Chalk and Cheese in the Office - should you go there?

Hi there, I’m an ISFJ. My business partner is an ENTP. Sound like gobbly goop? It’s the Myers Briggs way of saying we are both very, very different from each other. We think completely differently, we have completely different preferences, we make decisions, solve problems and deal with stress very differently and how we handle conflict – well don’t even get me started. Sound like fun? It is, most of the time…

It’s now a pretty accepted view in business that diversity is good for us. It pushes us outside our comfort zones, encourages us to see the world differently and to question paradigms. Ultimately it leads to better thinking and better outcomes. But what about when the person you work most closely with, the person you went into business with and spend most days breathing the same air as, is your complete opposite? Well then it gets interesting.

Many people on first meeting the two of us are struck by the similarities – after all we do have similar first names, we both have long blonde hair, the same skin colour, love dogs and don’t have kids. Those similarities don’t really make a difference to the way we conduct business though. The way we think on the other hand, definitely does! Luckily, because of our particular backgrounds (we’ve both been working with teams for years, helping them embrace just these sorts of differences) some of that wore off. We understand and deeply value the strengths that the other brings – where I’m not so great, she rocks, and where she’s less able, I’m pretty strong. So we complement each other really well, and we help each other see things in different ways. Ultimately each of us is far better because of the other.

OK, so that sounds like it’s all happy days and plain sailing right? Trust me, it’s not always! Sometimes we simply frustrate the hell out of each other. And when that happens, unless we catch ourselves post haste we go down the rabbit hole pretty fast. Take an example a few weeks ago, where I was talking through something pretty detailed. Suddenly my business partner goes all big-picture on me and I’m like “what just happened?”. I don’t know where she’s coming from so I get more detailed. She reacts by going bigger-picture. And so it begins. Luckily about 10 minutes in we called time and worked out what was actually going on – happily before either of us screamed. So yeah, that was not fun. But you know what? Compared to the alternative of being in business with someone who thinks like me, has the same skill set as me, doesn’t challenge me or my perceptions, I definitely know what I’d rather have, and at the extreme risk of being really corny, that makes us a better business.

 For anyone thinking about going into business or putting together a team, I’d definitely encourage you to find the “Yin” to your “Yang”. Actively build diversity of thinking into your team and you’ll be so much stronger for it. However, make sure you’re aligned on the big stuff – your belief in the business, where it’s going and your core values. When it gets tough (because from time to time it will), this stuff keeps you aligned and will pull you through. The more you understand and respect your differences, the more you can leverage them and grow from the other’s perspective. Working with your opposite takes more effort to be sure. But just like anything worthwhile, the work is totally worth it! 

Even our dogs are chalk and cheese… 

dog3 dog2 copy

Marie Johnston