Understand Brain Preferences To Build Better Workplace Relationships

Healthy productive relationships with our co-workers are an essential ingredient in building quality workplaces. It has become apparent that relationships amongst co-workers are of utmost importance in getting the best out of employees.

In a recent research study done at IBM, a group of MIT researchers spent a whole year following 2,600 employees and observing their social ties in the corporation. Eventually, they found that the more socially connected the IBM employees were, the better they performed. Statistically and specifically, the researchers could even quantify that on average, every e-mail contact was actually worth an additional USD948 in revenue!

Let’s face it – at the very core, we humans are naturally social creatures who crave for positive interactions with others, just like food and water. Who enjoys having an argument? Today, the workplace has evolved into one where positive relationships with co-workers can serve as a significant emotional compensation.

But how can we turn this desirable ideal into reality?

Perhaps one of the most effective ways is through understanding how others and we prefer to think and act. Through such an awareness, we can better understand how we each see the world through our own lens, and put our perceptions of others into perspective so that misunderstandings can be prevented, leading to improved relationships.

To this end, organisations like Western Union use a curiously robust psychometric instrument called the Emergenetics Profile to help employees adopt a more holistic view of individual and team working styles so as to build more positive working cultures.

Developed by Dr Geil Browning and Dr Wendell Williams, the Emergenetics Profile is a result of research grounded in brain science theories and measures four thinking (Analytical, Structural, Social and Conceptual) and three behavioural (Expressiveness, Assertiveness, Flexibility) attributes.

Premised on the belief that our patterns of thinking and behaviour emerge from our genetic blue-print and life experiences, the Emergenetics Profile not only reports what an individual’s preferences are when it comes to thinking and behaving, but also how his or her preferences compare to co-workers and the general population at large.

Browning’s and Williams’ research reveal that most of the time, people with Analytical Thinking may prefer to:

  • Make decisions based on objectivity and facts
  • Formulate systems
  • Solve problems through careful observation and the use of data
  • Learn through mental analysis
  • Ask questions like “What is the return on investment?” or “Where is the evidence?”

People with Structural Thinking preference would mostly:

  • Be cautious of new ideas
  • Be driven by the clock and productivity
  • Solve problems using sequential thinking with a methodical approach
  • Learn from doing
  • Ask questions like “What are the next steps?” or “How do we reach the goal?”

Those with Social Thinking as a preference may:

  • Favour working as a team and be encouraging to team mates
  • Be relational
  • Solve problems by tapping on human resource
  • Learn from others
  • Ask questions like “Who would this policy impact?” or “How can we build better relationships at work?”

And those with a preference for Conceptual Thinking might prefer to:

  • Connect with the big picture
  • Solve problems by mentally exploring all options
  • Learn through experimentation
  • Ask questions like “What new ideas can we think of?” or “Why don’t we make a decision only after all alternatives are thought through?”

And then there are also the behaviours – how we prefer to interact (Expressiveness), how we prefer to assert and the pace we prefer to move things (Assertiveness), and how we respond to a change we didn’t generate (Flexibility). Together, the tool paints an accurate picture of how we may interact with our co-workers and the world around us.

For instance, a person with an Analytical preference may unintentionally come across as being critical, cold or too task-oriented while exchanging views with someone with a Social preference who may prefer to consider relationships as a of a higher priority. Two co-workers standing on opposite ends of the Assertiveness spectrum - one preferring a peace-keeping approach while the other a more driving approach – may inadvertently frustrate each other all because each has a preferred style of advancing thoughts and opinions.

There is no right or wrong, just different.

Thus when exercised in the workplace, the concept of Emergenetics provides a rather accurate picture of the preferred working styles of employees. The framework makes it easier to identify how every individual at the workplace thinks, behaves, and communicates, as a manifestation of their preferences. Moreover, since Emergenetics provides a useful framework to help co-workers understand each other’s natural strengths and blind spots, a team can build better working relationships by comprehensively understanding the motivations of everyone, thereby preventing miscommunication.

Additionally, when the management of an organisation understands how its employees behave and think, they can then develop a cohesive organisational culture built on the insights of Emergenetics, through an informed perspective based on personal preferences. When this happens, perceptions alter for the better.

Quality relationships begin to grow when we can engage each person based on his or her preferences. And that is where a sound understanding of each other’s preferences is useful. Where before, such an understanding comes after years of hits and misses working together (and we may still get it wrong), now there are instruments like Emergenetics to help a team recognise what everyone’s preferred approach is. But while knowing is important, how you choose to act is crucial. Here’s where the old adage of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” comes in – a team is better off once everyone makes an effort to work with each other in a way they prefer to be approached.


Article by Andy Pan, the Director of Training at Right Impact Training and the author of Happy Companies, Healthy Profits.

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