Coaching Employees Who Challenge or Adapt?

Agreeableness is an estimate of the point at which one tires of being defiant and turns to acts of submission. We recognize “challengers” and we notice “adapters” within the personality archetypal framework. These two polar ends approach teamwork and conflict resolution differently, and by knowing what to look for, you can optimize your management.

Meet Billy and Rosie

Billy is nice. Almost too nice. He is categorized as “adaptor” meaning he wishes to bring harmony to the workplace through cooperation, sometimes stepping back and to let stronger opinions win out. Billy is always a part of the team and accepts leadership and direction well, but is seen as a pushover and people-pleaser by his colleagues. He silences his own ideas because he doesn’t want to rock the boat.

If Billy doesn’t want to rock the boat, Rosie will happily capsize it. She always has an opinion, and will never be afraid to voice it. Rosie is a “challenger” in every area of her work life. She can see what is working and what isn’t and will declare her opinions to cure the objective inefficiencies. Oftentimes, she comes across as pointed and tactless, involuntarily putting the feelings of others second.

Billy is tired of placating and never getting ahead, and Rosie is exhausted from pushing her endless ideas forward and managers disliking her. Both want to improve their teamwork when collaborating and be an asset to their managers and their team. As managers, a teamwork common ground can be found by balancing the strengths and weaknesses of each type. 

Does Team Work?

College business schools beat teamwork into graduating seniors because “that’s the way it is in the real world.” Teamwork is a pillar of the modern workforce, however, teamwork is not seen homogeneously to every employee.

“The more agreeable someone is, the more likely they are to be trusting, helpful and compassionate,” says the science news site LiveScience, while “disagreeable people are cold and suspicious of others, and they’re less likely to cooperate.”

Billy who ranks high on the agreeableness scale fits in well with cooperating in a team set-up while Rosie may only work best with a small group or partner. As the team grows, Billy may find himself getting more opportunities while Rosie will be a great sounding board and devil’s advocate for a partner.

Dealing with Defiance

When working with more agreeable peers, challengers find themselves with the last word. Challenge the challenger by placing a team member who ranks lower on the agreeable scale with them. The two “challengers” may butt heads, but will both express every viewpoint imaginable and will effectively reach the best possible solution.

Tip: Let them be. Voices will be raised and sharp statements said, but true challengers appreciate opposing opinions. They aren’t fighting, they’re collaborating in the way that works for them. Do move them to a location where the rest of the team doesn’t have to hear it and put a limit on the number of times they can change their minds.

Tip: Leave gender out of it. “Women who appear to be tough or disagreeable get a special kind of scorn directed toward them.” Notre Dame researcher Timothy Judge states,”That sort of neutralizes the benefit that they might otherwise receive” from their toughness. Tread carefully when casting names on challenger women. Females who rank just as high on the challenger scale as counterpart men, are susceptible to unfair and outdated stereotypes.

Incite Insubordination

When dealing with highly agreeable employees, placing an adapter with a group of other adapters may just get you circling around the same idea and getting nowhere. A smart manager will force each person to express their opinion by giving them the podium to do so.

This means not rushing, and not shooting down new ideas. Adapters want harmony and if the result of a vocalized point-of-view causes additional problems, they will not be inclined to partake. As a manager, recognizing when an employee is holding back, whether it be for fear of judgment, apathy, or not wanting to cross Rosie, good ideas can get lost in the buffer.

Tip: Don’t take advantage. Adapters may find it hard to negotiate when it comes to disputable subjects like salary. Researchers at the University of Sheffield found that agreeable people may be less effective when bargaining their wage and may enter less stable, lower paid occupations. When working with adapters, encourage them to speak up and empower them to share.

Tip: Encourage more challenging co-workers to back off when they crowd more agreeable employees, especially if there is a power imbalance (supervisor to employee for example).

A Harmonious Challenge

Do you recognize a Billy or Rosie in your office? Who are you more like? The blend of diverse individuals is what makes a workforce great.

Using the personality traits of Originality, Sociability, Focus, Need for Stability and Agreeableness we’ve revealed what each type can bring to the table. Knowing more about the ends of the spectrums will help you better coach your team and the unique individuals who constitutes it.

Bio: Ryan Mead

Vitru is a personality assessment online application that provides tools to evaluate and build better teams. Powered by science yet practical and easy to use for a variety of teams. From students and nonprofits to Fortune 500 companies Vitru works!

Great organizations, regardless of size or mission, understand that powerful team chemistry is impossible to force; but when it happens, it’s magic.

Vitru allows team leaders to create and assess teams virtually and in doing so helps quantify what makes an outstanding team outstanding.

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Views: 224

Comment by Daniel Fogel on July 24, 2015 at 10:49am

Ryan,  Thanks for posting!   Really interesting read.  I'd be interested in reading about the spectrums of the other traits as well.  I'd imagine the interplay between traits on personalities changes things up quite a bit.  From a management standpoint, I have managed each of the personalities and noticed that over time each type tended to hire and build out their team with matching personality traits.  It created opportunities when a "challenger" took over an "adapter" team and vice versa.  Have you read any of Adam Grant's work on givers, takers and matchers?  It's worth checking out to anyone who likes this topic.


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