Flexibility has some keen advantages for those who chose to remain open minded and objective about things, even items where you may initially be experiencing a negative reaction. Individuals who mange this well ask a lot of good questions (rather than beginning a debate, or worse, an argument) to uncover the context and implications of a particular stance or decision before they make a comment or commit to a measure of support. These individuals know they don’t know everything and work towards understanding another person’s perspective before making a decision.
It’s not easy to be this open minded and flexible. However, there are many benefits and advantages to someone who chooses to practice this as she/he are often considered a valuable resource who can further an idea or initiative by being curious and having the ability (bravery, self mastery) to ask non-judgmental questions before posing alternatives or committing to a line of reasoning. These individuals deepen discussion and through that process bring to light things that may become issues down the road, or reveal stakeholders who were not considered, etc. essentially bringing greater strength and value to others. The key is to be non-judgmental.
Except that we are all human, so often we are not feeling non-judgmental, we are feeling opinionated and sometimes confused. Maybe even hurt or bothered by a decision or line of thought that we disagree with. There is a conflict within us that can be difficult to navigate, especially in the split second you may have to manage your internal narrative before you are either giving yourself away through body language or need to respond. With this very human reaction we sometimes see particular outcomes; we’ve all worked with the person who often seems negative about ideas or new ways of doing things, or (conversely) the individual who accepts everything at face value keeping everyone happy and the work moving along. Neither of these are ideal.
A “negative” person can often see reason; in fact what he/she typically needs (but hasn’t explicitly asked for) is more time and information to fully understand the implication and broad context of a particular item. These individuals are transparent in their reaction and while it can be time consuming, even frustrating, to have to walk through those “additional” steps, as long as the individuals’ pliability shows up with time and thought you are more likely to have a stronger outcome. “Rigid inflexibility” is typically dealt with by most organizations, as it is a behaviour trait that is unsustainable in today’s collaborative working environment. The trait that is harder to “see” at work is the individual who is practicing “rigid flexibility” as a way to cope with their own dissension or to facilitate deadlines.
It takes longer to figure out when someone is working more towards maintaining process or harmony then strong outcomes because he/she are often telling us what we want to hear (or what the boss or the group wants to hear). Things move forward, no one has angst or needs to debate. Being open to everything all the time has some negative consequences that don’t show up as quickly as blatant negativity can. This chameleon like effect in a team is sometimes used as a strategy to navigate internal conflict or personal strife that an individual either doesn’t want to deal with or may not know how to deal with. In fact it’s likely something we have all done at one time or another (you do need to pick your battles). However, when it is used as a consistent method to navigate the sticky points in life it can back fire. People who over-practice flexibility often end up with more work, with less information under which to produce the intended result and (worse) paint themselves in a corner where they are expected to consistently be open to requests and changes to plans. These are not “yes-men”, these individuals are not trying to “suck up” and they come from all walks of life and may be found in any part of an organization. Their flexibility means they are open-minded, but not necessarily objective, hence the workload and other unintended results of being too flexible.
Like everything else in life balance is key. Being flexible is important; being either consistently rigid or elastic is not going to serve you well in the longer term. What is also important to look at is these types of responses can be situational. As an example someone may be a very elastic parent (i.e. permissive) at home, but exercise a rigid brand of negativity at work. Look at how these traits show up for you in life and determine if they are working for you or if it is time to consider a change.
You can hear Carleen speak at the Institute of Professional Management Annual Conference in Ottawa on April 16th On “Women in the Workplace; Why Gender Diversity Programs Fail To Meet Targets” (http://www.workplace.ca/events/event.php?id=164).