Working Together

Your co-workers are your partners. If you don’t have their support
and trust, you will have more trouble getting your own work done and
will, most likely, be less happy while making the attempt.

I posit that understanding and empathy are cornerstones of a healthy
organization. Not a bold theory but one to keep in mind as I discuss the
broad classification of personalities.

Identifying Archetypes

Everyone is unique. But there are definitely some traits that seem to
pervade every company I’ve been in. Understanding those personalities is
an important part of communication.

It is important to note that these personalities are never so easily
categorized. Most people have aspects that overlap more than one. But in
most cases, there’s one that is more evident than others.

Finally, these traits are not good or bad. They just are. Each has
its place and can be both beneficial or harmful depending on a wide
variety of variables. Also, this doesn’t speak to how willing a person
is to see another point of view. That is dictated by a whole range of
other personality traits that I’m not qualified (at all) to discuss.

The Preservationist

This person is more likely to maintain the status quo than take risks
on new approaches. This person is the anchor that helps the group think
twice before entering uncharted territory.

Priority: Risk-avoidance

The Producer

Frustrated with inaction, the producer archetype will tend to
identify solutions quickly and drive toward completion voraciously.
While impatience is typically a characteristic, it is usually in the
service of productivity. Productivity is prioritized above all else.

Priority: Output

The Organizer

The organizer is consumed with ensuring that all aspects of their
current focus is well defined and categorized. The organizer can quickly
tell you the status of any aspect of the project. The organizer tends to
get frustrated with those things that are out if his or her control and
will seek to find ways to bring order to it.

Priority: Order

Empathizing with Archetypes

The important part of communication is not to figure out how to
impose your ideas on other people. The goal, as I see it, is to
understand others’ thoughts. It is very rare that someone who holds a
different opinion than me about a subject is wrong. It is more often the
case that one of three things is true:

  1. They do not have all the information that I have and, based on the
    information they do have, their opinion on the matter is, in fact, the
    reasonable conclusion.
  2. I do not have all the information that they have. Again, my
    conclusion may be reasonable given the facts I
    have. Now that I have more information, I should regroup and
  3. We both have the same facts but have come up with different
    conclusions because our archetypes are different — meaning our
    priorities are different.

As an example, the Producer and the Preservationist
are usually at odds given the same information. Where one wants to spend
less time considering all options and making an informed decision
(producer) the other wants to spend as much time as needed to consider
all options and is okay with a conclusion that yields no action.

In this case, the two are trying to decide whether to move forward
with a feature that does not have a lot of data behind it that would
indicate it will be a winning feature. That is to say, it’s somewhat of
a risk to spend resources to implement given the uncertainty.

The Preservationist sees the opportunity cost. Why would you
work on this feature without knowing if it will work? The
Producer would say why wouldn’t you work on this
feature without knowing if it will work.

The Producer might be thinking about how long it will take her to get
this done by while the Preservationist is thinking in abstract terms
about spending resources without the guarantee of any return. The goal
here is to align their thinking a little better.

Here’s what can be agreed on:

  • A business cannot sustain itself without some return on
  • Feature development requires some investment
  • Producer: How can we ever know for sure if the investment
    will be worth it without trying
  • Preservationist: Do we have any proof this work will be
    worth the effort?
  • Producer: It will take 1 sprint to get an MVP out
  • Preservationist: There are stakeholders clambering for
    three other projects

It turns out that there two large projects and one relatively small
one. The producer suggests that we work on the small project at the same
time as the feature in question. It’s a modest enough MVP that only one
person is needed to create a prototype. We don’t even need to put it
into production to get feedback. The rest of the team can work on the
stakeholder project.

As far as measuring success goes, we can put in some analytics but we
will have to rely more on user testing and internal demos to get a feel
of whether we should continue. The preservationist agrees to that given
the small spend on engineering time and also knowing that the decision
to continue with the project is not just in the hands of two people but
user testers and other stakeholders.

For me, this is a realistic situation that has realistic outcomes. If
we don’t get to a solution it’s because either the Preservationist or
the Producer (or both) are unwilling to accept the facts that the other
is providing or one of them is not providing that extra information. In
the first case, it’s because there’s a genuine lack of trust and in the
second case it’s because each one or the other is not taking the time to
make their case thoughtfully (and in many cases, it’s the Producer
because they tend to be more impatient).

It Takes Two…

This brings up a point that is worth noting here. Having one
reasonable person in a conversation is not going to work. All
decision-makers must be ready to use reason to come to a decision.

The best way to remove reason from a conversation is to put people on
the defensive. Once they are on the defensive, trust is now a distant
memory and every word spoken is seen as manipulation.

So don’t let that happen or, if it’s already happened, make it

Different people have different sensitivities. Some people are
remarkably cool-headed and are able to see past the possible underhanded
criticisms or manipulations and try to get at what’s behind them. Some
people are a raw nerve that will strike at every suspected criticism
(whether it was one or not). But most people are somewhere in

What makes people most defensive are those things that they believe
to be true but don’t want anyone to bring up in conversation. Someone
who is impatient will often react negatively to someone accusing them of
impatience. Someone who likes to control situations will bristle at the
slightest hint of them being too controlling.

The important thing to remember here is that you shouldn’t open with
a comment that you’re pretty sure will be taken poorly. But the next
most important thing is that if there is a taboo topic in a
relationship — and that topic is relevant to the relationship — trust
will likely never take hold if it’s not broached at some point.

I have often found it disarming to casually bring up my own
weaknesses in conversation in a subtle way. “I tend to be impatient, so
the way I’m thinking about it is….” or “I really don’t like taking risks
which is why I think we should…”.

By broaching a topic that way, you are revealing your motivations and
telling people a little bit about yourself at the same time. Although
it’s hard to know for sure, I think that this helps to de-escalate tense
situations or establish some level of trust early on before it has an
opportunity to escalate.


I can’t end this without mentioning that everything said so far is
antithetical to the approach of exclusively exhibiting strength to get
what you want. I have never been a fan of that approach mostly because I
personally don’t react well to it (unless it’s strength + reason).

That said, there are times when you need to reach conclusion quickly
and assuaging people’s concerns and establishing trust may not be a good
short-term strategy. At this point, the leader of the dissenting
individuals must step in and make a decision using the facts that have
been made available to him or her at the time.

Ideally, this happens rarely. If it’s a frequent occurrence, steps
should be taken to work on organizational trust and morale. But that’s
another essay entirely.

By Karim Shehadeh on January 16, 2018.

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