The push/pull of the race against time

by Danielle Gault

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IN TODAY'S fast-moving work­place, once you fall behind it can feel like you’ll never catch up. We live in a cyberhuman society where the requirement for speed, productivity and efficiency can trigger a race against the clock. Our lives are spinning out of control as we continue to be wired for business and information over­load through our pagers, e-mails, faxes, and cell phones. We have no time for our children, our aging parents, our health and well-being.“How can we take control of our lives so that we can enjoy it?” is the question many are asking as they strug­gle to walk their professional tightrope.Yo Katagiri, head of Pioneer Elec­tronic Corp., said, “People can’t work properly when they’re tense.” A good life is, however, worth working hard for — but we can reduce the struggle and tension by understanding our own inner process and how to manage it effectively.

Personal differences

To understand personal differ­ences and how the race against time affects us, we can view ourselves through the eyes of type and temperament theo­ry. For instance, the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indica­tor) deals with four scales of opposite preferences which are:

  1. Extraversion versus introversion — where do we prefer to go for our stimula­tion and energy?
  2. Intuition versus Sensing — how do we prefer to take in information?
  3. Thinking versus Feeling — how do we prefer to make de­cisions about the information we take in?
  4. Perceiving versus Judging —how do we prefer to structure our world?

The MBTI indicates specific differ­ences in how we would like to behave. The world and people in it, however, impose their own game plan on us and often have counter expectations for our behaviours. These opposite expectations have inherent tensions in them.

According to Carl Jung, the tension of opposites is the very essence of life. Without tension, there would be no ene­rgy and consequently no healthy personality development. An optimum amount of tension is necessary, but too much tension can make us snap and too little can make us lethargic.

All personality types experience ten­sion when dealing with time constraints and, therefore, an understanding of our inner processes when dealing with these constraints can increase our levels of health and happiness. An understanding of our workplace patterns of speed, pro­ductivity and efficiency, together with the tools for maintaining optimum levels of health and happiness on the job, can help us deal more effectively with ten­sion when the world doesn’t conform to our expectations.

Speed and productivity

When a strong extravert is around a qui­et introvert, the tension of opposite pref­erences in processing information can be experienced quite differently by each. While extroverts process their informa­tion by talking and interacting with others, the introverts are producing their results through quiet introspection.

Both people are moving projects along, but the process for speed and productivity looks quite different. Interpretations of differences can affect team synergy: the extravert may interpret the quietness of the introvert as standoffish, while the introvert often sees extroverts as superficial people who fill the air with a lot of talk instead of really producing results.

Similarly, strong Sensing-Judging ori­ented people want structure and plans when they art involved in implementing activities. Intuitive-Perceiving oriented people, however want to gather addi­tional information to be certain they have covered all the possibilities.

The inherent tension of these oppo­sites can show up in how jobs and tasks get handled. One person is pulling for possibilities while the other is pushing for closure.

Productivity and efficiency

Sensing-dominant people believe that efficiency is centred around the present tense and the specifics of what needs to be done. They sometimes need to be reminded that there’s more to productivity than dealing with just the details. Intuitive-dominant people, however, look at productivity and efficiency by focusing on the future and the implications of what else is possible in getting the job done. They sometimes need to be reminded to focus on the details as well as relating activities to the whole picture tn the future.

In order to get the best results, teams need to focus on the forest (intuitive, big picture) as well as the trees (sensing, de­tails). In doing this, we can maintain and build positive feelings about each others' styles. The by-product can be increased levels of trust and team morale.

People differences are often evidenced in decision making processes. The dominant Thinker, who tends to make objective decisions, may view the dominant Feeler, who tends to make subjective decisions, as too touchy-feely. Feeling decision makers may see Think­ing decision makers as too cold when they interact and make decisions with others.

Thinker-dominant people tend to get along better with other Thinkers. while Feeler-dominant people have an easier time than Thinkers getting along with both types. This may be because they look for and read others' processes more often in their attempts to get along and create harmony.

Both Thinker-dominant and Feeler-dominant people have a challenge around workplace competency. Think­ing-dominant people have ever-increasi­ng expectations about workplace com­petence and want to be viewed by others as very competent. Feeling types, how­ever, take others into consideration — their growth and personal requirements— when working together. They want to make people feel good about their work. Competency, although also important to Feeling types, is secondary because they are able to delay immediate results for long-term personal developmental results.

When we interpret other peo­ples’ expressions based on our own requirements, we can af­fect team productivity by di­minishing trust and morale. But if the tension of opposites is the essence of life, then the quest ion has to he asked: “How can we use this pull of opposites to create a win-win model for dealing with work­place productivity while under time constraints?” Because when time-based constraints step in, rela­tionship management often goes out the window.

Three sources of workplace tension

When tension, due to time constraints, is high in the workplace, we are often in­tolerant of work styles that are different from our own. The causes of tension in organizations usually come from one of three sources:

1. Differences in how we do things:

Fast or slow — expressions of speed are a source of workplace confusion. Foe example, Intuitive-Thinking people can leap into the future and create a new model without worrying about the de­tails. This can throw Sensing-Judging people off because they want to begin building the job and need the details to do this.

Sensing-Judging people have an innate sense of the amount of time it takes to complete a project since they understand the myriad steps required and the reality of the physical world that slows the work down.

Intuitive-Thinking people often misgauge the time projects take because they've already moved on to the next conceptu­al challenge, leaving the details to others.

A structured approach to work is best expressed with the Sensing-Judgers’ need for a time-based detailed work schedule for bringing the project in on time and within budget. Often taken as the critic who poo-poos ideas, the Sensing-Judging per­son wants to ensure the job gets done.

Sensing-Perceiver people can stimulate others and inject energy to move problems forward through their ability to respond quickly and meet the immediate needs of the present situation. They can change direction on a dime as they tend to handle emergencies well. While the Sensing-Perceiving person is busy moving projects forward, the Intuitive-Feeling person is focusing on people and their needs, believing time is used well when looking for and finding life's purpose.

2. Differences in how we view things:

People focus on different things when trying to accom­plish tasks. What they focus on reveal what’s important to them and are based on personal val­ues.

Intuitive-Thinkers place great value on the systems within the organization. They enjoy analyzing data, predicting out­comes and explaining why things work the way they do.

Intuitive-Feelers, however, focus on the values of the people within the workplace; how to communicate in meaningful ways, and the effects of decisions on others.

Sensing-judging people will focus on the policies and proce­dures, the “how to's” of the job; they will collect, categorize and store data.

Sensing-Perceivers tend to focus more on solving immediate problems and moving projects forward with the quickest approach at hand and with the variables at that moment.

3. Differences in how we relate to others:

Interactive versus non-interactive approaches can take many shapes. For example, if you work in an extraverted envi­ronment but you prefer introversion, expectations that work should be done with others can cause feelings that your own natural tendencies are not appropriate.

People with a preference toward Intuitive-Feeling often give others all the time they need while neglecting their own time needs.

Intuitive-Thinking people often have no time for others' priorities and can forget to include the commitments of others in their planning.

Intuitive-Thinking people often have no time for others' priorities and can forget to include the commitments of others in their planning.

­Sensing-Perceivers often spread themselves out too far and scatter their efforts, leaving others wondering where they are and if they are still on board.

And Sensing-Judging people often dislike waiting for others and can appear rigid around keeping schedules and being hooked to responsibilities.

Although it is easy to see the mistakes and flaws in other peo­ples’ work, when time pressures force us to get really focused, we may want to remember that after projects are completed, many of us can be left with painful thoughts and feelings about being stepped on or over in the name of productivity.

When deciding what to do in getting the job done while under pressure, remember that getting the job done AND building strong relationships should be viewed as equally important.

When tension in completing our jobs is handled with a win-lose approach, team interactions can become destructive. Ten­sion, as a destructive force, cre­ates communication and probl­em-solving strategies that take a “positional” stance where deci­sions get made at the expense of another person.

If perpetuated, this approach leads to increased negative at­titudes and disliking of the other person. Soon the negativity leads to wanting to reduce any future contact with that person which, of course, leads to more “win-lose” behaviours.

Tension, as a creative force, promotes healthy communica­tion and problem-solving strategies through constructive “win-win” decision making process­es. When constructive ap­proaches are taken, they can lead to positive feelings and a desire to seek out and interact with the other person.

Keeping a check on inner rhythms

Life is about conscious choices that empower us to stay on pur­pose, keep going, and stay en­gaged. By incorporating purpose into our day, we can focus on our goals and directions and check our own inner state of balance, pace, time and rhythms.

When others impose their priorities and expectations on us we can choose to accommo­date or not because we are lis­tening to our own inner voice. By doing this we can ensure we're on purpose, balanced, and taking control of inner processes.

While developing awareness and conviction in validating our own inner processes, we also need to remember that we share our world with other people. After the game is over, who we are and what we achieve is often de­termined by our relationships with others. A principle of per­sonal growth is, "We have to do it ourselves and we can’t do it alone".

To remain healthy and happy and walk the professional tightrope in this cyberhuman so­ciety, have a meaningful life purpose, build good support sys­tems, set interesting goals, and take time out to resource your energies along the way.

This article first appeared in the Features section of Canadian HR Reporter, December 29, 1997, and is reproduced by permission.