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Animal magnetism: ​Conquering the workplace zoo

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In every workplace you’ll always find a broad spectrum of personality types, each responding best to a specific communication style. The challenge for employers is how to identify these different traits and develop the communication strategies needed to gain cut through.

One approach that’s particular useful, is to think about your workplace as a zoo and yourself in the role of the zookeeper. Your employees are animals, each trying to communicate in a different language. This is a technique championed by communications expert and author Stephen Spencer, in his recent co-authored book “It’s a zoo around here: The New Rules for Better Communication”.

In this, Spencer asserts that your employees are constantly sending you signals about their needs and emotions, and that to achieve good productivity you just need to be able to interpret and respond to them accordingly. However, to put these signals into context, you first need to understand the personality traits of each individual.

Zookeeping in the workplace

Take a look around your zoo now and you’ll soon be able to recognise the following animals by their personality traits. You’ve got the lion’s – who are typically single-minded, visionary, purposeful and persevering types. Your monkeys are playful, extroverted, energetic and persuasive, while the elephants are more cautious, meticulous, sceptical and formal. Finally, you’ve got the dolphins, who are the caring, nurturing, patient and relaxed ones.

Applying the principles of zookeeping in the workplace, is about playing to the strengths of each animal. For example, your lions will be most comfortable is a position of leadership, while the dolphins will excel in roles where they can help develop and support the progression of others. The elephants will naturally be drawn to more strategic and analytical roles, while your monkeys natural energy and persuasive nature would see them excel in sales roles, as long as they are being kept in check by the lions. You can find out which kind of animal you are by taking Spencer’s personality test here.

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Good zookeeping isn’t about labelling people, but rather trying to understand them on a more human level. For example, while we all have the same basic human needs, how we measure success differs significantly from person to person. Therefore, understanding what success looks like for each employee, will help you to communicate with employees on a more personal level. In his book, Stephen identifies four ways that people measure success:

· By the results they achieve
· By the relationships they establish
· By the recognition they receive
· By the content they generate, rather than the congratulations

This framework is a great tool to help you harness and understand the importance of communication in your business and help you to identify the different communication styles of your team. In doing so, you’ll be able to communicate in the language of your team and ensure everyone is working more productively.

Jonathan Richards is the CEO of breatheHR.

Image: Shutterstock

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