vPsychology for Business


We are dedicated to bringing out the best in you and your employees

Volume 4, Number 14                                                             July 11, 2003


Psychology for Business is an e-mail newsletter written by  Dr. John Weaver, Dr. Lynda Dahlke, and Dr. Paul Glass, business psychologists and independent consultants, provided to you at no cost. It is published bi-weekly. You’ve received this newsletter because you’ve subscribed to it or it was forwarded to you by a friend or colleague. To subscribe sign up at our website, http://www.psychologyforbusiness.com/. If you wish to cancel your subscription, please see the end of this e-mail for easy instructions

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By Dr. John Weaver, Business Psychologist and Executive Coach

I recently offered an interactive hour for my local (Waukesha) Chamber of Commerce on communication in the workplace. My co-presenter, Jerry Fons of the Leadership Development Group, and I gathered questions from the participants about the most challenging problems they encountered with communication on the job. We were able to address some of the questions during the session, but there were several that we did not have time to talk about. In today’s newsletter, I will respond to another one of these questions.

Question: One person has a very different personality and work style from the rest of the staff. She does not “fit” or try to “fit” with the rest of the group and deters communication with others. What can we do?

I can imagine many different possibilities for this problem. Some are catastrophic (i.e., this individual has characteristics that place other employees or the organization at risk for harm) and others are benign (i.e., this individual is a genius at what she does but is also “quirky). I am going to assume, however that we are not talking about either extreme.

I will assume that this individual was hired because she is well-qualified for her position and that she makes a positive contribution in her area. Her differences from the other employees, however, make it difficult for her to get along with them. She apparently does not make much effort in that direction. The effect of her behavior is noticeable in the work of her “teammates.”

This is the dilemma. Do her positive contributions outweigh the impact on other staff members? An individual who does not fit in can be very disruptive for a workgroup and it can dramatically reduce the productivity of the entire group even though she meets all of her objectives. Her manager is not able to criticize her individual contribution and the disruption to the group is much more difficult to measure. Should she be held accountable to change to match the needs of the team, or should the team be expected to accommodate to her?

As a psychologist, my starting point is to attempt to understand how things got to be the way they are. I am speculating that this type of employee might be a little like Claude, the Uncoordinated Leopard.

The Uncoordinated Leopard

“Uncoordinated! Uncoordinated!”

Claude shouted louder with each step as he approached the band of leopards preparing for the hunt.

Claude was a leopard outcast.  He shared the telltale spots on his fur coat. He had the massive paws and teeth of his species. But he was not a stealth-ful stalker as were his brothers.

This was a lesson learned early in life. When the other young cubs were playing and wrestling, he had difficulty sneaking up on turtles. He often misjudged his pounce and rocks eluded his grasp. His littermates found it very funny. It hurt Claude’s heart even more than the broken paw he suffered while stalking a tree. He actually cried! Real tears! His playmates really got a laugh out of that!

It finally got to the point where it could get no worse…,

…and then it got worse.

As an adult leopard, he was forced to call out “Uncoordinated! Uncoordinated!” whenever he approached the tribe. It was too much.

Claude finally made the decision. He left his ancestral home.

He was wandering aimlessly when another family of leopards ran across him at the watering hole. Claude had stopped to take a drink but had fallen in. He felt the old feelings of embarrassment, although the fur covered his red face.

But the leopards did not seem to notice. As they engaged in conversation with him they noticed that he had developed some skills that they needed. He knew all of the best hiding places in the forest. If someone wondered where there might be a strategic rock or a well-positioned tree, they could call on Claude. They realized that productivity of their hunt would improve if they could employ someone of his talent.

They offered him a job with their hunting organization.

Still, Claude could feel an intense burning inside him. He was angry despite their insistence that they needed his skills. With all of those years of ridicule he knew how to snipe back when anyone laughed. He practiced a biting cynicism that he wielded like the sharpest fang. Now he found himself wanting to attack even before they started to tease him. Claude could give them what they needed but he was not a “team player.”


Claude is bringing the negative experiences of his past with him to his current job opportunity. He is barely aware of doing this. Rather, his past has “taught” him that every leopard group is poised to pounce on his mistakes. He could, of course, be right. These leopards could treat him like the first group of leopards. But even if his new co-workers are different, he will have a tendency to (over) react to the smallest perceived threat.

The chief leopard has work to do with the team as well as with Claude, if he is to make this work. He, his team, and Claude will need to develop qualities of an emotionally intelligent leopard.

For the team, the chief leopard will need to keep them focused on the big picture. Emotionally intelligent leaders have many qualities but the most important is the ability to establish a vision for the group.  The chief leopard needs to understand both the needs of his team and the need for the unique skill Claude brings. Although Claude will be difficult to work with, he can provide them with essential information to improve the hunt. In a competitive jungle, this edge may mean the difference between feeding the young cubs or facing starvation.

The chief leopard helps the team to stay focused on the big picture and reminds them that Claude is a valuable part of the team, even though he is not a team player. At the same time, he encourages team members to get to know the best qualities about Claude.  Team members soon begin to seek Claude out when they need his skills.

When Claude brings harmful attitudes to his new job, his new co-workers will be at a loss to explain his behavior, which alternates between aggression and withdrawal when he is under stress. Most people (and leopards in metaphorical stories) assume that others are just like them. When his behavior seems strange or unpredictable, it is easy to assume that the individual who is displaying the behavior is strange.

The members of the group need to exercise some empathy toward Claude. A quality of emotional intelligence, empathy refers to the ability to understand the other person. It is not synonymous with agreeing with the other person nor is it a way of excusing his or her behavior. It is a quality of understanding what might lead that person to engage in that behavior.

The chief leopard fosters the development of empathy by pointing out that all behavior arises for good reasons from the perspective of the individual engaging in the behavior. If it does not make sense to this leopard team, they need to look deeper. How does Claude view his life? What are the basic assumptions he makes about how to be part of a work group? How do past experiences contribute to these assumptions?

With greater empathy, the organization of hunters will be more likely to be accepting of Claude’s personality quirks. 

There probably will be a need for resolution of conflicts as this process unfolds. The other leopards of the organization will only learn about the difficulty with Claude’s behavior when they make mistakes in the way they treat him. It is a process that will sometimes be painful, but hold the possibility for growth.  Sometimes the chief leopard will become a mediator for conflict resolution. He will need to be careful to keep the big picture in front of everyone as he is working through the conflicts with them.

A second task that the chief leopard has taken on by hiring Claude is a need to be a mentor for him.

To overcome his obstacles in belonging to a new hunting organization, Claude needs to increase his self-awareness. This too is a skill that is a key to the development of emotional intelligence. In this metaphorical case, Claude is at risk to repeat the same pattern he is trying to avoid. Often his reactions to perceived threats will consist of isolating himself from the others. This has the effect of calling attention to those aspects of his behavior he is trying to hide. At other times, he will quickly become defensive and react aggressively. The chief leopard will need to work closely with Claude to help him see that the other members of the team are not “out to get him” but that his past experiences make it seem worse than it is.

This wise chief leopard will guide Claude away from an overly emotional reaction to circumstances. Instead, Claude will need to learn to develop alternative explanations for his teammates behavior that are more neutral or even positive. And he will need to learn to keep the focus firmly on accomplishing the task rather than on the personalities of the other leopards. Claude will probably not become best friends with the members of his group, but he can learn to work side by side with less disruption.

With greater self-awareness, Claude will be able to distinguish between reactions that are based on his fears from the past and more reasonable reactions that are proportional to his treatment by his current co-workers. By developing his ability to focus on accomplishing the task he will be able to regulate his powerful emotions and use them to contribute to the success of the group.

It may be that the woman referred to in the question at the beginning of this newsletter has different reasons for her behavior than the sensitivity to rejection exemplified by Claude. However if she as able to develop self-awareness, her co-workers find empathy and the leadership provides solid direction there is good reason to hope that the problems can be solved.

"Between 25 percent and 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies use executive coaches" Recent survey by The Hay Group, an International Human Resources consultancy

Did you know that executive coaching is not geographically limited?  Coaching by telephone is effective.  It is also an efficient use of time and resources.  You never need to leave your office to travel, nor do you need to pay travel expenses for your coach. We offer coaching either onsite or by telephone. To find out if coaching is right for you, contact us to schedule a 1/2 hour consultation at no charge.  Or request a price sheet to determine the best value for your organization.  Call us at: (262) 789-2728 or email us at mailto:jweaver@psychologyforbusiness.com.

About the Author

John Weaver, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist with more than 23 years’ professional experience working with organizations, groups, and individuals. He has experience leading groups and creating teamwork in organizations. His areas of expertise include executive coaching, conflict resolution, coaching teams and individuals to improve performance under stress, assessing employees and potential employees to ensure the right person for the right job, and training in stress management and "The Vitamin C’s for an Emotionally Healthy Workplace."  He is an experienced professional speaker and published author.

Based in Waukesha, WI, Dr. John Weaver is available for consultation or executive coaching by phone, e-mail or in person. He may be reached at (262) 789-2728 (office) or (414) 491-8719 (cell), by e-mail: mailto:jweaver@psychologyforbusiness.com or: 

John Weaver, Psy.D. 
Psychology for Business
2717 North Grandview Boulevard, Suite 303
Waukesha, Wisconsin, 53188

10 Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Coach is now available for download by visiting http://www.psychologyforbusiness.com/questions.htm.

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© Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. John Weaver. Distribution rights: The above material is copyrighted, but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information. If you would like to reprint part of this newsletter please contact me at mailto:jweaver@psychologyforbusiness.com to make arrangements.

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Dr. John Weaver publishes another newsletter, co-authored by Darlene Weaver, THE CENTERED PENDULUMIt is our firm belief that lifelong patterns of “being” (personality, attitudes, emotions) and “doing” (lifestyle, adaptability, coping skills) interact with our genes and environment to create conditions of a healthy or a diseased brain.  If you would like to read previous issues of the Centered Pendulum newsletter or to subscribe, please visit the archives at http://www.centeredpendulum.org/newsletters.htm.