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Walking on Eggshells in Iron Boots: Insensitivity in the Workplace

Darryl Wood
Published August 25, 2016



Everyone has good and bad days; some have more bad than good. In a workplace, the personalities and moods of one person can affect others around them. We have all been there when a colleague has said or done something to which we take offense. When we look at the situation, is the offensive comment or action because they don’t like us, because they are rude, or is it simply that they do not mean it the way we interpret it? It’s not always easy to pinpoint the answer. What we do know is that by understanding someone’s personality attributes and social intelligence it will help provide clarity.

I am one of those people who may be misinterpreted at times. In my day to day work I tend not to ask for things, I request or assign them. I rarely say “please” because I feel niceties have no place in the delegation process, and at times my job requires me to delegate. I will, of course, say, “thank you” because I am not a monster. I understand the importance of leaving colleagues with a positive when they assist you with a task. However, depending on who I am working with, my lack of please and my tone of delegation can be taken the wrong way.

When we assess my Plum Scores, it makes sense as to why I conduct myself in that way. I score extremely high in assertiveness and moderately low in compassion. What does that mean? I seek to be a driving force, to motivate and manage others, and be persuasive. I also tend to be less sensitive in situations and more direct. By understanding the traits of yourself and the traits of your colleagues, it becomes easier to know things like; when to be straight with someone, when to approach situations with more tact and when to be blunt.

When dealing with people in any aspect of your life, including your co-workers, it’s important to know what kind of response you will get when speaking to them. You can’t tell someone that “…their last few ideas were the dumbest ever” without understanding how they will react to that type of statement. Perhaps look at the person first. Maybe reword your statement so that you can use it in more of a global scope.

“I doubt that your recent concepts will have any traction with upper-management, would you like to brainstorm with a few of us to hammer out the kinks?”

See? That wasn’t so hard, now was it? No feelings hurt, no name calling. Let’s try another…

“I have noticed that some of your more recent ideas have not been fully developed, perhaps I can be of some assistance.”

There may only be a small few who will notice the change in your communication; you are still you, just more dynamic. You are the new improved you — version 2.0, the one who understands how to tailor your communication style to a person’s personality traits.

Satire aside, you can be blunt with those who are capable of bluntness. Tell Jim in QA that he “totally missed the mother of all bugs and sent a load of problems to production,” he can handle it.

Within any trade, including being aggressive, you should know what you are doing before you even attempt to do anything. Seriously — learn your trade before attempting it. There is no going back when you lose a finger to a table saw or losing trust or respect from your co-workers, and that is the real lesson here.

Respect your colleagues, heck, respect everyone. Never use a tone of voice that conveys a lack of respect to anyone with whom you speak. You may not see eye to eye on a subject, you may be delegating tasks to someone either on the same level or a subordinate, you may be razzing someone — just do it respectfully and understand how the person you are communicating with will take it.

The trick is to know how best to communicate respectfully based on their personality traits. Everyone deserves respect; even that jerk who delegates without saying please.

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