My teenage daughter just returned from three weeks away on school exchange. While she was gone the house was quieter, and tidier! But most of all I noticed that as a family our interactions were different when she wasn’t here, as were her occasional long distance conversations with us by phone or text.

This happens in the workplace too. Group dynamics shift depending on who is in the office. And meetings can change their vibe completely with the addition or subtraction of a colleague. You know which colleague! The one who always speaks first, regardless of how much they know about the situation. The person who invariably find problems, or solutions. The colleague who brings different ideas and points of view together. The one who rarely speaks but is always worth listening to….

Of course we need a mixture of styles and approaches. That’s why we work so often in groups. But if we get stuck in our preferred style, the way we regularly respond may not be helpful to our work mates or to maintain our professional brand. Continual optimism, regardless of circumstance, can be seen as naiveté, always finding (real) problems can be interpreted as being unsupportive. Optimism and seeing risks are both valuable, but not every time we speak on every topic.

Rather than jumping into playing a role that feels as comfortable as a pair of old jeans, taking time to think about what is needed by the group, and what we can offer, lets us take a more proactive and constructive approach. This may mean speaking up sooner if your tendency is to wait and listen; the group may need to hear what you have to say right now. It may also mean holding back and letting less forthcoming colleagues find the space to contribute. Likewise, it might mean suggesting a solution as well as identifying a problem.

It’s lovely to have my daughter home, but I hope to maintain some of the changes her absence prompted: independence and problem solving, less sibling “bickering as entertainment” and space for each member of the family to do their own thing, individually and together.