How can I work with people that have different leadership and communication styles than me?

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Answered by: Jackie, An Expert in the Management and Leadership Category
Years ago, my young children returned from a carnival with 7 goldfish they’d won. Looking at these goldfish through the plastic bag that held them, it was evident that they were merely feeder goldfish. Feeder goldfish are bred and raised to be food for larger, more beautiful fish. I secretly wished that the fish my children had brought home WERE the larger, more beautiful fish!

For the sake of my children, however I was forced to indulge them and feign fondness for our new fishy friends. These “prize” fish had been “free”, but they couldn’t live in a plastic bag much longer. I went to purchase a bowl, gravel, plastic plants, a filter, even an underwater castle, and of course---food! Lastly, I had to buy a manual titled, “How to Care for your Goldfish”. Seventy-five dollars later we had everything set up at home.

I began to read the instruction manual. Chapter 1: “The Behavior and habits of Goldfish”. The book said that the habits of goldfish depended on their environment, and were conditioned by the owner. I also learned that goldfish exhibited a wide range of social behaviors including bullying, chasing other fish and fin-nipping (which sounded painful).

I had an epiphany! (Perhaps it was more of an efishany). I began to see a very strong correlation between these goldfish, their environment and behaviors, and the environment and behaviors I was experiencing at the dental office I worked in at the time. Some behaviors I’d seen in the office were eerily similar to the behaviors and habits of these Goldfish. And I could see how the environment in the practice was conditioned entirely by the doctor we worked for.

If a book had been written called “The Behavior and Habits of Humans” the author would have commented that the habits of office employees depended on their environment, and that those habits were conditioned by the boss. Furthermore, we’re all too familiar with the range of social behaviors we see others exhibit; and that they can often be bully-like, chasing of other humans, and nit-picking. As I compared the list between fish and fellow-workers, I realized that I was employed in a fishbowl environment!

Because of our different leadership and communication styles in the dental office, I witnessed bully-like attitudes, arrogance, and an inability to communicate. And that was just from the patients! The office manager didn’t like me much, the hygienist was a prima dona, and the two assistants fought like cats and dogs! It was a turbulent fish bowl!

Each of us in the dental practice was vying to be the leader in the area of their expertise. That was a good quality, except we weren’t working as a team. When we all tried to be the leader, or when there was no clear leader, we’d devolve into nit-picking and bully-like behavior! Those were the times when I felt like a feeder fish.

Was my role as an employee merely to “feed” the boss? To make him or her larger and more beautiful, while my talents and skills were overlooked? That’s certainly what it felt like.

I began to feel a commonality of character with my new goldfish friends. I had misjudged their value. I didn’t know it then, but those “free” goldfish were going to provide me invaluable lessons about leadership, and how to cope with all the different behaviors and personalities at work. I was about to embark on my training in leadership and communication styles!

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