What Planet Are You From? How To Get Along With People Who Aren't Like You
Almost all of us, at some point in our lives, have had to deal with someone where we’ve found ourselves thinking, Wow, what planet are you from?
Sometimes it’s a values gap – or perhaps more of an abyss; the person believes or espouses things that are very foreign to us.
It’s not an “I’m right and you’re wrong” response, so much as it is a real incomprehension: Sometimes you literally don’t understand how the person can believe what they’re telling you. That’s one situation where we get that born-on-different-planets feeling.
The problem that Erika Andersen, founding partner of Proteus International, and author of Growing Great Employees, Being Strategic, and Leading So People Will Follow, describes for The Forbes is : I have a colleague who operates at much slower pace than I do. Generally, when in conversation, I like to have a pretty fast give and take: someone says something, I respond; we talk back and forth, building on each other’s ideas. My colleague, though, likes to have time to think about what she’s heard. So rather than a quick back-and-forth, our conversations tend to be me saying something, her thinking, me saying something else, her thinking. Finally she might respond – but it’s often something like, “This is interesting – let me think about what you’ve said and get back to you.” Years ago, this might have driven me crazy. I would have felt impatient and probably made lots of negative assumptions about her – all the way from She has no sense of urgency to Maybe she’s not very smart.
Over the years it was noticed that these differences in behavior can be even more disconcerting than values differences, because they’re less “nameable” and more pervasive. That is, if someone is a devout Muslim and you’re a devout Catholic, you can easily name that difference and, for the most part, work around it in relating to each other. When someone is very intuitive and non-linear, though, and you’re very linear and logical – it’s much harder to name, and very difficult to avoid, because it will be a factor in nearly every interaction you have.
If you do these few things pretty consistently, you’ll have the beginnings of a planet-to-planet communication system that will help you create better relationships with people who are wired very differently from you:
Realize that other people are not you: Pace is one of the most common behavioral differences between people – and one that leads to a great deal of frustration and negative assumption. Some people prefer to speak, move, respond, even walk more quickly; others like to do all those things at a more deliberate pace. If you’re working with someone whose pace is very different from yours, you can immediately make it more comfortable for them to interact with you by slowing down or speeding up to match their pace. t may feel a little awkward at first – “pace” is a daily, unconscious habit for most of us – but learning to do this can help you work much more effectively with people whose natural pace is quite different from yours.
Start where the other person wants to start: When beginning a relationship, some people like to start by making a personal connection – even at work – while others like to move immediately to task – even in non-work situations. This difference, like pace, can lead to a good deal of misunderstanding and discomfort. If you spend just a few minutes starting the interaction the way the other person prefers, they’ll then be willing to move to your preferred focus (if it’s different from theirs). Voila: everybody’s style needs get met, and your relationship is off to a good start.
Leverage complementarity vs. similarity: Many of us tend to gravitate, especially in work settings, toward people who are similar to us behaviorally. However, over the years, we’ve seen that the most innovative and productive work partnerships and teams tend to result from a diversity of behavioral styles. Working with people who are very different from you can assure that a variety of strengths are brought to bear on a given project – and it can put more tools in your own toolkit.
Start from neutral: The most unhelpful reaction to differences in behavior is to assume that behavior that’s different from yours is worse. We often make these assumptions unconsciously. Negative assumptions about people whose pace is different than ours is a great (and all-too-common) example. People who are faster often think of people who are slower as “not able to keep up” or “risk-averse” or even (as noted above) “not too bright.” People who are more deliberate in their pace tend to think of faster-paced people as “impulsive,” “not thoughtful” or “pushy.” If you can see differences neutrally – as simply different vs. worse – it will open you to creating better, more productive and respectful relationships with a much wider variety of people.
You can read the full article here.