Understanding ourselves is key to working well with others. Wait. What? Surely understanding others is the key to working well with them? People sometimes say this to me when I deliver training or coaching in this area. Others just think it and then are glad that someone else has said it! If we go straight to trying to understand others, we would be missing a crucial factor. How we get on with other people is not just about the other person. It’s about how we present ourselves to that other person. How we are seen by them as much as how we see them. To say that a person is always difficult is untrue. There will be people, characteristics, preferences that others have that mean that they don’t find them so. Any challenges, difficulties or frustrations encountered between two people in the workplace usually come from a misalignment of priorities, understanding and/or expectations. And the chances are that if you find the working relationship difficult, they do to. How they show that might be different to how you show it, but it will be there.
Social Styles (Merrill & Reid) looks at our outer behaviour, the way others see us and is based on the premise that each of us has a preference in relation to responsiveness and assertiveness.
Responsiveness is about how likely we are to show our emotions to others. Some people will be very guarded and keep their feelings close to them. These people might be described as having a ‘work’ persona and a ‘home’ persona, as being very professional and possibly being described as difficult to get to know the real them. On the opposite end of the responsiveness scale, people will be very open, wear their heart on their sleeve, perhaps be flamboyant in their behaviour and clothing, what you see is what you get. They will likely be the same at home as at work and are very people focussed.
Assertiveness is about how likely we are to direct others or be directed. Whether we prefer to be the one making the decisions or the ones enacting other peoples’ vision and ideas. At one end, you will likely see people who are natural leaders (if such a thing exists, a debate for another time), perhaps those who were called bossy as a child, those who know what they want and have clarity in their vision and want to bring others along with them. It should be noted that you can also get forceful more dictatorial characteristics at this end of the scale too. At the other end of the assertiveness scale are the people who prefer to be directed, instructed and take pleasure from bringing their skill set to the team that will deliver on someone else’s vision. They can be assertive and will do so when it’s of moral importance to them to be so but otherwise will generally be more passively engaged.
Depending on whether individuals are high or low scoring on the responsive and assertiveness scale, they will present as one of four character types. See fig 1.
High Responsiveness, High Assertiveness = Driver
Drivers are often, but not always, leaders. They are likely to be described as confident, professional, organised, goal oriented and results driven. They are interested in the task to be accomplished, can often be very strategic, high level in their thinking and less concerned with the finer details. They work (and walk) quickly and have high expectations of themselves and others. They are likely to dress conservatively, smartly and be ‘well turned out’. They will be punctual and expect others to be too. They’re not too interested in small talk and will prefer to get on with the matter in hand.
Low Responsiveness, High Assertiveness = Expressive
You know when an expressive is in the room. They will often be chatty, friendly, humorous, loud…and late. They will speak quickly, dress in bright clothes and love to engage in small talk, especially if it’s about them. They see themselves as ‘people’ people and are concerned with entertaining and getting along with those around them. They’re sociable people and often have large groups of friends. People are drawn to them for their energy and warmth. They appear to be disorganised and a little erratic to others, but they pride themselves on doing a good job, especially if it benefits others, so will deliver. They’re good fun, value being happy and enjoy what they do.
Low Responsiveness, Low Assertiveness = Amiable
Amiable people take great pride in the relationships that they build with others. They like to be given direction and delight in completing work to a high standard. They like to be very clear about what’s expected and are less comfortable with ambiguity. They know the people around them so well that they will be able to tell when one of the team is having a tough day and will likely be the one that approaches the manager to let them know. Especially if the manager is a driver as this may be a blind spot for them. Amiable people are fairly flexible so equally happy to engage in small talk as not to, but do need some social interaction in their working day as they get their energy from others.
High Responsiveness, Low Assertiveness = Analytical
Analytical people are very considered, measured and practical. They tend to follow logical thought patterns (rather than intuitive), like clear direction and will present well thought through arguments that are based on fact. They typically work well with data/information. They consider themselves to be very intelligent (and they often are) and respond well when this is acknowledged. They don’t like small talk, often have a very dry sense of humour and may have niche / specialised interests. They tend to keep their emotions close to them and are likely to have a small group of good friends. In a work setting, they would rather get on with the job than chat with colleagues and may therefore be seen as unsociable.
People you know may have sprung to mind as you read these descriptions, you may have felt an affinity with one or two of them. It’s entirely reasonable that you will relate to more than one of these definitions and indeed we may behave differently depending on the situation and whether we are at home or at work. Context is everything. What’s useful though is to identify which behaviours we are most likely to display and therefore how other people will identify us. From this, we can then determine how best to interact with others.
Next time, I will cover how the different styles work together, where any conflict may come from and how to overcome it. Working Better Together by Boost HR.