The Desk

March 27, 2010

Facing Situations

Relationships have peaks and valleys as they form. In some situations, there are struggles for dominance that resolve into one (Alpha person) taking the lead in most situations. There are other situations where the struggle for dominance turns into Alpha’s total domination.

The latter is primed by the fact that the less powerful (Beta) person is more submissive and not as assertive as they could be. It’s driven by the fact that the more Beta person looks to others for validation and support. They rely on others to put forth their argument and either do not know their own “voice” or never learn how to use it. We tend to find youthful, inexperienced people in the Beta position as well as women. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all people with one (or all) of these profiles is actually youthful, naive, inexperienced, or female. It simply means that particular person is less assertive.

There is a danger in putting these two types of people together, especially when they are extreme polar opposites. The Alpha can easily become not only the dominant party but also a bully. Even worse, the Alpha could easily become abusive.

There are methods to avoid these undesirable consequences. One of them is to not put the pair together. We already realize the combination will be like putting dynamite in a nursery. The management costs in terms of labor hours lost in managing the situations that come up between the pair will be enormous, not to mention health insurance costs from depression and other psychosomatic ailments. But the Beta person has value and their talents are beneficial. To lose them is to lose some unique skills, talents, knowledge, and work attitude. It’s better to simply sidestep that can of worms.

There’s another reason for not putting the pair together. You avoid being in the way of a potential law suit for negligent hiring or allowing an unsafe work environment or a workers’ compensation claim for work related injury (in the form of depression and related psychosomatic ailments).

This pair requires a vigilant managerial style and frequent coaching on communication and work styles. There will be days when it seems like simply doing the work of the two yourself will be less intensive, less headache, and just plain ole easier. But that’s a cop-out and we shouldn’t go that route.

The far better alternative is to establish the workplace ground rules immediately. Outlining what are each allowed to do and defining their limits as well as overlap areas is a prudent option. Also wise is to allow the Beta person to speak up when it appears they are deferring to the Alpha. Ask them for their input with regard to the work. Make certain their opinion is solicited in front of the Alpha. Make doubly certain both offer their input publicly so that the pall of clandestine favoritism is abated.

The alternative of having the Beta voice their input rather than allowing them to be a shrinking violet who defers to the Alpha’s input all of the time is another way of providing assertiveness coaching while still remaining productive.

What also helps with building confidence and assertiveness is allowing the Beta to feel it is all right to voice their objection to something. After they have given voice to their position, ask for feedback from the Alpha. Ascertain where they see the benefits of the proffered input. Ask both whether they have experience with the same or a similar situation or project so that expertise can be established by both. This will allow the Beta to start building their internal confidence; they’ll have the opportunity to talk, without boasting, about their success stories. Eventually they’ll see the benefit of including those success stories on their resume.

The Alpha partner will want the opportunity to share their input and success stories as well. Make certain the sharings don’t become a competition for who’s better. Instead, let those situations become times when they can reveal their knowledge in order to establish where they have strengths and how they can contribute to the overall project as a team member.

But the critical factor for the Beta personality is that they gain skills in assertiveness. No, you do not need to go into hand holding all of the time and being the parent figure who constantly covers for one while holding the other at bay. You hired this oil and water combination because of the unique benefits they bring to the workplace. Rather than allow them to become a combustible, let them be the salad dressing (please forgive the allegory) applied in just the right amounts.

It’s important to recognize the friction that can evolve if Alphas and Betas simply go along their career highways doing what they do best — dominate others and subordinate themselves. Far better is to show them how to play up their best traits while respecting the esteem and benefits of having the team member on board.

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