aside and embrace the characteristics that make us unique.
1. BE CURIOUS NOT INQUISITIVE
Curiosity leads to understanding. It’s the desire to explore, investigate and draw intelligent conclusions. Inquisitiveness is more about questioning things pointlessly. It can be prying and annoying. It’s also really un-cool.
If having a better understanding of the way in which someone is different will provide real value to your working relationship, then be curious. Ask them. Do it sensitively, and they might just appreciate your authenticity. It could make for a better working relationship and - who knows - all-round productivity.
2. SHOW DIPLOMACY
Even if a person’s behaviours seem obvious, it’s possible they are expending untold energy to try and control or mask them. Respect that. Okay, you might be taken by surprise by an outbreak of twitching, but the lunchroom or coffee station might not be the best place to ask about it. This isn’t theatre sports. Don’t make them feel like a performing poodle.
Keep your thoughts to yourself and show tact. People with different behaviours are used to a variety of reactions. Diplomacy is the one they like best.
3. BEWARE OF YOUR EGO
Sometimes our ego gets the better of us, leading us to make assumptions or draw conclusions without getting our heart involved. Don’t act on this impetus. It won’t be your best moment.
We all have our own quirks. Whether they’re intrinsic features we can’t help, or character traits and habits we’ve developed over time, it’s easy to forget that we’re all different in some way.
So, if you find yourself having an awkward moment, be mindful of the way you like your own differences to be handled by others. Overhearing about your third nipple, bald spot or portliness on the grapevine is probably not what you would prefer.
Authenticity is important, and candour can deepen a working relationship. But slowly and gently does it. You can change the habits of a lifetime if they really need changing. But only by looking beyond the quirks and foibles will you see a person’s true colours.
Be an awesome leader by role modelling the best leadership qualities and your flock will follow well.