How you do what you do

June 3, 2008 at 9:16 am Leave a comment

How you do what you do

I used to sit in a lot of meetings. Meetings, meetings, meetings—meetings about meetings, meetings to follow up on meetings, you get the idea. Sometimes meetings would make me crazy. I finally figured out why. I have a high propensity toward deciding and moving, to go for it. I discovered not everyone has this quality. Here’s how a typical meeting would go:

Me: Here’s the data about project XYZ, essentially it’s not meeting our revenue targets (yes, I used to say things like “revenue targets”). Here are two tests we could run and a third crazy idea we could try. My team is ready to roll on this, we just need you to give us the green light (yeah, I said that too).

Project Approver: Thanks Bridgette, but I see here in cell A32 of your spreadsheet that you have rounded to 3 decimal places when the other cells show 4 decimal places, can you provide all the backup data and include some charts to further illustrate the implications of cell A32? And while you’re at it, can you please build a detailed revenue model for your crazy idea? And please don’t call it a crazy idea.

Me: (mentally) AAAAGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!! Why can’t we just decide and GO?
(verbally) Ummm, sure, I’ll get right on that. (I probably did say the long ummm, I was mildly insubordinate.)

Customer Service Manager: And also Bridgette, if we did your crazy idea, what would be the system for handling customer service inquiries?

Me: Oh, I hadn’t thought about that. I have no idea what the system would be, it was a test in my mind. I figured we would just try it and see what happens. Can’t we just roll with it?

Web Developer: Can we white board out this crazy idea? I need to see it to understand what you’re talking about and to figure out how to build it.

Me: Sure, although you’re going to have to draw it, I have a hard time seeing in pictures.

This meeting usually ended with me feeling defeated, demoralized and trying to lobotomize myself with my pen in my office. Why couldn’t they just try my idea and see if it worked? We can always adjust on the fly after all. Jeez. These people are SO annoying.

Here’s what other people likely said after leaving this meeting. “Bridgette is always flying by the seat of her pants, she expects us to make a decision right there and doesn’t always think things through. She wants to move way too fast. Jeez. She is SO annoying.”

I wish I would’ve known then what I know now about conative styles. Conation is an underexplored aspect of the mind. We’re very familiar with the other two parts of the mind, how we know (cognition) and how we feel/personality (affect). Conation is the third aspect of the mind, and governs how we get things done, our modus operandi (MO) if you will. You Fact-Finders (explained below) can read more here for the scientific lowdown.

There are four distinct conative styles that describe how we get things done. When you operate against your MO, you are likely to feel frustrated or even incompetent. However, when you operate in harmony with your MO, tasks flow and you’ll probably find yourself having a lot of energy and enthusiasm for what you’re doing.

Conative Style Breakdown

The meeting story above illustrates the four conative MO’s, while everyone has aspects of all the styles within them, there are normally one or two in which you favor. There will also be at least one which will feel like the antithesis of how you prefer to operate. 

Quick Start: I am the Quick Start in the above story. Quick Starts like to ad lib, think on their feet and frankly, wing it. They are also great at initiating innovation.
The downside: may go off half-cocked and are not inclined to think through all the details.

Fact Finder: The Project Approver is the Fact Finder in our above tale. He is focused on details and wants all the information before making a decision. Fact Finders are thorough information gatherers; they want to know a topic inside and out before venturing into it.
The downside: may get “stuck” in info-gathering mode and have trouble moving into action mode.

Follow-Through: The Customer Service Manager is our Follow-Through. She wants to have a system for managing customer inquiries in this particular example. Follow-Throughs love to create structure and order, they like to have a plan and work the plan. The more systematic, thought out and detailed the plan is, the better.
The downside: may feel frustrated and out-of-sorts in a disorganized or chaotic environment (e.g. startups).

Implementor: The Web Developer is an Implementor. He wants to create physical objects (or a facsimile thereof) to help him understand the proposed crazy idea. You can recognize Implementors by their need to create things—they are the ones who are always white boarding concepts, using various items on your desk to illustrate an idea or even using hand gestures to help explain their point.
The downside: Long meetings can make Implementors feel very edgy. They need to move and create. If you see someone doodling in a meeting, don’t assume they aren’t listening. Implementors listen better when they are creating at the same time.

There is a great test you can take to determine your own conative style at The test results include all kinds of great info on how to work best with your style. That said, you probably have a decent idea of your conative style just by reading the above. Understanding your own and others’ conative styles can help you greatly in the workplace. For me, conative styles helped me understand that my former co-workers were not out to annoy me to death, but rather were simply operating from their conative styles which were very different from my own. I would still operate from my own Quick Start place, but I can also work to meet others’ stylistic needs.

Here’s how that typical meeting could go with me having an understanding of conative styles:

Me: Here’s the data about project XYZ. Project Approver, I’ve included more details and a few charts that provide a more in-depth understanding of the data. I would like to roll on my recommendation; can you review the data and give me a green light by the end of the day?

Project Approver: Thanks Bridgette, I’ll consider all your information and I can get back to you by the end of the day. 

Customer Service Manager: And also Bridgette, if we did your crazy idea, what would be the system for handling customer service inquiries?

Me: Oh, I hadn’t thought about it. Can you help me brainstorm a solution for that? You’re so great at figuring that stuff out.

Web Developer: Can we white board out this crazy idea? I need to see it to understand what you’re talking about and to figure out how to build it.

Me: Absolutely, I’ll be interested to see what you sketch out.

The main thing missing from this meeting is my frustration. I still probably wouldn’t think everything through or draw out the idea in advance, because that’s just not the way I get things done.

The next time someone bugs you at work, take a step back and see if there’s a conative style clash going on. If so, see if there’s a way you can better accommodate their style without compromising your own. You might even want to team with those people, making your project more well-rounded and thought out. At the very least, they may stop bugging you so much.

Check out this podcast (click and scroll to the bottom) I did with Martha Beck on conative styles. We are two Quick Starts trying to stay on topic, very funny.


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