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What to Do When Your Coworkers are Draining Your Energy



As I mentioned in our last article, I created a survey so y’all could tell me what YOU wanted to know about in 2024. Last time we tackled how to make difficult conversations more productive and less stressful. This week, I was drawn to a question focused on how to handle it when the folks you work with seem to have talents opposed to yours. More specifically, those differences end up leaving you drained by the end of the day. The writer seemed to feel that it was an either-or situation. Either they and their needs “won” and had a great day, or the other person did. So today we’re going to talk about how to navigate situations where folks have differing Talent Themes that seem to get in each other’s way.  If you’ve experienced a similar situation with coworkers or your team members, keep reading.  

 

Let’s start out with this person’s full question…

“Something we have discussed is creating a well-rounded team. Well, Dear Anne, what if you don't have one? What if your colleague's way of executing drains you throughout the workday. What if something YOU provide to them gives them energy, but it takes away yours? I have a colleague whose strengths show up in relationships and they use A LOT of time throughout the workday to build those relationships which impedes your ability to do work. While I'd like all individuals to walk away from their day feeling energized and successful, it feels as though only one of us can have a day like that because our strengths, behaviors, and priorities are at odds.”

 

We have indeed talked about the benefits of having a well-rounded team. And that means having folks with divergent Talent Themes. Going back to the whole Strengths philosophy, you know that when everyone focuses on what they do best, the entire group is more productive. We are limited in our abilities and perspectives when we only rely on our own Talent Themes to get things done. So surrounding ourselves with folks who bring different ways of thinking and expertise can give us better results.


However, that doesn’t mean that everyone is using their talents as Strengths. Remember, “talent is a naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied.” That means the things you and the folks around you do best, CAN help you be productive, but they can also show up as weaknesses. When we’re stressed, it’s even more likely that we double down on our talents and use them in ways that feel comfortable for us but are actually getting in our way or in the way of the people around us. That seems like what’s going on here.


The question writer feels frustrated and stuck. And I’ll wager they also feel obligated to accommodate these behaviors to be supportive and seem like a team player. I think many of us fall into this trap. I mean, if you’ve gone into Higher Ed, you’re a caring person, right? You don’t want to be rude or seem uncaring, so you let the other person go on and on. Meanwhile, you get more and more frustrated all the while trying to think of a polite way out of the conversation. And as this person stated, it seems like this is a win-lose situation. 


So, how does one navigate situations where two people seem to have different wants and needs stemming from their Talent Themes? Is there a way to turn this into a win-win?

Well, as you probably guessed, there is a solution. In fact, I’m going to talk about two key elements our writer and you can use so that everyone on a diverse team can get their needs met and feel energized throughout the day. And those two things are communicating using a Strengths-based language and setting boundaries.


First, let’s dive into how you can use a Strengths-based language to help resolve these types of situations. This approach is helpful whether you’re talking to a co-worker, your team members, or even your supervisor. When you and your team know your Strengths, it gives you a language to use to discuss strategies and solutions to be more productive as a team. When folks don’t know this information, individual behaviors, or their ways of doing things become focused on who that person is. In other words, it’s easy to make and take things personally.


I’ll use a personal example to explain what I mean. Back when I worked on campus, I worked with a great team of co-workers. Generally, we got along well, but there were some points of friction. Two of my Top 5 are Ideation and Strategic. So, when we were planning something, I loved brainstorming. My goal was to develop an innovative way to achieve our goals. Sounds good, right? Well, my coworker, Rebecca, had Achiever in her Top 5. So, when we’d start discussing what we should do, I’d throw out one idea and Rebecca would almost IMMEDIATELY go into planning mode. She’d be all, “Okay, we need someone to do A, B, and C. Who wants to do A?”


It would drive me nuts. Why? Because in my mind, the first idea was a starting point for discussion and to develop the best idea for our purposes. But her focus was on executing the task. Before we knew one another’s Top 5, we’d just get frustrated with one another. I’d think, “Ugh, why is she ruining this process? That isn’t even a great idea. Why is she like that?” And she’d be thinking, “OMG. How many ideas does this BLEEP need to have? We just need to pick one and get it done.” We would both “be polite” and try to push our agenda forward without calling each other out. But all the while we were becoming frustrated with each other. And by frustrated, I mean pissed off.


But after we took CliftonStrengths, we realized what was really going on. It wasn’t that Rebecca was a micromanager who wanted to take over every project. And it wasn’t that I like to be creative to the point of exhaustion. It was that she was focused on the details of getting things done, while I was focused on the big picture. Both are important parts of the process. Rebecca definitely didn’t want to come up with a creative idea, and I didn’t want to organize anything. Theoretically, that’s space for a win-win.


But it wasn’t until we knew and talked about Strengths that we had a way to discuss what was happening without making it personal. I could tell Rebecca, “I know you want to get started putting an action plan together, but I think we can come up with an idea that will better accomplish our goals. Can we take 15 more minutes to brainstorm and then you can take over” Or she could tell me, “Anne, you have great ideas, but we need to get this done. Can we use one of the ideas already on the table to move forward?” That’s way different than avoiding the issue OR having a conversation that breaks down into personal jabs.


Not saying anything was draining to both of us. We thought we were being polite by not saying anything, because we didn’t know how to broach the topic in a productive way. And that negatively impacted our relationship and the whole team’s productivity. I know the person who wrote the question feels like they’re the hostage in this situation, but I’m guessing if we asked the other person, they’d say this dynamic didn’t always work for them either. I’ll expand on this a bit later.


Now in this example, I was talking about a coworker. Because we’d started talking about Strengths as a team, we could have those discussions amongst ourselves. Part of this process included thinking about and discussing how our Talent Themes were getting in our way. That made it easier for us to talk to one another when we felt frustrated with ourselves or others. Or sometimes when we saw someone about to use their talents unproductively. I remember a colleague who had Input and Achiever showed me a pile of fifty articles she was going to read over the weekend one Friday afternoon. I said, “Let me help you with that,” and took away half of the pile. She smiled and said thanks because she knew she tended to overdo it.


If this is a conversation where you’re their supervisor, you can take the same approach. Let’s take the example from today’s question. This person wanted to get things done, but the “relationship” person kept interrupting them to build relationships. If your team knows and talks about Strengths, you can simply say, “Brenda, I’ve noticed you like to come into my office to chat whenever you have a break. You have so many great Relationship Building Talent Themes, but it makes it difficult for me to get my work done. I need ____.”


Now I left that sentence open ended, because this is where we’re going switch lanes and talk about setting boundaries. I’ve done some articles about this in the past, so I don’t want to go deep here. But in a nutshell, boundaries are what you draw to protect yourself – including your energy. That doesn’t mean you ignore what other folks need, but it does mean that you put yourself and your needs on the same level as other folk’s. If you need uninterrupted time to get your work done, you can say that. Going back to our example above, “I enjoy our chats, but I also need to have times I can work interrupted. If you see my door closed, please don’t stop by unless it’s an emergency. And if it’s not an emergency, I’ll need to ask you to leave.” Obviously, the details will vary based on your situation and what you need. If you don’t have an office door, you’ll need to come up with some other signal to let Brenda know you’re busy.


Now, I want to clarify that when you set a boundary, you’re both explaining what you need AND what you’re going to do in certain situations. Part of this might be making a request of the other person. Like in this situation, you’re asking Brenda if she’ll help you get what you need by not stopping by if she sees the door closed. But too many people make the mistake of thinking the request is the boundary. Then they come back to me and complain that they’ve TRIED to make boundaries, but people just ignore them. That’s because the power comes from the end of that sentence, “If it’s not an emergency, I’ll need to ask you to leave.” Then if it happens, you tell them to leave. The powerful part of the boundary is what you will do in a certain situation. Would it be ideal if Brenda just never bothered you when your door was closed? Sure, but remember, we’re creatures of habit. You need to retrain her so she understands the new dynamic.


Now this may seem harsh if you’re used to ignoring your own needs, but if you’ve read any of my articles on setting expectations, you’ll remember that fabulous quote from Brené Brown, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” You may think sucking it up and avoiding hurting someone’s feelings is the kind thing to do. But when you consider how it’s impacting your relationship and the team, is it? If that person knew you were irritated but just didn’t say anything, how would they feel? Would you want to know when your Talent Theme’s were getting in your way with another person?


Plus, if you’re not getting your work done, they probably aren’t either. I mean they’re going around talking to everyone because it’s what they enjoy in the moment, but they probably beat themselves up later when they have to work late or realize they’re further behind. When you set boundaries to communicate what you need and do so using Strengths-based language, you support each other in becoming your best selves. It helps everyone self-correct when their Talent Theme’s aren’t showing up in productive ways. And that makes the team more productive.


And just to clarify, this is about creating a balance or harmony between two people’s or even the whole team’s needs. It’s not that you want to tell Brenda that talking to her is a waste of your time, but rather it’s happening too much and it’s impacting your productivity. It’s about asking the question, how can everyone get something they need, so everyone feels appreciated for the things they contribute. If the behavior you need boundaries around doesn’t fit neatly into your current schedule, find ways to create other ways of achieving this goal. For example, you could ask Brenda to have lunch on Tuesdays to connect vs stopping by to chat every day. That way she and her talents feel valued, but it’s in a way that works better with yours.


To wrap up, having a well-rounded team is key to being productive. But that doesn’t mean it’s an automatic process. When folk’s talents are showing up as Strengths and everyone is communicating with Strength’s language, it’s easy for everyone to get their needs met and maximize their energy. But generally, we’re not all that great at knowing where our talents are getting in our way.


When you’re feeling frustrated about how someone else’s talents are impacting you, the first thing you need to do is step back and think about what’s really going on. Identify what you need, so you can start a conversation and set appropriate boundaries. Keep in mind that folks are creatures of habit. Just because you’ve talked to someone once, that doesn’t mean they don’t get it or that you won’t have to mention it again. Remember, we teach others how to treat us. This is you retraining them. Just keep having those conversations and reinforcing your boundaries.


And if for some reason the issue continues, say they refuse to listen to you or keep giving you excuses as to why they can’t change their behavior, then it may be time to address the issue through other channels. If you’re their supervisor, then this is a performance issue that needs to be addressed. Be sure you’re documenting things along the way in case you need to go down disciplinary lanes. If it’s a co-worker, talk to your supervisor. Let them know what you’ve done to address it so far, and why it’s problematic for you or the team. I add this only because folks sometimes it gets to this point. But if you and your teammates are communicating through a Strengths lens and setting appropriate boundaries to protect your own energy, these things will resolve themselves most of the time.

 

 Hopefully, this has given you an overview of how to better balance the energy among you and your teammates. Be sure to check out previous articles on or episodes of the podcast on setting boundaries. Or we’d love to work with you through individual coaching or in a group workshop to help you upgrade your communication and self-care skills. You can reach out to me at anne@strengthsuniversity.org to ask questions and get more information about the services we have at Strengths University.


And, if you have a question or topic you’d like to suggest for future articles, you can use this link to fill in our survey - https://strengthsu.kartra.com/survey/2024topics.

 

 

 

 

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