Managing Smart People, Managing Quiet People (post session recap)

Takeshi Yoshida
10 min readJan 8, 2024

One of the objectives of the Mental Model Dōjō community sessions is to create space for people to discuss hard-to-put-a-finger-on subjects and taboo topics.

How to manage disengaged team members is a regular topic in my executive coaching sessions. On further enquiry, I see they fall into two categories. On one end of the spectrum are the “quiet” people; i.e. people who leaders perceive as passive and instruction waiting. On the other end of the spectrum are the “smart” people; i.e. people who leaders perceive as holding high esteem of their abilities and sometimes causing complications in teamwork, including withholding and closed behavior.

There’s something uncomfortable about labeling people as “quiet” and “smart”; maybe it’s the impression of passing judgement and the risk of stereo typing. Nonetheless there’s a pattern here, so for the many leaders and coaches tackling the topic, let’s dive in and take a look.

Empathy Map

Typically, what is troubling behavior of the other is troubling to us, and not to the other. In their mind they are doing the right thing, however irrational and crazy it might seem from our perspective.

So, as with any situation involving interpersonal dissonance, the first step is to empathize with the other. Here I’ve pulled out the empathy map tool from Design Thinking.

Let’s do it together. Imagine a recent situation where you observed a troubling office behavior of a “smart” or “quiet” person.

  • Picture that person in your mind. Let’s start by observing their behavior.
  • What do they say?
  • What do they do?
  • Now let’s put ourselves in their shoes and imagine what’s going inside of them.
  • What’s your guess on what they’re thinking? What’s going in their mind?
  • Can you feel how they’re feeling? What’s it like? What’s the emotion?

Do this exercise for a few people, and see if you can find patterns.

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Takeshi Yoshida

Chief Coach, Agile Organization Development (agile-od.com) — we are a tribe of change, transformation, innovation experts