Ask Vicki: Relationship Advice Using the Five Elements

Her Authority Has Been Challenged

Dear Vicki: For the past five years I’ve served as the president of our condo association here in Manhattan. We have a congenial board and I keep our meetings pleasant, but efficient; we all have other things we need to do. But that all changed four months ago when “Laura” joined the board. She is cheery, but opinionated. Productive, but assertive. Upbeat, but bossy. We clashed almost immediately, but I couldn’t tell you exactly why. The best I can say is that for every suggestion I make, she has an alternative version. If I say we should have something signed by Friday, she’ll say she thinks Monday is soon enough. If I bring paint samples for the laundry area, she’ll suggest the colors should be “more gray.” She is difficult to work with (honestly, I’m angry with her most of the time), but apparently, she isn’t going anywhere. What can I do? Signed, Bossed Around Boss

Dear Bossed: Actually, this is a pretty common issue and will make complete sense if we look at your primary elemental personalities. The fact that you are running a board, like efficiency, and assume everyone is busy makes me suspect you are a primary Wood personality. Making things happen, running the show, and not appreciating it when your authority is challenged are all pretty basic hallmarks of the Wood personality, as is the resulting anger when forward movement is impeded.

And here’s the rub: the words you use to describe Laura – opinionated, productive, upbeat, assertive, bossy – are also very characteristic of the Wood personality. So, this means that you and Laure are probably both primary Wood personalities.

The good news is that most people are thrilled to have Wood people serve on boards. They are great problem-solvers, can see the way out of almost any difficult situation, are very goal-oriented, and can usually make things happen quickly and efficiently. They are also happy to step up and lead the way. And everyone is usually happy to let them do that. Everyone, that is, except another Wood person, especially one who is already invested in leading.

As the current president of your board, there are several reasons you’ll find Laura difficult:

  1. She’s challenging your command. Woods thrive on individual accomplishment and success. When your board does something great for your condo, I’m sure that you publicly give the whole board credit. But privately, you probably acknowledge your part in the success (as well you should), which is one of the things that juices the Wood personality.
  2. Lack of chaos is something else that’s very important to Wood people, and chaos is probably what you perceive when Laura wants to change times, re-open topics that you think are decided, or just question a decision.
  3. Her suggested changes bring everything to a stop while her ideas are considered. Wood people hate being stopped in their tracks. For them, it’s like a car running into a brick wall. The Wood person likes to get up a head of steam and use that momentum to carry them through to completion.

As you can see, it’s not surprising that Laura is bothering you. But the truth is that if the tables were turned, you well might be doing to Laura what she is doing to you. Problem solving, planning how to get from A to B, and trying to optimize everything is just the way the Wood personality works. So, I humbly suggest you try to manage your relationship with Laura to make it a win-win for you both. And there is a fairly easy way to do this.

Instead of trying to cut Laura out of the picture, give her more responsibility. Delegate an entire project to her and let her run with it. Support her and treat her the way you would want her to treat you. Wood/Wood relationships can be unbelievably productive; the challenge is often deciding who gets to be the leader. For now, you can lead the whole board, but let Laura lead – really lead – on selected projects. It will make her feel important which, as you well know, Wood people need. It will also take some of the work off of your plate, which isn’t a bad thing, either.

And if for some reason this doesn’t work, and you find that you do need to rein in Laura, remember that in the Five Elements model Metal is the element that controls Wood. This means that if you can interact with Laura as if you were a Metal personality, you will be able to keep her Wood desire to run the show pruned back.  The hallmark of the Metal personality is quiet, decisive rationality. Make sure you have a logical, rational reason for everything you recommend so that if (or when) Laura does challenge something, you can easily explain your reasoning in a way that makes it difficult for her to argue.

But I sincerely hope it doesn’t come to that. Two Woods are always better than one, if they can work together. If you can find a way to allow Laura to shine, you will have turned an adversarial relationship into a collegial one, which will be better for you, Laura, the board, and your whole condo association. Believe me, it will be well worth the effort.

Blessings to you,