Creative Diversity, When More Than 1 Of You Is In The Room.”

How to go from arguments to negotiations. This article is geared towards anyone trying to get by with someone else. From couples to families to companies, it’s all about you and your team. This is particularly for those who find themselves needing to manage others, or deal with people trying to manage them.

Dealing with people is difficult.

Today the best companies are moving towards horizontal structures to adapt to the modern market. Employees are required to be flexible and adapt.  Teams need to be autonomous and solution-oriented as managers have increasing responsibilities of their own.

The problem is in this changing landscape is that managing (or dealing with) people takes a back seat.

Employees don’t always get the leadership they need to perform at their best.

Teams aren’t receiving clear objectives or concrete performance indicators.

Different working styles lead to unmet expectations,  resentment and tension.

Teams are not clear about their own direction and place within the organization which leads to a lack of trust.

Individuals focus on problems instead of solutions.

All of this creates negative working environments.

Negative working environments eat away at productivity and innovation.

People aren’t happy at work and don’t give their best to the company, nor to their team nor to themselves.

This costs money, kills innovation and stunts growth.

People are different. Difference is great for innovation, but it can lead easily towards misunderstandings and conflict.

But teams help you grow.

Better working environments increase productivity and reduce tensions.

People working well together makes your company stronger and makes your team members stronger. This starts a positive feedback loop.

Different personality types lead to innovation.

Different personality types help companies make fewer mistakes.

Better collaboration gives individuals and their teams a higher sense of purpose.

Companies flourish when their employees have a clear sense of purpose.

When you help individuals understand how they and their colleagues work best, you can get their differences working for you so you can innovate and scale.

There are simple tools to help team members negotiate with each other and take full advantage of the creative differences.

Teams can learn to change their focus from problems to solutions and take pro-active measures and even anticipate future issues. 

Teams can learn to support their team members and exploit their creative resources while becoming more autonomous.

Teams push the company forward, help them to scale instead of wasting time and resources on conflict.

Today we’re going to explore the 3 steps that get teams long-term beyond misunderstanding into creative problem solving and innovative solutions, and…

…how one company is still using them today to grow their business into two new cities and one new industry 2 years after learning them.

EXTERNATIC is a recruiting firm with a solid reputation in the competitive field of IT and industry.

“A challenge we face”, said partner Ben Caseron, “is convincing organizations to step out of the familiar and not only hire what they find has worked for them in the past. Companies like hiring from the same engineer schools and taking on the same type of thinkers… And this opens them up to risk.

Homogenous teams don’t see all the angles. Then penalty of not seeing all the angles can be high.”

EXTERNATIC  lives what they preach. Like most creative and innovative organizations, their team is composed of a variety of personality types and cognitive diversity.

So what was their challenge?

“It’s not easy to understand how others function. It’s hard to know how they see their work, what for them is success and what is failure,” said Sabrina Blanchet, associate at EXTERNATIC.

“Although we have different personalities, I believe we share similar values… but that doesn’t mean we understand each other or know what each needs to do their best.”

“Not understanding how your colleagues are wired slows things down,” said Ben. “Hindered communication leads to fewer initiatives taken .”

Derailed projects

Individual frustration

Unresolved conflict

Heavy time loss

Staff departures

And potentially… industrial catastrophe.


“Just last week something arose that we quickly realized needed to be addressed. It was based on performance, a subject which can lead to a lot of strife if not handled quickly and well. We had the techniques to ask the right questions and negotiate within the team between our different modes of functioning.”

A quick end to a potentially long dragged out situation

Clearing up misunderstandings before they fester and boil over

People are engaged and seek solutions

People feel safe enough to make real initiatives

The true value of different thinking types thinking together

“What in the past might have lead to a prolonged situation ending in a lot of emotion and potentially the loss of a staff member, was handled in one session.”

3 STEPS TO GETTING BETTER INNOVATION THROUGH COLLABORATION by getting diverse thinking thinking together

Step #1 Explore how each individual function at their best

Step #2 Explore how the differences fit within the team

Step #3 Explore how the team works its best at as a unit.

These three steps are influenced by the work of Caitlin Walker, see her book From Contempt to Curiosity

This work has also been influenced by my teacher turned colleague and friend Judy Rees

Here’s why this strategy works.

First, people have a vague idea of how they function, but it is often only vague. If it’s only vague for them, it can’t be much clearer for their colleagues.

Colleagues who don’t know how each other are wired, often get wires crossed. This wastes time. This wastes talent.

The goal is to allow each individual explore how they function at their best, and what they need to function that way.

This not only helps the individual get better at what he or she does, this prepares the way forward for understanding how others function differently and step 2.

The utility of exploring how they work in depth affords the individual the opportunity to tease their general notion into something palpable for them that they can inspect, own and provide them a path to getting back to that high level of functioning later, even if they don’t feel it at first. It also allows them to opportunity to reflect on what they need from the team for them to work well.

Individuals become responsible for themselves and the goals of the team.

Second, people often have expectations of how things should be done. We often think our way of processing and functioning is normal, and we’re confused and often frustrated when others don’t see or do things the way we do. Misunderstandings occur when individual expectations are not met by others. This can cause resentment, feeling like their work is not fully appreciated. To not cause too much of a stir, people bite down on their resentment and issues get swept under the rug instead of being addressed in a healthy pragmatic manner. Things fester until they bubble over in inappropriate ways which can often lead to staff departures. This is a waste of talent and money.

When individuals get to listen to their fellow team members in a controlled and safe environment function and what they need from the team to do their best, light bulbs start going off.

This is the opportunity for the team members to ask each other questions, to explore and even help each other refine their own sense of who they are.

Team members are often better at judging outward performances better than the individual themselves, but only the individual can shed light on what is going on inside. This affords an opportunity for different cognitive and personality types to negotiate with each other so that each is getting what they need from the group to best do their job and push the team further.

The team becomes responsible for the individual.

Third, beyond being made up of individuals, teams are also units that benefit greatly from exploring their position, role and direction for the future and what they need to function optimally. 

In the safe environment previously created, now risks can be taken and the differences can fit together creatively for true innovation in how things are done. With grounded understanding of how others function and what they need to function at their best, the team can now use its diversity in its own exploration of how it functions optimally and the create the vision it needs for true innovation.  

Innovation is not only not only new devices but is also the process of uncovering new ways of doing things.

The team takes responsibility for itself.


(Diagram of a circle) Individual > Team > Unit

At each phase responsibility is taken for itself and the steps before and after.


Getting insight into how a team member functions (in 5-10 minutes)

We’re going to start with a simple question and two follow up questions that can repeated for as long as both parties wish.

-If you ask, “What kind of worker are you?”  

What happens?

People might respond by saying,

“I’m a good worker.”

“I’m a hard worker.”

“I’m a conscientious worker.”

These would be smart things to say when asked by a HR representative especially when one thinks their job might be under review.

This is not our aim. Nor does it supply anyone with much information.

Our aim is to explore how that person functions. Our goal is to gain insights to understand what is going on for them.

There is no judgment here about how they function. They know how they function at their best, we don’t.

We don’t want to tell them how to function.

We want to ask how they function already.

There are already many guides and consultants out there who tell people how they can better do their job.

We are not dealing with this here.

Our aim here is to consider two things at once: Outward Actions and Inward Actions.

Outward actions are driven by Inward Actions.

What’s going on inside motivates what goes on outside.

Story tellers call this Essential Action: That which is going on inside, that no one sees, is what effects the action we do see.

Even if you coerce someone to do an outwardly expressed action, that does not mean you have control on what is going on inside.

We are often told what to do to work well.

We are told what to do to sleep well.

We are told what to do to play well.

We are told what to do to rest well.

We are told what to do get more done.

We are told how to get more done quicker so we can do more elsewhere and how to do that better.

Our point here is to explore the Essential Action of the individual when he or she is doing their work at a high level…

and what that is like for them.

 what they are like when doing it, what is going on inside, which is the key to getting insight into what is truly going on when they work. This will give insight to the other team members and insight indeed to the individual themselves. This will also give a solid point of comparison between the others.


When you are really working the way you want, you’re feeling good about it, you’re like what?…

NB (optional)

What kind of worker are you?


What kind of attentional?

What? OK, Well, concentrated.

What kind of concentrated?

Now the guy is rubbing his forehead (look up emotional responses). He’s not looking so much concentrated as he is concerted. 

What do you mean, what kind of concentrated? Did you flunk English? Do you have a dictionary, google it, concentrated, it begins with the letter “C”, that comes after the letter “B”, before “D”.  You get my drift. I’ll wait… patiently…

What does he care, he’s getting paid for this. He does know his project is not advancing all the time he’s spending with you, so his patient waiting is more passive aggressive than anything else, depending on his level of responsibility.

And this happens all the time.

It’s natural.

Do you know why?

It’s not natural to ask questions.

Let me rephrase that.

It’s not natural to ask unnatural questions.

Unnatural questions are those questions that dare ask about what is universally accepted (if you call our small microcosm’s universes) to mean what it means.

I had a manager tell me recently that his director had brought all the managers together and told them that he wanted more synergy across the departments. A normal request. A smart request.

Everyone nodded their heads and left the meeting without many questions, for the message was clear, clear enough for them to take to their individual teams.

The problem?

No one knew what for him synergy between the teams looked like nor how they would know when they had it.

By accepting words on face value, on their dictionary definitions, we are rarely more closer in understanding what someone might mean by them than if we just asked a took a random sample and threw a dart onto a corkboard with as many possibilities as participants.

Words save us time. Humans interpret to save time. Interpretation gets us into situations where we understand something different than someone else. This leads to conflict.


What kind of worker are you?


That’s a great quality, for our purposes, I’m more interested in knowing how you see yourself when you are working the way you like, when you are functioning in a way that you like, when you are engaged in what you are doing, what are you like?

So when you are a serious worker, you are serious like what?

Serious like someone who doesn’t finish until the job is done.

Great, and that someone who doesn’t finish until the job it done is like what?

The point here is to lead them to either give you a quality, like they did here…

We’ll probably get either of two types of answers. Both provide enough for what is to follow.

Either we will get a quality:

I’m confident

I’m concentrated

I’m focused,


Or we will get an image:

I’m like a computer with connections going out to other satellites, and information is flowing easily between all of the parts.


I’m like a bubble that shuts out all the noise on the outside and I’m totally concentrated on what I’m doing.


I’m like a large glass filled with carbonated water. And each bubble that rises to the surface is a new idea.

Of course these answers can sound quite ridiculous, just know that they are all real answers that have come up with real people.

We could very well have the tendency to ask these people why they are like that, wouldn’t another image be better for them for example.

For instance, wouldn’t the bubble be problematic if she was working with colleagues who needed to consult with her for information (which was true) and was her shutting herself off in a bubble the best strategy?

Maybe. But what if that bubble was the best way that person worked at their task?

Telling that person that they needed to be more ‘pourous’  would be the exact opposite of what that person needs to be like to best do their job.

This is where constructive negotiation comes into play. Once others realize how someone best approaches their job at hand, a job that is crucial for the rest of the team, the team gains an understanding of how and why the individual does what they do, and they organically start to find ways of protecting that person in how they work while negotiating what it is they need from them.


We ask a specific question about the one of the words they used, the exact word they used.

The important part here is to use mirror language. There are many reasons for this that do not we do not have time to address here, but let it suffice that the the FBI thinks highly enough of repeating people’s words back to them that they use it in negotiating with hostage takers.

There are many reasons for doing so. One is we all relax when among that which resembles us. When we use someone else’s exact words they have the tendency to relax with the added bonus of feeling listened to.

When people feel listened to, they are much more likely to negotiate with those who are listening. Every team that innovates is involved in continual internal negotiation.

The point is not to interpret what has been said, or reformulate. We use the exact words they used.


What kind of (word used) is that?

We are neither interpreting nor are we judging. Our intent is inquiry. Again, only they know what’s going on inside when they work.

Lets go back to our example of the worker in the bubble.

What kind of bubble?

A bubble that’s slightly larger than me, it’s translucid. Light comes in, but I can’t really see what’s going on the outside.

What is my point in gaining this information.  Bubble is a metaphor obviously. Metaphors lie on the edge of what we know. By describing her “bubble” she is getting a better grasp on what her experience is really like.  She’s making her resource, her concentration,  palpable, and it will be easier for her to get back in that resourceful state later.


Is there anything else about that (word used)?

Here we are looking for any additional information that might shed light on the situation.

Is there anything else about that bubble?

Yes, I have everything organized a specific way. I have specific pens that I use for different tasks. People often come over and borrow my pens. When I go to reach for one, it’s not there when I need it. That takes me out of my bubble. It’s frustrating. I lose my place and concentration. It takes me awhile to get back into it. My work takes a lot of concentration. For them it’s only a pen. For me it’s a tool I have chosen for a specific purpose. But if I complain, they won’t understand. I’ll just sound like I’m whining about a pen.

This information is obviously important to her and the way she works. Later on in STEP 2 when the team is together, this will be raised. In real life she told me that the space created during this exercise made it possible for her to tell her colleagues something that had been bothering for months and hadn’t felt brave enough to mention.

We’ll look at that real situation later on.


What do you need from your team to work like that?

This is a key moment where the individual realizes that the team is there to support them. This will provide more negotiation points later on.

I need the team to realize my job is difficult and important. I need them to realize if I’m not chatty at the office while I’m working, it’s not because I’m antisocial, it’s because I’m concentrating.


Finding out what kind of worker each individual is

When you are really working the way you want, you’re feeling good about it, you’re like what?…

What kind of (word used)?

Is there anything else about (word used)?

What do you need from the team to be like that?

The process takes between 5 and 10 minutes. Each person is interviewed individually.


Getting the team together.  Each member reveals what came up during their interview (approx. 30 minutes for a group of 6)

Team members are encouraged to use the questions used during the interview.

What kind of (word used)?

Is there anything else about (word used)?

This is probably the first time the team has heard how each member ticks. What gets the going, and what gets them stalled.

This is when they see how different they all really are.

They have also heard what each individual needs from the team to be like that.

During this moment something quite interesting most often occurs: organic empathy.

The team starts to pay different attention to each other and are ready to make sure each receives what they need from the team and what team needs from them.

This is when negotiation takes place. Some things will need ironing out.

With our example with the girl in the bubble, there was a situation that hadn’t come up in her interview. The data she worked on was needed at different times by her colleagues. They needed to ask her questions. Those questions pulled her out of her bubble.

They negotiated daily breaks at specified times where information could be exchanged and then it was back to business until the next break.

If this had been suggested to them by someone from the outside, it would probably not have stuck.

This came from them, and it did.

STEP 3 (15-30 mins)

This step is very similar to STEP 1 except it is for the group instead of the individual.

Team members get a chance to all pitch in and get creative about how the team functions and what it needs to be its best.

A white board with a few markers is great for this. People can draw their images. It gets quite creative.


When is really working the way you want, you’re feeling good about it, it’s like what?…

And you let them at it.

More negotiation.

More clarity.

More participation.

More creativity.

The members of the team are onboard.

The team is clear about what it’s doing and where it’s headed.


As we’ve seen innovation is crucial for long term success. Cognitive diversity is crucial for innovation. Cognitive diversity means different personality types.

We don’t know what’s going on inside our team members. We think we have good intuition, but studies show we’re mostly wrong.

We misinterpret and feel our expectations are not being met.

This leads to conflict, lack of real collaboration and employee disengagement.

This work helped us get a much better understanding of each other functions. That has been a real time saver.  My perspective of how I listen to people and what is really going on has changed. That’s had a very valuable impact on the team. (Ben Caseron, associate partner, Externatic)


I’ve used these exact three steps with different types of groups and different types of people.

It works with 2 CEO’s who are joining businesses as it does for a group of 15 people.

I’d love to hear from you on how it’s worked for you.

Or maybe you have a question or two.

 Please get in touch if I can be of any help.

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