Know your people

closeup photo of primate
Photo by Andre Mouton on

Once upon a time in Copenhagen, at Nordic Project Zone, Nigel Risner was a keynote speaker. He gave his famous “It’s a zoo around here” lecture. By that time I was familiar with several personality type classifications like DISC, Belbin Team Roles etc. Each of them very good. I still enjoyed Nigel’s classification for its simplicity, ironic/fun approach and a lot of accuracy. Short summary of it can be seen here.

I found out that I am mostly a monkey*, and also a dolphin. For example, the sentence “monkeys and elephants can drive each other wild to the point where the monkey explode” has happened in my life more times than my fingers and toes added together. By now I hope that I have learned to be wiser and can understand all types of people better, but still it can happen. Being a monkey explains why I write about play a lot here. And of course being a monkey explains why I write at all – monkeys like attention (and praise).

It is relatively easy to understand yourself. You have to pay attention to your needs and feelings. It is much harder to understand others. Their default reaction to the same things are completely different from yours.  Some get inspired by different things, some need different kind of praise and most are excellent at different skills. As a leader, you must understand them all. You must be a superb zoo keeper as Nigel puts it. Every animal communicates in their own ‘language’ and style. Belbin tells us that a good team requires different kind of roles. It needs investigator, co-ordinator, implementor and so on. If they all speak different ‘language’ then how can it still work?

First, learn to listen. I will write a whole article about listening, but here is a start: pay attention to the present moment and listen with your heart. It is amazing how much you can get to know if you really pay attention. Secondly, once you get to know your people, communicate with them accordingly. Robert A. Heinlein has said: “Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.” Thirdly, teach the whole team to understand different types of people. As simple as that.

What kind of animal are you?

* Monkey – open and direct. Always seem to be chasing dreams. Enthusiastic. Seeking approval. Hate authority. Lion – direct and guarded. Get things done and make things happen. Hate incompetence. Don’t like emotions. Elephant – indirect and guarded. Systematic problem solvers. Strong need to be right. Like to see things in writing. And collect information. Controlled. Focus on facts. Hate change. Dolphin – open and indirect. Seek security and like to feel they belong. People-oriented. Team players. Keep anger inside.

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