Most of us are now operating deep within what is known as the Knowledge Economy. In the Knowledge Economy, it is intellectual capital, not factories and machinery that drive the value of business. In the Knowledge Economy, heads, not hands, are the source of value. Our employees are knowledge workers capturing, storing, distributing and using the information - knowledge that is vital to the success of the enterprise, whether it is system knowledge, product knowledge, customer knowledge or market knowledge. Their uniqueness - their value and their headache producing behavior stem from this: they own the means of production. It is their knowledge that forms a huge part of the enterprise.
This is why Peter Drucker has said that he thinks that we need a new management paradigm. The new manager must be one adept at influencing and persuading, not directing, because knowledge workers do not see themselves as our subordinates. They are, more realistically, our associates. After all, they know more about their jobs than anyone in the organization, including us. In fact, Drucker says, we might do better to treat them as volunteers. Volunteers do their job because they want to, not because they have to and, like our knowledge workers, they will respond best to influence and persuasion. At best, coercion will lead to compliance, but persuasion will lead to commitment. Persuasion is in, coercion is out. But effective persuasion requires some finely honed interpersonal skills. Most of us understand generically how people want to be treated. Now, in the new paradigm, we need to understand how each individual we work with prefers to be treated.
How can we possibly know all of the different interpersonal preferences?
There is help for us! Years ago, David Merril and Roger Reid, two industrial psychologists, developed a concept of social style - how people prefer to work with and relate to others. The concept has been refined and tested over the years and, in my experience with clients, I have found it to be a powerful tool that demonstrably increases interpersonal effectiveness.
Essentially, the social style concept says that each of us falls into one of four general behavioral patterns or styles defined by dimensions: how we assert ourselves and how much of our emotions we show in our interactions. Some of us assert ourselves by being direct and some of us assert ourselves less directly, by asking rather than telling. In the second dimension, some of us are more controlled in the display of our emotions and focus on the task first and the people second. Some of us tend to emote more and to focus on people first and the task second.
Of course, these behavioral preferences are continuums, not absolutes, but we each follow a pattern of behavior that puts us into one of the four styles. A person who asserts by telling and is emotive and people-focused interacts differently that the person who asserts by asking and is more emotionally controlled and task-focused. There is no right or wrong, good or bad style.Each behavior pattern has its strengths and weaknesses. Over the broad population the distribution of people is consistent with about one-quarter of the population falling into each style. In other words:
75% of the people are different from you, or me, in their style of communication, how they use
their time, how they prefer to relate, and how they make decisions.
Not better or worse, just different.
The key to more effective interaction is not so much knowing what specific category you are in, but knowing where the other person might be relative to you along the two behavioral dimensions. If you can recognize their behavioral pattern relative to yours, and you are flexible with your own style by behaving in ways that are more comfortable for them, you are much more likely to make a productive connection with them.
For example: We have a client whose sales rep is tell-assertive and emotive/people-focused while his co-worker is less tell-assertive and more controlled/task-focused. He would get irritated at how she would become confused and frustrated when he would come in excited, talking about how the meeting went and then start rattling off all of his ideas and goals for the project. He learned that by reducing some of his small talk, focusing more quickly on the task at hand, slowing his pace of speaking and giving her more opportunities to react and ask questions, she could understand the project quicker and be more productive. He did not change who simply learned to communicate in a manner with which she was more comfortable.
It is important to remember however, that our intent cannot be to manipulate. Manipulation becomes obvious quickly and leads immediately to lack of trust and breakdown of relationships. Rather, our intent must be to facilitate communication and understanding. With the honest intent to facilitate interaction, we build trust and strengthen relationships. Learning a different way of dealing with people has become a necessity for us. By integrating what has been discovered and developed about social styles over the years, we can learn about our style and learn to understand others’ styles so that we can become more versatile in our approach to others. Whether those people are our customers, our former subordinates- now associates, our team members, our peers, our family or our spouse, understanding and applying the concept of versatility in interpersonal style is a major step towards improving our interpersonal relationships and effectiveness.
How could versatility in social styles lead to less stress and more productivity at your work?