Trouble in River City
Meet Katharine and Isabel
Katharine and Isabel are licensed veterinary technicians with comparable experience and skills.
They have similar roles at River City Veterinary Hospital (RCVH), spending time interacting with clients and working on inpatient cases. While both are talented and committed team members, their contrasting work and communication styles are making it difficult for them—and the rest of the team—to work effectively together (see Personality Conflict at Work).
Approach to Work: Low vs High Structure
Katharine thrives on active, people-filled days and enjoys talking with clients in the exam rooms and reception area. Katharine is prepared to drop everything to get a critical job done in a hurry; consequently, nonurgent tasks sometimes get neglected and she sometimes gets behind schedule.
Isabel likes to draw a very clear line around her responsibilities and resists when asked to take on any new or unscheduled tasks or activities. She completes her tasks quickly, competently, and on time, following through on all her commitments.
The Result: Katharine—and other team members—see Isabel as reliable but very rigid. Katharine is seen as flexible, but not always dependable.
Work Style: Independence vs Togetherness
Because she likes to be involved with activities involving other people, Katharine finds it difficult to focus on solitary tasks for long periods of time. She prefers more active work that requires several pairs of hands, like taking radiographs or surgery prep work.
Isabel prefers working in the back of the hospital to working up front with clients and is at her best when she can concentrate and work independently, working on tasks such as lab work or performing dental procedures.
The Result: Because both technicians naturally gravitate to the job functions they enjoy most, important things sometimes don’t get done, patient care suffers, and they resent each other for “shirking their responsibilities.”
Communication Style: Open vs Private
Katharine is energized by lively, wide-ranging discussions and likes to “talk things out.” Her conversation is rapid paced and she often interrupts others to elaborate on and process thoughts.
Isabel wants to “think things through,” and is more likely to engage in quiet conversations with space for reflection. Her conversation pace is slower as she takes time to formulate and build thoughts and ideas internally before speaking.
The Result: Isabel feels she “can’t get a word in edgewise,” but that it doesn’t really matter since Katharine never listens anyway. Isabel thinks Katharine has too many “half-baked ideas.” Katharine, meanwhile, wonders why Isabel is so secretive.
Decision Making: Decisiveness vs Information Seeking
Katharine prefers to continually explore options; she enjoys starting tasks and leaving them open for last-minute changes, gathering as much information as possible and keeping her options open.
Isabel is decisive, working best when she can organize and finish tasks. She feels comfortable once a decision is made and she is free to focus on what needs to be completed.
The Result: Tension erupts when discussing how to comanage their technician duties. Isabel tries to limit options, which stifles Katharine’s open-ended exploratory process. Katharine feels that Isabel decides things too quickly and is resistant to revising decisions, even when compelling new information becomes available.
The Way We’re Wired
Some basic differences in Isabel and Katharine’s personality preferences lead to their clashes in the clinic:
• Extraversion vs Introversion. People who prefer Extraversion, like Katharine, tend to focus on the outer world of people and things, while those who prefer Introversion, such as Isabel, tend to focus on the inner world of ideas and impressions. While we all turn outward to act and inward to reflect, we are inherently more comfortable doing one or the other.
• Judging vs Perceiving. This personality type preference determines how we approach life and work. Judging people (Isabel) like a planned and organized approach to life, preferring to have things settled. Katharine prefers Perceiving. She tends to like flexibility and has a spontaneous approach to life. Perceiving types enjoy the process and like to keep their options open.
Tips for Working Together
Taking a personality type assessment such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator will help Katharine and Isabel understand their own strengths and realize that they aren’t trying to drive each other crazy, that’s just the way they’re wired.
Assign work responsibilities based on people’s preferences and strengths. Isabel can do more of the job functions that require high structure and focused attention, while Katharine might emphasize responding to unplanned emergencies and client interaction.
Recognize the job tasks and responsibilities that people find more difficult. It’s not realistic for us to be able to work “in preference” all the time so we have to learn how to manage the things we don’t enjoy. For example:
• Get help from people who find those difficult tasks easy.
• Take on difficult tasks at the time of the day you feel strongest.
• Do challenging tasks regularly, but in small doses.
Work on communication. To connect better with Katharine, Isabel could express interest and enthusiasm by leaning forward when conversing, nodding, smiling, and maintaining eye contact. She could practice being open to changing situations. To connect better with Isabel, Katharine could wait for a response rather than jumping in to fill silence. She could also work on knowing when to stop exploring and start making decisions. Understanding personality type helps people work better together and interact comfortably, increasing opportunities to improve relationships, productivity, and efficiency in the workplace.