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Pattern Is the New Black

Rheumatology Practice Management August 2018 Vol 6 No 4 - NORM News
Rick Olsen, PhD
Forté Consultant
Chair, Department of Communication Studies,
University of North Carolina Wilmington

It seems that whatever fashion trend is hot it is considered “the new black.” Here is my leadership fashion tip—pay attention to pattern. I have approximately 20 full-time employees in my office, including front office administrative employees who must be highly responsive to interruptions in the form of whoever walks through the door, as well as specialists who do not want to be interrupted. If they had their preference, they would put in earplugs and continue working even if a fire alarm went off. Can you relate?

So where does pattern come in? Well, similar to many organizations, we need to conduct formal personnel reviews once a year. Some of our employees become very nervous over these reviews, and my response to them is, “Unless we have a pattern, we do not have a problem.” I think you will find this outlook helpful as you interact with and manage the employees in your office. Anyone can tell a joke that falls flat or is considered by some to be “over the line.” Someone may reheat a dinner that smells up the break room. Do we have a pattern? If so, what is the positive or negative pattern of behavior?

We are often quick to move from a single behavior to a character flaw. “How could she reheat fish for lunch in a small break room? She is so inconsiderate!” Now we have redefined a behavior as a character flaw and we will tend to see everything this employee does as confirmation of the “pattern.” She came in singing a favorite song she heard on the way in? “How rude!”

Whether as a manager, or as a coworker, we have to guard against making the leap from behaviors to character flaws. This tendency comes from our compulsive desire to “make sense of it all,” but we have to come back to behavior. What did she or he do? Here’s a hint: It is easier to focus on actual behaviors when we see people as a collection of strengths, not flaws.

This is where the strengths-based vocabulary of The Forté Institute, Wilmington, NC, can be so helpful. Forté summarizes each person’s unique communication style and provides an understanding of their motivators and demotivators. Once we understand communication preferences as a collection of strengths, we can address behaviors within a more positive framework. Instead of assuming that a co-worker “lacks initiative,” we can understand that an individual named Bill is patient and prefers to take a long view of things and assumes “it will work out.” He can provide perspective when others are unrealistic about wanting immediate results.

However, in a specific situation in your office, Bill’s long view may not be helpful. It is not wrong or deficient, it is just not what is needed at the time. So, now we can ask him to emphasize a particular behavior. We do not ask Bill to change, we ask him to adapt to the current need. We do not say, “Bill, can you join the rest of us in the real world and try to actually solve this problem.” Instead, we say, “Bill, I know that you see how this can all work out in the end, but we need help from you to bring about some immediate results.”

So, let’s bring this back to pattern. What is Bill to do in a more urgent, responsive environment? What is Lynn, the introvert, to do in a front office environment needing relational energy? They both need the ability to adapt. That is the ultimate pattern: the pattern of adapting to what is needed.

Forté is a key tool for fostering adaptability, and this is why the National Organization of Rheumatol­ogy Managers (NORM) has partnered with The Forté Institute to offer the Forté Communication Styles Profile assessment to its members. This survey, and other tools in the suite, can help individuals, teams, or an entire practice grow in self-awareness and appreciation of others, and receive tangible advice on actions that will increase collaboration and productivity. Now that is a pattern worth creating!

To begin to identify their strengths and grow in the ability to adapt and promote healthy adapting behaviors in the office, NORM members can take a Forté profile or an adapting update (if they took the Forté Communication Styles Profile assessment last year). The invitation to take this assessment will be sent out approximately 2 weeks before the 13th annual NORM Conference, which will be held October 4-6, 2018 in Tampa, FL. Members should bring their completed profiles with them to the conference, where I will be facilitating breakout sessions devoted to understanding and applying their results.

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Last modified: September 14, 2018
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