As I coach high achievers that are in the process of finding their professional identities, I’ve observed that some believe they need to change who they are in order to be successful in their desired profession. Unfortunately, when we strive to be like people we aren’t, we suppress what makes us unique, and when other people sense the incongruence, our relationships suffer. Therefore, I recommend, instead of changing who we are or pretending to be someone we are not, we practice being versatile.
I was recently advising a young professional who asks questions and tends to freely express herself. She shared she was struggling to know how to work with her supervisor who tends to be very assertive and controlled with his emotions.
Her first instinct was to try to change who she is and be more like him. However, I suggested an alternative approach that has been working well for her: I coached her to temporarily adjust her style when communicating with her supervisor.
We began by discussing her strengths and growth areas. She came to see herself as supportive, empathic, and loyal. She realized she likes to accomplish her goals by cooperating with others, and she also acknowledged that sometimes she can be a bit passive in stressful situations.
Next, she identified how she perceived her supervisor’s strengths and weaknesses. The process helped her to see his behavioral tendencies more objectively, become more tolerant of his style, and understand that his behavior was not about her; it was simply his way of operating in the world.
We developed a few strategies she could use to help her supervisor meet his need for results and preference for action. Rather than trying to become more like him, she strives to be more flexible in her approach when they communicate by:
Increasing her awareness of time
Moving at a slightly faster pace
Using more facts than opinions to support her position
This strategy has allowed her to operate most of the day in a zone that feels most natural for her, and to temporarily adapt her behavior when communicating with her supervisor. In turn, her supervisor and others have begun to see her as a more competent professional.
If there is someone in your life who you are struggling to work with, consider taking a similar approach: take time to better understand yourself and how others perceive you, practice being tolerant of the other person’s behavior, and develop a few actionable strategies you can use to increase your versatility. This process will allow you to remain true to who you really are and improve your interpersonal effectiveness.