A Strengths-Based Case for Grumpiness at Work

In our work at TandemSpring, we spend a lot of time talking about strengths.  However, there seems to be a common misconception about strengths that it is kumbaya-type work – that everything is seen through rose-tinted lenses and that we each are special little snowflakes.  And, to be fair, a lot of strengths-based practitioners do present strengths in that way.

To be sure, strengths-based work does demand that deficit-oriented models are left behind, even if just for a moment.  Can we stop calling each other assholes, and instead focus on what is good about one another?  So, in that vein, yes, there is a kumbaya aspect to this.  But, there is also another side to strengths.  One that provides a better and clearer understanding of why disagreements and misalignments happen.

Take the classic example of a high achiever type and a high relator type trying to work together.  These are both awesome strengths – one gets shit done like nobody’s business, and the other can make friends with anyone.  These are tremendous strengths, that if they can work together, they could be damn near unstoppable!  However, for the most part, when we put these two people into a work environment together deficit orientations take over and it quickly turns into a conversation about how the achiever is cold, unfriendly, and heartless while the relator is a flippant air-head who never gets any work done.  Sound familiar?

Well, a recent article entitled, “The case for being grumpy at work” touches on this very issue.  After much research, it seems that those office grumps, the ones always upset about everything, well, they’re often the most productive people in the office.  Why?  Simple: because they are grumpy.  Those two things often can, and do, go hand-in-hand.  As a recovering office grump, let me explain:

Office grumps are grumpy for a reason.  They feel the burden of what needs to be done, which is often a lot, if not overwhelming, and they see the full scope of what needs doing, who needs to do it, where the problems will pop up, etc.  So, naturally, they are pretty grumpy about it.  However, despite their grumpiness, they often buckle down and get to doing.  Their grumpiness also serves to keep water cooler talk to a minimum so that they don’t have to waste time with pleasantries, and instead can just grind away.

Of course, like any personality type or stereotype, this doesn’t hold true for every case.  But, if we take a step back and examine the grumpy Gus of the office place, perhaps we can see that it isn’t that they are lacking in positivity or relationship-building skills and, instead, are extremely strong in strategic and executing skills and THAT’S why they come across grumpy.  This is doubly true if, for your part, you are a relator looking to connect socially – these people may really feel cold and distant to you.

So, let’s go back to our example of an achiever and a relator.  Maybe that grump is just an achiever.  Maybe they’re deeply strategic and they’re seeing things you don’t even know about.  There might be more going on there than you think.  And, as the aforementioned article shows, they’re probably getting more work done than most – so maybe you can just appreciate them for that.  And hey, perhaps you can just be nice to them for a moment, they’re clearly grumpy about something!