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Different Personalities - 5 January 2012

One of the most intriguing aspects of Japanese people can be found in the way they view religion. There are four major religions in Japan – Buddhism, Confucianism, Shintoism, and Taoism – and each has its own convictions and norms. Yet most Japanese people don’t choose only one religion – they create their own hybrid version, usually combining the strengths of all four.

It’s a unique way of living a spiritual life that doesn’t happen so commonly in other countries. It’s referred to as Shinbutsu Shugo, otherwise known in the West as syncretism, which is when a number of contradictory beliefs are melded into a new school of thought.

 

The workplace is the perfect place for syncretism with its diversity of many different personality types. And yet the workplace is full of scenarios that are its antithesis. There’s the religion of extroversion (“I only hire outgoing people”), the religion of hierarchy (“He’s not authoritative enough to be a good leader”), the religion of analysis (“She’s too airy-fairy to get the details”), and many more.

But the ideal team isn’t one where everyone’s the same. That just attracts greater levels of risk in terms of groupthink and diminished creativity. The challenge for leaders shouldn’t be one of creating a homogenous team, but one of getting the best out of a team of people with differing convictions and norms. It’s about creating syncretism.

Professors from the Universities of Missouri and Southern California suggest there are three important questions that drive interpersonal dynamics. In particular, whenever you’re interacting or working with an employee, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is really happening in this relationship?
  • What motives are behind this person’s behaviour?
  • What can I do about it?

To answer the first question, you need to combine observation with adaptation. Observation is when you’re conscious of non-verbal cues that tell you whether or not the employee is engaged and productive. Adaptation is when you modify your style to get the highest motivation and the best performance from that employee.

To answer the second question, you need to combine advocacy with inquiry. Advocacy is when employees are free and comfortable to express what they’re thinking, what they know, what they want, and how they feel. Inquiry is when they discover the ways in which these factors are similar or different among their colleagues.

To answer the third question, you need to combine leadership with facilitation. Leadership is when you take responsibility for your team’s interpersonal relationships. Facilitation is when you run personality-profiling sessions, such as DiSC or Myers Briggs, or other activities that enable employees to learn more about each other.

There’s an old Japanese phrase that sums up syncretism really well. It’s “juu-nin to-iro” – and its literal translation is ‘ten people, ten colours’. Depending on the number of people in your team, it could be ‘seven people, seven colours’ or ‘twenty people, twenty colours’. Or in other words, different strokes for different folks.

 

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