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Structure and flexibility – in balance

Flexibility is a word we hear a lot about these days. That’s a good thing, don’t you think?

How about structure?

I know – from my Harrison Assessments results, at least – that I have a very low tolerance for structure.

However, I’ve learnt from experience that not everyone thinks like this and that there are benefits to having rules and regulations. For one, you wouldn’t want to go out on the road if you weren’t confident that most people follow most of the rules most of the time!

If you’re like me and prefer to do things your own way, read on for the tips I share below for surviving and thriving in a world full of structure.

And if you have a high preference for structure, consider how some more flexibility might possibly improve your life.

Tips for when structure matters more to others than it does to you

Firstly, I can’t claim to do all these things all of the time. They are just ideas designed to make us feel better about structure.

  • Realise that just because it doesn’t make sense to you, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense. It’s fine to question the status quo but at some point what you are questioning now was important to someone.
  • Ask questions. As Stephen Covey famously said: “Seek first to understand then to be understood.” Practice empathy.
  • Listen – don’t interrupt. When you think you know a better way, your enthusiasm drives you to share it at the earliest opportunity. Try keeping your ideas to yourself for a while. They may improve with time.
  • Influence gently. Once you’ve fully listened that is! Show don’t tell. You can demonstrate what needs to change and why.
  • Don’t kerb your enthusiasm. Any change – especially to the ‘tried and true’ – takes time. It’s your desire to make things better for everyone and the persistence that breeds will make all the difference.
  • Be patient. Not everyone will want the speed of change and variety you seek, even after you have convinced them that the change is a good thing.
  • Pick your battles. You might not like doing things a certain way, but if it helps to make it easier for others to work with you then sometimes it’s best to keep your ideas to yourself. On the other hand, sometimes it can be harmless to break a few rules when no-one’s looking. Just choose very carefully!

You might not follow all these tips all of the time either

The first step is awareness and the second step is practice.

Remember, if no-one questioned the way things are, we’d all still be sitting in caves chewing raw meat!

That’s just one example of when a change in the way things are done (flexibility) depended on demonstrating the benefits of a new, better structure.

About Susan Rochester

BSc MHRM FIML
Susan Rochester has been managing director of Balance at Work since 2006. Susan has a natural tendency to balance analytical thinking with an optimistic outlook to set direction and solve problems. She is an effective facilitator and constantly creates new and more effective ways of doing things, motivated by helping others to achieve their goals.

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