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Managing scientific thinkers

Give them mental room to roam

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

Some employees think like scientists. They process information by testing it. They like to graph data and diagram their theories. Hunches or unfounded assertions don’t hold water with them.

If you manage such workers, let them satisfy their curiosity. If you deny them the chance to tinker with problems, they may retreat into a shell or quit and find a more stimulating place to work.

Here’s how to manage and motivate a scientific thinker:

Don’t close off possibilities. The worst thing you can say to someone who thinks scientifically is “Don’t do that” or “That won’t work.” Such phrases encourage him to find out for himself.

Example: If you’re helping a scientifically inclined aide learn new software and she tries to bypass certain commands, don’t stop her. Say, “When I’ve done that, it erased my file. Let’s see if that happens to you.”

Greet questions with questions. When scientific types ask a question, resist the urge to answer. They rarely accept what they’re told at face value and they may prod you for evidence. Even if you can show you’re right, they may remain dubious.

It’s better to respond with a question. Like Aristotle, guide others to think for themselves. If they demand proof, ask what kind of proof will suffice and how they can go about finding it.

Stage experiments. Get scientific thinkers to investigate their hypotheses. Let them try different approaches and then compare the results. If you’re weighing various options, ask them to design and run some tests or analyze the pros and cons.

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