Language is imprecise. We use words to describe an image that we have in our heads and assume that other people are applying definitions that are similar to ours. This is not just true for grand concepts such as truth, justice, beauty, integrity or freedom. Next time you have dinner guests take one of these words that people use all the time and ask two questions. The first question requires a simple yes or no – “Do you know what it means?” The second is to ask everyone “What does it mean to you?”

People will generally all agree that they know what the word means in response to question #1. Then in response to question #2 you will get the same number of definitions as there are people at the dinner table. Introducing a commonly held definition may help somewhat but people are still apt to apply their own perspective.

A coaching client (ENTP) saw themselves as supportive and a team player. This was true in respect to direct reports and those in an underdog position who were deemed to be trying their best. To these people this person was a champion and would go the extra mile in a kind and compassionate manner. What the client didn’t “see” was just how differently peers were treated. People at the same level in the organization were held to a completely different set of criteria, and they were expected to be capable, efficient and effective without any need for support. The approach was “show me you are competent and you will have my respect. Otherwise stay out of my way.”


Different people in the organization had opposing opinions about this person’s character, but the overall opinion was not serving this client well because people were confused. What added to the confusion was how blind this person was to their double standard. In this person’s model of the world, it was a waste of their time being “nice” to people at their level of seniority. After all they were being paid to do an equivalent job. The end result was a handful of people saw this person as a team player and others saw them as rude.

Patrick Lencioni author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team says that team ONE is the team that you are on not the team that you lead. With that in mind, defining oneself as a team player when the team that counts doesn’t agree is a problem. You may argue that this person was “right” that there ought to be an expectation of competence but that misses the point . Sometimes being “right” is a cold and lonely place.

Category: Coaching / Relationships / Team Building
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