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My best, your worst: balconies and basements

Last week a participant asked something during a team strengths workshop: What happens when my strength drives someone else crazy and it's not their style at all?

Been there. Here's a story about working with Bob - my fabulously analytical teammate, who I drove completely crazy. In short: I loved collaborating and brainstorming with Bob. But, I was working with him in my collaboration style, even though it was his skills I needed.

  • My style: LOUD. Fast-paced conversations that probably jump around, high energy verbal brainstorming followed by individual work, followed by more talking.

  • His style: REFLECTIVE. Collect and read individually, then individually processes and consider, followed by collective discussion, followed by more thinking and refining individually.

See the problem? I wish I could say I saw the problem straight away. But I didn't. And Bob put up with my lack of social-awareness for 8 months before he called me out. I wish he would've done it a lot sooner!!!

Different or wrong?

You've probably been there too! This happens all the time at work.

There are lots of continuums we navigate and find ourselves on.

  • extrovert <----> introvert

  • structured <----> flexible

  • data / numbers <----> emotions / intuition

  • quick / rapid <----> reflective / deliberative

When someone operates in a different way to us, instinctively it can feel wrong. Because it is wrong. For us. Of course we logically know it's not wrong, it's different. But it feels wrong.

Logically we know differences are advantages - diversity makes us better. But, in reality, some differences - particularly when ways of working and approaches aren't discussed - can cause tensions. So what happens when you realise that your working style is completely different or grating to someone else?

Some suggested ways forward


  1. Self-awareness: Lenses + Balconies/Basements

  2. Social awareness: Shared language + Codenames

  3. Flex or not to flex: Claim in real-time

Step 1: (as it almost always is) Build your awareness.

  • YOUR SELF AWARENESS - understanding your style and how it shows up at work

  • YOUR SOCIAL AWARENESS - understanding the impact your style has on others, recognising other people's work preferences


Activity 1: LENSES

Try to put some conscious to your unconscious. We don't tend to stop, reflect and diagnose who we are and why we do what we do. But we should.

Try to think of yourself as another person you work with. You can use a number of lenses to think about this person (the external you):

Write out any words - phrases - themes that come to mind about working with this external-you.

Activity 2: BALCONIES / BASEMENTS reflection.

No matter how thin the pancake is, there are two sides. If we take an objective view of our behaviours, ways of working, style, strengths, personality, etc. we can see the positives and, at times, the negatives.

Check out Rachel's reflections and examples of this in her blog about personal brands. Here's one we both share: A loud voice that projects and amplifies. Balcony for us if we're facilitating. Often a basement if we're in a library, or other shared quiet space. s

  • BALCONIES: positive / strengths / helpful for yourself, others, the work, or the environment

  • BASEMENTS: negative / overused / blindspots / unhelpful for yourself, others, the work or the environment

What are your balconies and potential basements?

What do you need to do to keep your basements in check?

Now share your balconies & basements with your team and listen to theirs!

Want to see how accurate your self-reflections are?

Test them with the people you work with! Ask them for feedback!

Step 2: Build your social awareness

Consider some of the same lenses for the people you work with. No need to make assumptions - talk about it! See what they're comfortable sharing with you.

A helpful way to discuss this stuff? A shared language.


Activity 1: Do a self-assessment and share the results as a team.

A shared language leading to shared understanding is one of the biggest benefits these assessments can bring to your team.

How do you explain things about yourself that are innate -- how you naturally think and approach things? That's really hard. Take an assessment. It provides a shared language to describe things about ourselves and also a helpful way for us to understand others.

Lean into the language used so that it's really obvious.

At our office we're big fans of Gallup CliftonStrengths. The other day James said to me, "I'm gonna need you to turn your competition down and turn your empathy way up."

Competition is my 3rd talent. Empathy is my lowest - number 34 of 34. I immediately knew exactly what he was saying and what he needed. He was able to give me a little check, in a positive way by calling out the basement behaviour in a strengths lens (the basement of my competition).

Interested? We can help - reach out to discuss which assessments might be right for your team.

Activity 2: Codename your basements - Make it easier to highlight

It can be pretty hard to hear when someone sees your basement in action. You want their feedback. It's a chance to learn and grow, yes. But it also kinda sucks. And kinda hurts.

One way to make it easier to hear it and say it: use codewords.

It's hard to call out unhelpful behaviours at the time - mostly because it's uncomfortable, for everyone involved.

So - once you've thought about and discussed balconies and basements together - give people permission to highlight when they're seeing this in action by tying it into a codeword. The funnier the better. Our brains like humour and it's good for our health!


I'd rather hear NARWHAL than Can you please stop talking and give someone else a chance to speak?! and tell me TOFFEEPOPS if you really just mean Can you please stop talking out loud?! Some of us are trying to think!

It still takes courage to say the codeword - but once it becomes part of the team culture, it becomes expected that we help each other build our awareness. One thing that helps? Call yourself on it too!

If you're overtalking -- Ooops, sorry my NARWHAL was out. You've heard from enough from me - over to [xxx]"

Discuss your balconies and basements. Give each other permission to highlight basements. Think of codewords that make it easier for people to give you feedback about your strengths and basement behaviours.

Step 3: To flex or not to flex.

Back to my working patterns with Bob. They worked for me --> but not for Bob. And I needed Bob. So it was up to me to flex my style.

Flexing doesn't mean changing everything about yourself! Just turning things up or down based on what's needed in the context. And there's a difference between "this is my work preference" and "I'm unable to work unless..."

Which are you experiencing?


Activity: Verbally claim your working style as you do it.

As you're working with someone who is different, use your shared language to call out what you're doing and how.

And it can help turn tense moments into moments of understanding. When James highlighted what he needed from me as a listener, (empathy not competition) it was super helpful! Try it, you might be surprised at how much clarity this gives the other person - particularly when they have a different style to you.

It doesn't need to be over the top. But it does need to be clear:

Hey, I'm going to be in activator mode, pushing things forward and moving to action. Can you let me know if I'm getting caught up in things that don't matter?

Team, my analytical side is feeling uncomfortable about a few things. Can we discuss one or two specifics before we race off to action?

Today I'm really going to need deep focus to write [xxx]. You'll see me put my headphones on when I don't want to be interrupted for small talk.

Most people are happy to accomodate other people's preferences - the tension usually comes from the unspoken elephants in the room!

So, call it out and have the chat - when do you tone things down? When do they?


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