Office Schmucks: An Interview with Dr. Foster

What do you get when you mix a clinical psychiatrist with a Wharton MBA student? Someone who understood difficult people at work, and saw a serious need. Dr. Jody Foster found a niche for providing psychiatry to non-psychiatrists in the business world - especially when it came to helping the venture capital world evaluate management teams. After a decade of consulting with disruptive interactions in business settings, Dr. Jody Foster, along with Dr. Michelle Joy,  put pen to paper to help out people who … well, work with anyone. Their book, “The Schmuck In My Office: How to Deal Effectively with Difficult People at Work” has since taken off.

We were lucky enough to get Dr. Foster to answer a few of our own questions and get her expert weigh-in:

  1. In your book you identify several personality types such as the Venus Flytrap, the Swindler, & the Suspicious. This seems just a variation on common personality types from assessments like Myers Briggs or DISC but with a more culturally relevant way to connect with the types. Corporations have been using psychographics and personality assessments for decades, why do you think we still have a hard time working through these personality differences?

Dr. Foster: “Identifying personality dynamics doesn't necessarily mean that we are all fully equipped to work with them, particularly in difficult situations. Personality runs on a spectrum from trait to disorder, so some people's personalities are far more "fixed" than others. If the way I navigate the world is inherently different from the way you do, even if I can appreciate that, I may not have the insight, the tools or the incentive to change my behavior or make accommodations to coexist with you. Often, too, many personality types bring rigid perspectives with them and a belief that their interactions or decisions are "right" and others' always wrong. It takes motivation and conscious intention for people to work through their differences.”

  1. In the later chapter entitled "Am I the Schmuck in My Office?" you talk about the role each of us have in the personality conflicts we have at work. It clearly takes 2 people to have conflict, why is it so hard for us to understand our role in this process?

Dr. Foster: “Developing insight into our own behaviors is not always an easy task. We usually first focus on how we feel, and how others make us feel, as opposed to our effects upon them. The extent to which we know ourselves and our ability to sustain awareness of how we affect others is a work in progress for all of us.”

  1. We know based on a ton of research that the primary driver of under-performance in the workplace is bad relationships and communication which can often be traced back to these personality differences and how we handle them. Why then has corporate America not gotten better with helping employees with these "soft skills"?

Dr. Foster: “I would assert that it is the "softness" itself that makes handling it or teaching it extremely difficult, and easy to keep at the bottom of the list of corporate tasks. Many of the lessons and their results are intangible and thus difficult to quantify. I believe that corporations are far more adept at and comfortable with initiatives that are associated with more definable metrics.”

  1. Other than Cloverleaf ( :-) what tools or resources have you seen effectively deployed to organizations to help build better relationships and reduce conflict inside the workplace?

Dr.Foster: “Corporations with clearly defined missions and cultures, and  enforceable policies and procedures around expected behavior, do best. Laying out the "rules of engagement" makes boundaries clear, and helps people both manage themselves and also get a clearer sense of whether or not a particular setting is "right" for them. Offering tools or outlets for stress reduction is always helpful. And activities designed to teach managers and their employees about the benefits of early intervention and direct communication help teams avoid allowing problems to seed.”

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