Working on a team is great. In fact, there is nothing quite like reaching an intended goal and crossing the finish line knowing your contributions were a part of the success of the project.
However, there are some things that can impact the moral or spirit of the team. Some are even reflected in articles I have published on DZone:
- Building Trust Back
- Are You Being A Servant Leader?
- Finding the Best Fit Withing Your Team
- What Kind of Dev Manager Are You?
- Lack of Honesty in Your Agile Team
- Are You THAT Person?
This article focuses on three types of personas that I have encountered over the years, which can have an impact on the team. I will classify them as follows:
- Talk show host persona
- Question with a question persona
- One up you persona
What is a persona, anyway? Wikipedia defines a persona (psychologically) as "the mask or appearance one presents to the world." To me, the persona is the way in which a team member elects to act when communicating with other team members.
Talk Show Host Persona
During my youth, I grew up watching a few different talk shows on television. Most of the time I enjoyed watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. When visiting friends whose parents were fans of The Nashville Network, I enjoyed watching Ralph Emery on Nashville Now. I appreciated Carson and Emery's ability to interview guests, add in spots of humor, and make you feel like you were part of the conversation while watching on television. To me, it was less about the guests who were on the show and more about the host leading the interviews.
Have you ever experienced a team member, or a manager, who seemed like they were in "talk show host" mode? You know, where they ask questions, but aren't truly focused on your answer, but are waiting to ask you the next question they have on their mind?
I had a manager who would fall into this mode quite a bit. He would ask questions in order to receive an update and then move on to the next question. At first, I kind of felt like I was on trial, sitting at the witness stand facing a flurry of questions by the opposing council. Not fun.
Over time I recognized this and played along — but the downside is that the conversation was all about him getting the information he needed, instead of listening and working through the context of the information. After all, this tended to happen during my periodic one-on-one meetings, which were supposed be for me...right?
Of course, it is possible to go into "talk show host" mode as a communication style in order to gain more background information about situation. The key to making this approach a positive experience is to listen to the answers provided and become engaged in the actual conversation. In fact, I find if I am in this mode and I lose track of an original question I had planned, that perhaps that question didn't really matter, anyway.
Question With A Question Persona
How about the persona that always answers a question with a question?
I worked with a product owner who always took this approach. More times than not, I felt like I left my conversation knowing less about the matter at hand than when the conversation started.
One time I thought I would try to play that game with this product owner. When I was asked a question, I immediately fired a question back the product owner. Unexpectedly, I realized I was out of my comfort level and realm of abilities because taking this approach opened the product owner to showing me an entirely higher level of this communication tactic. I felt my head wanting to explode from the multiple questions that ensued, wishing I could turn back time to avoid the encounter altogether.
The problem with this persona is that it seems to provide additional information for the other party, more than the person seeking information. In my case, I had to learn to play the game a little. In this case, I would provide a small answer to the question I received back, but then reinforced my question again. I would say that tactic worked 40% of the time. I always felt like this type of persona is holding their information close, only revealing what has to be revealed when there is no other option.
There is a good side to this approach, which happens in the case where the individual truly needs more clarification for the question before providing an answer. Most of the time, this is to make sure both parties are talking about something in the same context. This is really a good approach, to avoid misinterpretation from an answer given out of context.
One Up You Persona
Finally, there is the "one up you" persona, which happens when someone responds with a statement that makes the prior statement seem inferior.
I remember working on a team when my (now college student) son was a toddler. I was asked how my son was doing, to which I gave an update. This individual also had a child around the same age. The response I received demonstrated how my child was inferior, since the update I provided reflected something that was experienced further in the past. It only takes a few times before my answers became somewhat vague, because no one really likes to be one-upped.
This can often happen in our daily team experiences, especially as someone new to a framework, product or technology shares information with another team member or the entire team. When those "one up you" personas emerge, they more often than not are intended to build up the responder more than confirm the communicator.
However, there is a way for the "one up you" persona to provide value to all involved with the conversation. Consider an example where the topic was related to a new framework. The more experienced one can use their knowledge to point out a learning point that happened when they first started using the framework. Perhaps they misunderstood how something was supposed to work. Sharing this the right way would not "one up" anyone, but provide a learning opportunity.
My Helpful Tip
During my career, I have come to realize that I work really well communicating with small groups and large groups. My struggle point is the medium-sized group. In this example, a medium-sized group is between 10-30 individuals.
I do really well communicating with extra small groups — which is between 1-3 others. When the group size becomes 4-10, I still do well, but find myself blending into the group rather than leading the conversation. Anything above 30 is a comfort spot again, because typically communicating to this level of group has some form of agenda or preparedness that is part of the event.
I first noticed this at a corporate job. We would have farewell lunches when someone departed. Most of the time there would be a large group of our extended team, with about 15-20 people attending the event.
During these farewell lunches, I found that when I communicated to the rest of the team I felt like I was probably saying things that most did not really want to hear. So, I would think about what I wanted to say, keep things brief, and be light-hearted with my response. It seemed to work.
When I pull back and think about being on a team trying to reach a common goal, I think about what personas I am presenting to the group. Before I start a dialog or respond to the entire team, I take a second to make sure what I am about to communicate provides value to the team.
Of course, I don't expect every persona from every team member to be exactly the same. I mean, wasn't that one of the reasons why the "Paradise" version of The Matrix failed?
My point here is that the three personas I provided can have an impact on the moral and spirit of the team:
- Talk show host persona functions with a personal agenda
- Question with a question persona doesn't provide the answer you are seeking
- One-up you persona does not feel the need to acknowledge and see value in your message
As noted above, they all have the ability to provide value when used, if applied properly. Simply listen to what is being said, then follow the advice offered above to take a second and make sure any subsequent communication provides value back to the individual or the team.
What personas have you experienced with your day-to-day efforts? How did you handle working with those individuals?
Have a really great day!