It happened again. You carefully crafted an e-mail, making sure none of its points could be misinterpreted. You even numbered the three items that required attention and indicated the exact date and time by which you needed a reply. Nonetheless, the response arrived a day late, and you didn’t receive a clear answer to your most important question.

Several reactions might spring to mind in a situation like this. Most are variations of “What is wrong with this guy?” or “How did she make it this far with the company?” It’s tempting to dismiss the recipient as simply incompetent or careless and to make your next e-mail even more explicit and demanding. But it’s much more likely that the miscommunication resulted from a fundamental difference in work styles.

A Study in Contrasts
Accommodating someone who works differently than you do requires restraint and patience. It’s much easier to assume you simply can’t work with that person – or to pretend that the clash doesn’t exist. You’ll get better results, however, if you learn how to identify and manage the genuine distinctions between you and your coworkers.
For many professionals, adjusting to another person’s style is an important part of the job. For example, 65 percent of administrative professionals said they greatly modify their actions to suit their boss’ style. These results are from a research project by OfficeTeam; the International Association of Administrative Professionals; and Insights Learning and Development, a leading people development company. The ensuing report, Your Work Style in Colour: A Colourful Approach to Working Relationships, can help you identify your own work style and foster better co-operation across your team.

The report outlines four Colour Energies, each of which is based on personality traits, communication preferences and organisational methods taken from Insights Discovery®:

• Cool Blue: Cautious, precise, deliberate, questioning, formal
• Earth Green: Caring, encouraging, sharing, patient, relaxed
• Sunshine Yellow: Sociable, dynamic, demonstrative, enthusiastic, persuasive
• Fiery Red: Competitive, demanding, determined, strong-willed, purposeful

If you’ve already asked yourself which of the four Colour Energies you prefer, you’ve l probably found that no single category neatly describes you. You might have even noted that you have different preferences throughout the day or even over the course of a normal working week. That said, chances are there’s a dominant Colour Energy that emerges for you.

Colour Coordination 101

Earth Green and Fiery Red may go together nicely around the holidays, but they don’t always make such a harmonious pairing in the workplace. An administrative professional who leads with Earth Green energy and an executive who leads with Fiery Red is just one common combination that could create frustration and misunderstanding. Another is a perfectionist with a strong preference for Cool Blue energy attempting to corral an enthusiastic but less-disciplined team with a preference of Sunshine Yellow energy.

In such situations, overcoming differences can seem like an impossible task. But that’s usually not the case. Here are eight tips for working with conflicting work styles:

1. Accept differences. One doomed approach to overcoming workplace differences is to try to get others to change their fundamental styles. At the other extreme, the “chameleon method” requires you to disguise your style to match those of your surroundings. By taking a middle road between these two poles – adjusting your style, but not hiding it – you stand the best chance of building camaraderie and inspiring others to accommodate your preferences in return.

2. Find ways to adapt. If your boss leads with Sunshine Yellow energy, and you’re dominant Cool Blue, try to be more open to impromptu conversations rather than escalating your attempts to keep things orderly. Casual interactions might be out of your comfort zone but they’re likely to yield more fruitful results than sending out increasingly specific reminders.

3. Discover common ground. The Insights Discovery Colour Energies are designed to help you understand behaviour – not to pigeonhole you or your colleagues. In reality, all professionals prefer at least trace elements from all four Colour Energies. For example, even the frostiest dominant Cool Blue taskmaster wouldn’t last a week in most workplaces without a few rays of Sunshine Yellow. That means you can usually find some areas of compatibility if you take the time to look for them.

4. Get face time. Physical nearness encourages people to accommodate one another’s needs. E-mail is great for establishing dates and other details but face-to-face interactions are better for conveying nuances and encouraging spontaneous creativity. Routine casual communication can prevent small misunderstandings from escalating and leading to resentment.

5. Resist judgment. When you’re frustrated with someone’s behaviour, it’s tempting to start cataloguing the person’s weaknesses. The Insights Discovery framework can help you understand someone’s actions without classifying them as fundamentally good or bad. That makes it easier to move beyond your differences rather than dwelling on them.

6. Acknowledge imperfection. Another way to avoid getting caught up in criticising others is to remind yourself of attributes of your own that may sometimes rub others up the wrong way. Think of past comments from friends or family about your communication style, for example. The point isn’t to feel bad about yourself but to remember that, like everyone else, you too, may have room for improvement.

7. Shift your point of view. A rocky working relationship can make it difficult to remember that you represent only a fraction of the other person’s day. Instead of taking personal offense when someone doesn’t behave the way you’d prefer, consider that the person may be facing other pressures and challenges, many of which you may know nothing about.

8. Get help when you need it. Most minor differences with a co-worker can be overcome, either through the techniques mentioned here or by initiating a polite but frank conversation about your dissimilarities. But if your efforts to accommodate someone are met with continuing, disruptive conflict, ask for help. Talk to your boss or human resources representative about the best way to approach the situation.

Strength in Diversity

Different work styles shouldn’t be viewed as obstacles but as assets that require some work to maintain. If that sounds overly Sunshine Yellow, consider a monochromatic office. The members of a dominant Cool Blue team might understand each other perfectly, but they probably wouldn’t become a hothouse of innovative ideas. Similarly, an office comprised only of people leading with Fiery Red energy would quickly disintegrate regardless of the brilliance of its individual members.

The benefits of multiple perspectives were echoed by the administrative professionals surveyed for the report. Two-thirds (66 percent) said they appreciate the benefits of working with people who see things differently. The truth is opposite types often have complementary strengths that can lead to strong partnerships.

When you stop trying to deny or disguise differences and start to address them thoughtfully, you and your collaborators become more likely to produce a full spectrum of positive results.

You can download a free copy of our research report, Your Work Style in Colour: A Colourful Approach to Working Relationships, at It includes more insight into each colour energy and additional tips for collaborating effectively with colleagues whose work styles differ from yours. To learn more about the Insights Discovery system, visit

Robert Hosking is executive director of the administrative and customer support practice at Robert Half, where he leads operations for nearly 300 practice locations worldwide. With close to 30 years of experience in the staffing industry, he has extensive ... (Read More)

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