How the Logical and Sensitive Can Thrive Side by Side at Work


How do two incredibly different people work together in a productive manner?

We have all worked with people who are incredibly rational. They explain their decisions in a logical, straightforward way. Others are more sympathetic and “feel” easily. How do the thinkers and the feelers maximize their strengths and minimize their weaknesses?

Devora Zack’s book, The Cactus and Snowflake at Work, tackles these issues and offers a workplace guide. I recently caught up with her to talk about her work.


Your book centers on different types of people and understanding them in terms of various traits. Would you walk us through the different traits of a snowflake and cactus?

Sure, here are the broad strokes. A Snowflake leads with the heart while a Cactus leads with the head. Snowflakes are sensitive, empathetic, and diplomatic, whereas Cacti are logical, analytical, and direct. Some people strongly identify with one style, most of us are a blend of each.



What’s the best way to determine which one I am and others who I am close with?

The Cactus and Snowflake at Work includes the Cackflake Instrument – a self-assessment revealing where you are on the continuum.  To assess whether others are Cacti or Snowflakes I recommend ‘The Big Two:’

1. Observe their language, choices, drivers, interests.

2. Ask about their preferences, communication style, decision making process, pet peeves.



Talk a little about the Platinum Rule and how your system can help.

The ubiquitous golden rule implores to treat others how we want to be treated. This approach backfires. The Platinum Rule is far superior and nuanced: Treat others how they want to be treated. Snowflakes and Cacti experience the world differently, often responding to the same treatment in opposite manners. Efforts to build rapport backfire when we treat everyone the same. Respect is a moving target.

For instance, let’s say I’m a Snowflake and want to respectfully acknowledge a Cactus colleague’s return to work after personal leave. A Snowflake would feel respected (aka cared for) by, “Gosh, welcome back! Everyone missed you so much. I hope you’re okay. I was worried about you.” This would send a Cactus into a tailspin. The Cactus would feel respected (aka given space) by this greeting, “Hey,” accompanied by a head nod.



What advice would you give to the new manager who is just taking over a team and wants to learn from this approach? How can they best put it into action?

Notice others. Listen, observe, learn, adapt. Replace judgment with curiosity and compassion. Share what you know about your inherent style and ask individual members of the team what type of communication works best for them.



Leaders obviously can be in either style. What are some of the best parts of each?

Cactus leadership strengths include being direct, creating an atmosphere of fairness, focusing on facts, being practical.

Potential hazard: May unintentionally hurt feelings.

Can work on: Paying attention to tone and nonverbals. Giving positive reinforcement.

Snowflake leadership strengths include tuning into subtle emotions, empathy, inclusiveness, providing encouragement.

Potential hazard: May over personalize events and read into perceived slights.

Can work on: Providing corrective feedback. Dialing back ‘rah-rah’ positive reinforcement – has diminishing marginal returns.



Let’s talk about a few ways to flex your style. Why is this essential?

Flexing your style requires calibrating your communication to resonate with others’ temperaments. This is an essential leadership skill for enhancing productivity and morale.

Case in point – looking back at that previous sentence – as a leader I would emphasize productivity to motivate Cacti and morale to motivate Snowflakes, while holding both equally accountable. Here are a couple more examples:

Language Dexterity – practice integrating both Cactus and Snowflake language into your lexicon. At the most basic level, Cacti say ‘think’ more often and Snowflakes say ‘feel,’ in most cases these words are interchangeable. When addressing groups, use a mix of both.

Providing Feedback – Snowflakes want their feedback delivered gently, including what they’ve been doing right.  This approach irritates most Cacti, preferring you ‘get to the point’ about what needs improvement.



How should leaders best communicate to both styles instead of gravitating to their own?

When in doubt, direct your attention to what matters most, letting go of ‘being right’ or proving others wrong. Remember, being adaptive is an acquired skill, providing you with diverse techniques to draw upon. This does not require changing your core self. Learned behavior needn’t correlate with innate preference.

Take the stance that everyone is how they are supposed to be. Nobody needs to be fixed. Including you. A fantastic starting point is accepting yourself…and building from there.

For more information, see The Cactus and Snowflake at Work.



Image Credit: Scott Webb

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