Ode to Those Who Annoy

She was definitely a detail-oriented person.

As follow up to training I had delivered for her organization she asked if I’d like to debrief the session. Always keen to learn and grow, I of course said yes.

After telling me she thought it was a great training session and she had learned a lot, the feedback also included her identifying a few minor typos, suggesting I make the graphics more diversified (quite valid given changing demographics), and adding some missing commas.

Whereas a number of years ago I might have found that kind of feedback to be a tad annoying, I instead found it to be very helpful and was most appreciative as I am the kind of person who, while good with the big picture, has always struggled with the details.

It seems I’ve learned to value those who think differently and are able to apply a set of optics different from my own.

I first learned that lesson a number of years ago when I worked for a municipality and hired my first staff person. In addition to meeting the qualifications, I liked the young woman and our interactions felt quite comfortable.

Turns out I was comfortable because she was a lot like me. Unfortunately, that meant she was also weak in all the areas I was weak—including those pesky details—and made me crazy. 

Consequently, she inadvertently taught me not to hire people I like, but rather to hire those who annoy me. 

On many levels that does make sense. After all, we tend to like people who are similar to us.  Unfortunately, if we only hire people who are like us, we are going to end up with a team that looks, thinks, and acts alike, with none of the diversity that results in creativity, innovation, efficiency, and effectiveness.  However, while I have learned that while hiring people who annoy you will ensure diversity, I’ve also learned they must share the same values if the team is going to be successful. For me those values include kindness, respect, a strong work ethic, responsibility, authenticity, etc.

Over the years I’ve also learned that simply hiring a diverse team isn’t enough. Too often, the nature of the work means we end up spending our time on the job with those who are doing the same kind of work and are therefore often more like us. As a result, we need to make sure staff and volunteers who don’t work together directly will still have opportunities to talk to each other.

In my previous jobs, this was done in a number of ways. When I worked for Bell Canada as a customer service representative, I spent a day job shadowing an installer—someone I typically would never get to know.

Team meetings, social opportunities, and even eating lunch together provides opportunities to connect and learn from others who you may typically only interact with on a very indirect basis.

Lastly I learned that once a diverse team is in place and they’ve gotten to know and trust one another, it is important to have them work on assignments or projects together. For instance, to design a training module, I once contracted a crazy, out of the box thinker with another woman who was more traditional in her approach. The end result was brilliant in that it was fun and creative while accomplishing the intended outcomes.

In the end, what it perhaps comes down to is that our businesses and organizations will all be richer and deliver more meaningful results, if each of us learns to suspend judgment and welcome the respective strengths and gifts each of us brings.

Posted on 11-25-12

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