Don't Get Along With Your Boss? This May Be Why

Last Updated Aug 11, 2011 11:17 AM EDT

What is your style of thinking? It's a basic question, but not one that most of us spend much time pondering. As long as the brain cells seem to be doing their jobs, we figure everything's okay.

It's not that simple, says Thunderbird professor Denis Leclerc. He points out that not everyone thinks the same way, and not everyone likes the way their colleagues of bosses think. In a perfect world, this would be a good thing, with everyone using their own styles of thinking to solve common problems.

In reality, though, our disparate thinking styles can lead to miscommunication and animosity. The best managers, say Leclerc, learn to recognize at least four different styles of thinking, and to communicate with those who think differently. Here are the four broadest styles of thinking, as outlined in a recent article by Leclerc:

Deductive thinkers
This is the group that is least likely to just take the boss' orders and plow ahead. They're always asking why. They want to see the internal logic in what they're being asked to do and in how the organization is run. They start with a general concept and from there derive more specific conclusions.

Questions managers can expect from deductive thinkers:
  • Why is this project more important than the 20 we've already got going on?
  • Why are we doing this?
  • Why the sudden urgency?
  • Why should I care?
Famous deductive thinker: Sherlock Holmes. He would piece together evidence to reach a conclusion, that, if the evidence was as it appeared and his reasoning was solid, was bound to reach a correct conclusion.

Inductive thinkers
Inductive thinkers are not interested in "why" so much as "how." They're the opposite of the deductive thinkers, starting with a lot of specifics and use it to build up more general knowledge. In practice, says Leclerc, this means they like to do a ton of research before tackling anything new. They want data on how things were done last time, and they'll double check the results of the previous team before starting out on their own. Methodology matters.

Questions managers can expect from inductive thinkers:
  • How did we make this decision?
  • How will we change?
  • How did we do this last time?
Famous inductive thinker: Charles Darwin, who amassed a huge amount of information about the finches of the Galapagos, from which he derived the basis for his broader theory of natural selection.

Linear thinkers
Lofty vision statements are going nowhere with this group. They want to see how A connects to B, then to C and D. They don't care so much about the big goals as the detailed instructions for carrying them out.

Questions managers might receive from linear thinkers:
  • When is it due?
  • What needs to happen first?
  • Who does what?
Famous linear thinker: Linear thinkers get a bad rap. Linear thinkers are supposed to excel at math and science, but no one seems to want to admit to actually being a linear thinker. It sounds so un-innovative. So in-the-box. It'd be great to get a few nominations for this category. Any ideas?

Systemic thinkers
These are the folks who will keep one eye on the big goal and worry less about how they're going to get there. That's all a bunch of boring details, a far as they're concerned. That's what other people get paid for.

Questions managers might receive from systemic thinkers:
A manager might not get many questions from systemic thinkers. As bosses, their motto could be: I don't care how you do it, as long as you get the job done."

Famous systemic thinker: Steve Jobs is the classic example of the systemic leader. His instructions to the team that went on to create the first iPod were succinct, if nothing else. According to Leclerc, he did not care what the team did as long as they delivered a product with three attributes: 1) It could use no screws 2) it had to be controlled with the thumb, and 3) it had to change the way that people carried their music.
Still not convinced? You would be if you'd worked on the Airbus A380 commercial jet. The French engineers worked from a deductive and systemic mindset, adding three centimeters to the diameter of a pipe in case it needed to accommodate additional wiring. The German engineers, using inductive and linear thinking, saw an extra cost and cut three centimeters from the pipe's diameter. You can guess what happened-the additional wires didn't fit, and the first A380 flew with duct tape holding the wires in place.

What kind of thinking dominates in your workplace? In your head?

RELATED Image courtesy of flickr user HikingArtist.com
Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor, and editorial consultant. Follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/weisul.
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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.

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