Order, order!

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order chaos law practice

As a manager of a legal practice team you may feel like you are constantly trying to bring order to chaos – that difficult team dynamic that causes stress for all involved, the ‘awkward’ client who people go to great lengths to avoid, the mounting pile of papers on your desk or emails in your inbox. As a manager it’s your job to make sense of all these competing priorities and enable yourself/your team/your practice to deliver on your objectives. Just how you go about this process though is less clear-cut.

Some may think or feel they want to (metaphorically) hit the magistrate’s hammer and bring a clearly defined structure to proceedings, to have an action plan or tick list in place, to draw a timeline of events for what happens when and who does what, and to regularly check in on progress leaving ample time for a plan B, C and maybe even D.

Others may see this as micromanagement or unnecessary administration that rather than ensure success, stifles you and your team by adding an extra layer of work to an already heavy workload. To you this ‘chaos’ may simply be the inevitable buzz of a busy office and rather than be something to control is conversely the very thing that energises and motivates.

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Whatever your preferences are for engaging with and managing the world around you, your approach will have a direct impact on those you manage and the services you deliver.

In this article I look at the MBTI® preferences of Judging and Perceiving which will bring into focus how you prefer to manage your world and what the implications might be for those you interact with – whether that’s clients, employees or colleagues – as well as for yourself. In addition to explaining the key characteristics of Judging and Perceiving, I will help you identify which may be your preference and offer some easy to implement actions to help you put this learning into practice. Finally, as this is the last article in this current series I will provide a brief overview of what we’ve covered and suggest some next steps.

Reaction & Response

Even as a manager you cannot control everything. But you can control how you react or respond to a given situation. You can also plan or think through how you tend to manage the world around you, what may be the strengths and potential pitfalls of this approach and what you could do to improve the situation for all affected by it, including yourself. Your working life may seem like a never ending stream of issues, tasks and objectives but as with any area of management there is more than one way of dealing with this and different situations may well call for different approaches.

Crucially, the preferences of those you manage will (or certainly should) have an impact on how you manage your work, how you communicate what you’re doing or not doing, and how you collectively set about achieving your goals. Understanding where your preferences lie on the Judging-Perceiving dichotomy is a good starting point for improving your self-awareness; your performance and managing more effectively.

What is this dichotomy about?

The Judging-Perceiving dichotomy is about how you react to and manage your world. Put another way it is how you live your ‘outer life’ i.e. how you tend to behave towards and in response to your environment. Be careful not to associate a preference for ‘Judging’ with ‘being judgmental’ or equally to confuse a preference for ‘Perceiving’ with ‘being perceptive’. As with any of the MBTI dichotomies, how they are described and therefore understood, is very important. If you are going to use this tool to help build and/or boost your team, take care to ensure everyone involved understands the terminology being used.

Those with a preference for Judging tend to like structure. For them to manage effectively may well mean to have clearly defined plans with the detail decided upon and timelines set. Judging people often like decisions to be made rather than left open; for them until the decision is made the issue cannot be progressed.

When given a project to manage, someone with a preference for Judging is likely to start early, give or expect to be given regular updates on progress and build in time should anything go wrong along the way to ensure a timely delivery. Sometimes Judging people use ‘to do’ lists or action plans to organise and bring order to the many tasks and priorities they face and may well draw a sense of satisfaction from ticking/crossing off each item when done. Those with a preference for Judging tend to dislike last minute changes and may become frustrated with what might appear to them to be indecision or poor planning by others.

Those with a preference for Perceiving tend to like a less-structured approach. They are often pressure-prompted rather than plan-driven. For them to manage effectively may well mean to wait on making decisions until deemed really necessary because more information may yet be gathered to better inform the decision. For a Perceiving person there is a desire to keep options open rather than make the decision. Whilst plans, lists and timelines have their place, they can feel restrictive and burdensome. Perceiving types also tend to enjoy the stimulus of last minute demands and the pressures of deadlines – it can often be when they produce their best work. Stress for them may not so much be having a project due in tomorrow but rather being asked for updates on that project two weeks before the deadline.

Could these differences in approach cause conflict?

The differences between Judging types and Perceiving types is considered to be one of the common causes of workplace conflict. Someone with a preference for Judging who is managing someone with the opposite preference of Perceiving could well be considered as ‘micro-managing’. From the Perceivers perspective, the Judging manager with their preferences for structure, set plans and timelines could be seen as requiring constant updates on progress and not allowing the Perceiver the freedom or creativity to approach their work differently.

The same can of course be true in reverse. From the Judgers perspective, the Perceiving manager with their preference for operating in a more pressure-prompted fashion, could be seen as not providing sufficient direction or support. If last minute changes are made or eleventh hour ideas dropped in by the Perceiving manager this could be very stressful and/or frustrating for the Judging type who has planned their approach and would prefer to stick to it.

Colleagues who are working together on a project can also find opposite preferences difficult. Those with a preference for Perceiving are likely to want to keep options open, not set too many deadlines and will be happy with a relatively freeform approach to the work that needs doing. Their Judging colleagues however are likely to prefer decisions to be made, clear timelines set and a plan in place that is followed where possible.

As with any difference though the key to managing it effectively is to first understand the difference and to secondly make constructive use of that difference. Differences between Judging types and Perceiving types can cause conflict at work – but it doesn’t have too. Those who invest time in understanding their own approaches better as well as looking to understand (and appreciate the benefits) of the opposite preference are more likely to better manage their diverse working relationships. Furthermore, as is true with the other MBTI® dichotomies, you can and do use the opposite preference. Learning when it is best to try and do this can again help you to manage more effectively.

So which am I?

As I have recommended in every article, the best way to try and discern which you might be is to receive some feedback from a registered MBTI® practitioner who can help you identify your preferences. In order to get the most out of MBTI® it is strongly recommended you do this. However, if you aren’t in a position to do this in the near future, as a start, you may like to reflect on the following questions:

Q. You are given a project at work with a 2 week deadline – how do you manage your time?

A. Those with a preference for Judging are likely to set a plan from the outset and be quite disciplined in following that plan. They are likely to regularly check on progress and build in enough time before the deadline should there be any unforeseen problems. Those with a preference for Perceiving are likely to opt for a less fixed approach and may well enjoy bursts of activity rather than step-by-step. Their best work and most concentrated effort may well be in the last couple of days before the deadline.

Note – differences between Judgers and Perceivers is not about how well organised you are or whether or not you can manage a project. In the above example, both Judgers and Perceivers will deliver the project on time and to the required standard – the difference is in the approach.

Q. You are managing a tricky client relationship and your boss suggests you set up regular 1-2- 1s with them so you can both take stock of progress and discuss any issues. What’s your reaction?

A. Perceiving types may well feel / think it is unnecessary to have catch ups at set times. Issues will be dealt with as they arise and progress fed back to the boss can be driven by the work not the plan. Judging types however are likely to want a more structured approach and could think or feel the situation was being dealt with a bit haphazardly if there wasn’t an established ‘check in’ with the boss.

Q. You are in a team meeting and a particular point is being discussed with great debate. There are many options to choose from. What are you thinking or feeling?

A. Someone with a preference for Judging may well be keen for a decision to be made so that the team can move forward. If discussion and debating continues to take place with no indication of a decision being reached this could cause dissatisfaction or even frustration. Someone with a preference for Perceiving is probably reluctant to rush a decision and have anything set in stone too quickly. There is a time to decide and a time to keep your options open should other possibilities present themselves.

Q. You are due to go abroad on holiday, when and how do you pack and get ready?

A. Perceiving types often describe a ‘last minute’ grab and pack the night before or possibly the day of the flight – everything gets thrown in the suitcase and they’re off. Judging types often describe having their suitcase packed a day or two earlier or at least to have started getting things together at this point. There is likely to be an order and sequence to how things are packed and maybe they use a list with each item being ticked off as it’s packed to ensure everything is in.

Note: Perceivers may of course also use lists but they tend to have to make a deliberate choice to use them and it is unlikely to come as naturally to them as Judgers. Equally, Judgers may well pack ‘last minute’ but they are likely to feel comfortable doing this than Perceivers.

Q. Which of these statements would be a better description of you – ‘I need to finish my work before I can play’ OR ‘Work and play can happen simultaneously – the boundaries needn’t be so defined’?

A. Judging types may well relate to the first statement, Perceiving types the second.

In all the answers given, it’s as much the reasons behind the answers, as the answers themselves that helps you discern whether the evidence is pointing towards Judging or Perceiving. Remember also that Judgers can and will display Perceiving tendencies and vice versa – look at the balance of the evidence to help you decide which you might be.

How does this help me manage?

Different projects, meetings, teams and clients will all require different approaches. When you are fairly comfortable with what your preference is on this dichotomy it is then time to think through when the situation calls for you preferred approach and when there will be merit in trying something different even if a little less obvious to you.

There is a time for structure, for setting and sticking to a plan, and for clearly defined timelines. Equally, there is also a time for keeping options open, for allowing things to develop and remaining open to new directions even when a plan is under way.

Understanding different approaches to managing one’s world, can also help you manage conflict better – a key management skill. As with any MBTI® dichotomy there is the potential for misunderstanding and frustration between Judgers and Perceivers – particularly if they are working together on a project. Being able to identify the preferences, needs and wants of each will go a long way in appreciating the differences and making these differences work for all involved.

A third application is in helping you manage stress. Sometimes when you feel stress you cannot readily identify what is causing it. For Perceivers, it may be the feeling that they are being micro-managed by others, feeling like they are being forced to make decisions for the sake of ‘closure’ rather than it being the right time to decide, or believing the team/situation/project is being overly structured and defined to the point of being rigid and not allowing for changes in direction or a flexible approach. For Judgers, stress may result from the feeling that there is reluctance to make a decision by others and thereby prevent the situation from moving forward or the feeling that there isn’t enough structure or definition meaning people and projects remain unclear, or the sense there is a seeming lack of direction from above.

Identifying what is causing stress is an important first step in managing it. A good second step is appreciating that different approaches by others are just that – different – not inherently right or wrong. Thirdly, you could communicate in a non-confrontational manner what you need or would like in the situation that would lessen the stress for you. Equally learn from the other person or team’s perspective how your approach may be causing them some stress in order for you to both better appreciate your differences and find a mutually beneficial way forward.

In addition to the above, if you have a preference for Judging, consider the following:

  • Put yourself forward for projects and situations that call for a well defined, highly structured approach – you are likely to enjoy working this way.
  • If in a seemingly unstructured environment, identify how you can find the structure that enables you to thrive. e.g. being proactive in booking regular meetings with clients/colleagues/managers, keeping your own project timelines or deadlines even if this is not being externally imposed or expected.
  • Take the time to communicate why you are approaching the project or situation in a particular manner – others are likely to only see your behaviour – not necessarily what is driving that behaviour.
  • Allow others the time and space to weigh up the situation and keep options open – do you really need to make a decision now/today/this week? Could a better decision be made by waiting?
  • Factor in specified time in your projects to allow for any ‘last minute’ changes or new directions – if you have thought of this possibility in advance and planned for it you are likely to respond and manage it better.
  • When faced with a situation that calls for creative thinking, be mindful not to rush to define or structure your thoughts – allow yourself, team or project to remain ‘vague’ whilst ideas or solutions are being created.
  • Identify what in your world really needs to be defined and structured and what you feel you can leave as it is for the sake of team building, relationship building and benefitting your work.
  • Acknowledge those in your team who have a preference for Perceiving and learn how and why they approach situations the way they do.
  • Have better understood the Perceiving approach, learn how to use this for the benefit of the team and your clients – there will be situations that are better suited to this style.
  • If managing someone with the Perceiving preference, be careful not to come across as ‘micro-managing’. Find out from their perspective how often they feel they need to meet, to ‘check-in’, to show how they are structuring what they are doing etc. Then, communicate your own expectations and preferences in order to find a suitable way forward for both of you.

If you have a preference for Perceiving, consider doing the following:

  • Put yourself forward for projects and situations that call for ‘last minute’ thinking or the ability to change approach at speed – you are likely to thrive in this environment.
  • If in a seemingly over-structured environment, identify what you need to structure in terms of the expectations of others and remember to communicate you’re doing this and identify those areas where you can allow your more pressure-prompted preferences to flourish.
  • Take the time to communicate with colleagues why you’re taking the approach you are. Others may not appreciate what you’re doing/achieving especially if they are of the opposite preference. They may only see your behaviour and not what’s driving it.
  • Recognise when it is time to close off other options and commit to a decision from the perspective of the others / team as well as yourself. If these perspectives differ, can you identify an agreed date to have things decided?
  • Think through how changes in direction / proposed new ideas may be received by colleagues and the team, especially if the project is well developed or the particular piece of work nearing completion – if making suggestions / amendments how could you do this to cause the least amount of ‘disruption’ (perceived or actual) to those affected?
  • When a situation calls for decisive action and clearly defined roles and timelines, be mindful not to hold back on making that decision and stay the course with the agreed plan when necessary.
  • Identify what in your world benefits from a pressure-prompted approach and keeping options open and what would merit from the application of a little more structure and needs to be plan-driven for the sake of relationship building as well as your work.
  • Acknowledge those in your team who have a preference for Judging and learn how and why they approach situations the way they do.
  • Have better understood the Judging approach, learn how to use this for the benefit of the team and your clients – there will be situations that are better suited to this style.
  • If managing someone of the opposite Judging preference, be careful not to come across as being too reactive rather than proactive. Find out from their perspective how often they feel they need to meet, to ‘check-in’, to show how they are structuring what they are doing etc. Then, communicate your own expectations and preferences in order to find a suitable way forward for both of you.

What to do now?

You have lots of options with how you choose to apply all the above. The considerations offered to both Perceiving types and Judging types are deliberately straight forward and easy to implement and are by no means exhaustive. Try them out and see which ones work for you and also which ones work for those around you.

Those with a preference for Perceiving may enjoy jumping in with a few of the suggestions and see how they develop or equally holding off with which to try first and see how their current situation unfolds and allow that to decide the next step. Those with a preference for Judging may be drawn to planning their way forward and perhaps deciding on the order to tackle what’s on offer as well thinking about a suitable time to check on progress / review how things are developing.

Both Perceiving types and Judging types should use their knowledge about their MBTI® as a starting point, a point of reference, from which to have non-confrontational conversations and helpful dialogue with each other.

The better you can understand your own approach to managing the world around you and the impact it has on those of the same or opposite preference, the more informed and self-aware you are likely to be. As a manager of a legal team there will be situations that call for the application of structure, deadlines and the communication of a sense of ‘order’. There will equally be circumstances that require you to stand back, to allow the situation to develop a little without a fixed plan and remain open to the possibilities. There is a time to decide and move on, and a time to wait and see…

Where do you go from here?

This article is the last in the current series of Managing to Manage? How understanding MBTI® can help. Over the series I have taken you through the 4 MBTI® dichotomies, helped you identify what you think may be your preferences, and begun to unpack how these relate to the world of management. I say ‘begun’ because MBTI® is a tremendously rich tool and there is much more it has to offer than a 5-part series can contain.

If you are interested in learning more, including receiving MBTI® feedback from a registered practitioner, contact me by email on ben@evanslewis.co.uk or telephone EvansLewis on +44 (0) 7825 999 637; alternatively more details on my services can be found on our website www.evanslewis.co.uk.

Allow me to encourage you to be intentional with what you do now – whether that is self-reflection, action-planning or simply trying some of these principles on for size – be mindful that a lot of what you’ve taken in can easily be forgotten if not used. You may find it helpful to have a look over this series again from time to time – especially the suggested actions -as a ‘just-in-time’ refresher before you chair that difficult meeting, prepare for that important presentation or start to manage that complex project.

A manager’s world never stands still and you will always be facing new challenges and new directions. Armed with your knowledge of MBTI® and how it impacts what you and others think, say and do, you should now be better placed to tackle what’s ahead. I wish you every success.

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