Structure, Decisions and Rules ...Oh My!

Every well-constructed team should have a mix of personalities. Some people like to take the lead and work well with very little supervision. Others need a little extra help but are generally happy to follow the guidelines and detailed planning the manager has set for them. And then there are those who are not inclined to follow the rules at all. If you're in the latter group, you might be a powerhouse of generating ideas, and you might be among the most productive people in your department, but you just have to have flexibility in the way you do things.

If your boss is enlightened, she'll know that it isn't right or even practical to enforce structure on people who prefer to do things more spontaneously. But many bosses, and co-workers, simply don't realize that structure is death to a freewheeling personality. If your boss likes planning and structure—and most leaders do—she might attach labels like "disorganized", "procrastinator" or even "unreliable" to your natural work style.

As a "Perceiver" at work, it's up to you to navigate the rigid system of rules, decisions and deadlines that define the typical workplace. Here are some tips to help you survive this environment before it drives you crazy.

Acting Naturally: Judgers versus Perceivers

When we describe someone as "organized" or "spontaneous," we're broadly talking about the "Judgers" and "Perceivers" of the 16-type personality system. It is the nature of Judging personalities to live in an organized and methodical world, and these personalities may be very skilled at bringing order to chaos. Judgers are typically thought of as easy to manage since they want to do things the "right" way and like to get tasks done on time.

Perceivers do the opposite and actively resist structure; these types may not even start a project until the deadline is looming over their heads. Perceivers prefer to work in big bursts of energy rather than in a linear fashion and may jump around from one project to the next then finish everything off with a last-minute fury. As such, these personalities can be much harder to manage. They typically are quite resistant to time constraints or are indifferent to the rules.   

Unsurprisingly, Perceivers often run into problems at work as our culture really values "J" type skills. In the worst case, they get overlooked for opportunities and promotions because Judging types see them as irresponsible, never following through with projects on time. Often, it's the Perceiver who has to suppress his natural work style to create some type of uneasy truce between the two conflicting work styles. This is neither healthy nor sustainable. A much better option is to use your own strengths to ease the pain.

Focus Most of Your Effort on Deadlines

As a Perceiver, it's important to understand the need for some level of planning, structure and closure on decision-making. You may hate to do something the same way twice, but time is money in business. Standard operating procedures are there to stop people wasting time by continually reinventing the wheel. It's likely your manager has a rough idea of how long it should take to complete the more routinized tasks—so don't make waves with endless improvisation that pushes you away from the deadline.

If you get in the habit of hitting every deadline, which is basically all a Judger needs to set the next wheel of the project in motion, then how you do the work becomes much less relevant. It's pretty much impossible for you to schedule your day the "J" way, mapping out every hour or step in linear fashion until the task is completed, so don't waste your time on this stuff. If you need to wait until the last minute for inspiration to strike, then wait until the last minute. The important thing is you get the job done. Nine times out of ten, your boss and teammates won't care about your preferred mode of working—as long as you deliver the result on time

Teach Others to Back Off

Fundamentally, you want others to back off from constraining you so you're not forced into following processes and protocols that are not strictly necessary. Your creativity is based on your freedom to move and act spontaneously: you are more likely to do your best work in uncontrolled, unpredictable circumstances. Following an established method often takes longer for you because you're just not motivated to do it.

What you need is a way to explain this work-style preference to your Judging co-workers. Suppose, for example, that you and a Judger are tasked with completing a project. A sure-fire way to irritate your partner is to impose last-minute decisions on him. Judgers like to have things meticulously pre-planned and cancelling a scheduled meeting or changing direction with no warning is going to really stress him out. Do it—and watch how the Judger reacts.

You've now set the scene to explain that, for you, having someone check up on you every few days or hours is just as stressful and counterproductive. You'll get along much better if you negotiate a hard deadline or series of milestones, then each allow the other to reach those points in their own way.

Beat Them to the Punch

If you really want to get a Judger off your back, then beat him to the punch by giving him quick updates at regular intervals. You don't have to say much; just a quick email to let the Judger know the task is front-of-mind and you're dealing with it. Perceivers are often accused of being undisciplined, disorganized and flighty. Sending out these quick status updates shows you're not, while giving you the space you need to be creative.

Shake Things Up

Perceiving personalities are hardwired to seek change, even when it's damaging, and few things are as stifling to you as boredom. It's therefore crucial that you keep shaking things up, ideally by seeking new tasks, projects and opportunities. You'll perform much better with the routine work when you keep your mind hungry with new opportunities to test and experiment.

Side projects, stretch projects, community outreach, organizing the office party—ask your boss if there's another problem that you could be solving, or some other nonconformist project that needs attending to. If there isn't, and you're in the type of job that glues your butt to a chair for eight hours a day, then could you do something on the side, in your own time, to get satisfaction outside of work? Some Perceivers even reduce their work hours to focus on new opportunities they've discovered in their own time, and as a result become much happier about their work time.

Show Your Value

Much of the dissatisfaction that Perceivers feel in their work is because high-ups fail to recognize and reward them for their accomplishments. Judgers are inspired to create plans, put things in order, hit deadlines and reach goals. It's very easy for managers to recognize their competence and decisiveness.

Perceivers, however, have different motivators. They typically excel at handling change, improvising and springing into action in times of crisis. These skills rarely have KPIs attached to them, which means that your achievements fly under the radar. And even if they don't, it's unlikely that any structured system of bonuses and promotions will reward and praise them effectively.

What often happens in organizations is that managers are so busy hitting targets they fail to put their head above the parapet and see that a great many people who are interfacing with customers, solving problems and improvising, are Perceivers. So, you have to sing your own praises. If your value is not speaking for itself, you must speak for it. Make sure that managers understand the contributions you make to the team and the results you produce. Showcasing your accomplishments will not only help you at promotion time, it will also head any criticisms off at the pass.

Jayne Thompson

Jayne is a freelance copywriter, business writing blogger and the blog editor here at Truity. One part word nerd, two parts skeptic, she helps writing-challenged clients discover the amazing power of words on a page. Jayne is an INTJ and lives in Yorkshire, UK with her ENTJ husband and two baffling children. Find Jayne at White Rose Copywriting.

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