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Understanding Behavioral Styles at Work
In today’s workplace, anyone who is even mildly observant is regularly witnessing a plethora of extremely pronounced behaviors. Some members of your team are responding to the bad economic news by identifying special activities through which they may channel their stress. Others may seem disconnected from reality as they attempt to continue their old spending ways. Some are obviously emotionally affected by every nugget of less than positive news they encounter. And still others are collecting mountains of economic data and making their own prognostications as to when the downturn will or won’t end.
We all know that people differ. What may be less clear is how and why. The body of work that studies personalities and individual differences is commonly known as behavioral style analysis.
What is a behavioral style? Behavioral style refers to a series of behaviors that remain consistent within a relevant type of situation. Central to this theory are basic concepts of stimulus and response, i.e., under a given set of circumstances (stimuli), certain people will react in certain ways (response). Other people, however, will react to those same circumstances in very different ways. No one reaction is necessarily better. They are just different. And unless those differences are understood, serious misjudgments can and will be made.
Behavioral style preferences may serve as important predictors of how members of your staff and organizational clients will react in a given type of situation. Note, this is not to say that understanding style will help predict specific reactions in specific situations. Rather, understanding styles may help you predict general reactions.
Here’s another way of thinking about behavioral styles. Right now we’re approaching the beginning of another baseball season. Let’s say that you’re working as a recruiter for a major league baseball team. You’ve been tasked with finding a consistent hitter. If you find a young player with a batting average of .330, you can reasonably expect that 33% of the time this player approaches home plate, his bat will connect with a pitched ball. However, on any given trip to the plate, you will not be able to guarantee a hit. Likewise, while understanding behavioral styles will not help you predict specific reactions, they will help you understand and predict general reactions in your workplace.
The DISC Behavioral Style Self-Assessment
You can find and use any of a number of behavioral style self-assessment tools to help identify styles in your workplace. In my own consulting business, we have opted to use the DISC self-assessment tool for two major reasons: First, it’s been validated. And second, its simplicity increases its usability.
“DISC” refers to four different behavioral style profiles: Drivers, Innovators, Socializers, and Correctors. Using the DISC Behavioral Style Self-Assessment tool, we work with corporations, law firms and organizational staff to identify individual behavioral style preferences. We help program participants understand the assets and liabilities of their personal style preferences, and, then, we work with program participants to identify those “clues” that will help them identify the behavioral styles of those with whom they work. Finally, we help program participants understand how they can “flex” in order to more effectively work with others.
The concept of “flexing” is a particularly important one. To the extent professionals and staff within your organization learn to adjust to style preferences, their effectiveness will be enhanced.
To return to the baseball analogy, we know that professional baseball pitchers spend an inordinate amount of time studying the players who bat against them. They seek to identify whether a particular player is more successful hitting a ball thrown to the inner edge of home plate as contrasted to balls thrown to the outer edge. Pitchers identify players who are more comfortable hitting balls thrown high as contrasted to balls thrown low. They know which players can more easily adjust to a curve ball or a slider.
Likewise, the professionals and staff within your organization must study the people with whom they most frequently work and then develop game plans to “flex” to their identified styles.
Here’s one example of how one style might “flex” to another.
People who share the Driver behavioral style preference tend to be goal driven. They speak in short sentences, often filled with action words. They like to get to the point. And then they move on. They rarely engage in idle chit-chat.
Innovators, on the other hand, are more people-than task-oriented. They thrive on the interactions they have with other people in the office. Give an Innovator an assignment, and she or he will rarely attack it right away. Instead, you’ll find them talking about the assignment with people throughout the office long before they sit down and begin to tackle the job.
Note, the Driver will regard these inner-office conversations as a complete waste of time. Drivers don’t like to talk about things. They like to get things done. In reality, however, the Innovator uses these conversations to develop new and creative solutions.
Now let’s say that one of the senior professionals within your organization shares the Driver behavioral style preference. Let’s also say that this senior professional supervises a junior member of your organization with the Innovator style preference. The senior professional will gain a better work product if she “flexes” to the style preference of the junior and encourages him to periodically brainstorm with her. Similarly, the junior will more likely succeed if he “flexes” to the style of the senior professional and attempts to follow-up assignments with a quick plan of action presented in bullet points.
For My Law Firm Clients
The corporate world, and in particular corporate sales departments, has long incorporated DISC into their training curricula. By their very nature, however, lawyers tend to be more skeptical. As a result, I’d like to share with you how some of my law firm clients have used DISC.
Law firms with whom my company has consulted have incorporated the DISC assessment into a variety of different programs. These have included new associate orientations as well as mentoring, business development, and leadership programs. The feedback we’ve received from lawyers and other law firm staff is that they find the DISC Behavioral Style Self-Assessment to be a particularly effective tool.
One senior associate described the characteristics of each style as being “scarily accurate.” Others have indicated that they were surprised at the insights they gained into their own style as well as the styles of their co-workers.
Two specific examples are illustrative of the benefits that may be accrued from behavioral style analyses.
In one case, a group of mid-level, third- and fourth-year associates participated in a DISC Behavioral Style Self-Assessment. After learning about individual style preferences, lawyer participants were provided with clues that would help them identify the style preferences of key co-workers. A discussion of how to “flex” to each of the different styles followed.
Following the program, one lawyer told me that since joining the firm he had “gone through” three secretaries. Until this program, he had never understood why he was butting heads with each of these secretaries. Now, he said, he understood that he possessed an unusually strong Driver style. With the clues the program had provided, he now felt certain that each of his secretaries had possessed a strong Socializer style. Prior to the program, it had simply never occurred to him that he might benefit by “flexing” to the alternate style.
Of note, this same associate indicated he was concerned that he had already developed the reputation of being someone who “could not hold onto a secretary.” He felt certain that with the information he had acquired, he could alter his behavior and thereby alter that perception.
Similar training was provided to a group of new associates. Two of the associates reported that, immediately following their orientation, they had jointly listed each of the lawyers with whom they worked regularly, undertaken their best guess as to relevant style preferences, and then developed unique game plans for working with each.
Later the new associates reported that they could not believe what a difference the knowledge had made. They were successfully adjusting to their workplace far faster than many other new lawyers.
DISC in an Economic Downturn
As we continue to progress through the current economic downturn, I recommend that all professionals, from the most junior to the most senior, reach out to their peers in client organizations. Make clear everyone understands these conversations are not “pitches” or sales calls. Rather, the goal is to ensure that clients hear that your organization understands the current economy and existing constraints on budgets. Clients must be left with a feeling that your organization will “be there” for them when times are bad as well as when times are good.
Before you send those professionals out to meet with clients, make sure your professionals have a basic understanding of behavioral style preferences. For example:
Driver clients will look for your professionals to address specific actions that can be undertaken throughout the downturn.
Innovator clients will want to address possibilities instead of problems.
Socializers will seek emotional support.
Correctors will look for quantifiable verifiables, i.e., numbers, quantifying the cost-cutting measures your organization will undertake to preserve the relationship throughout the downturn.
Understanding behavioral style preferences is critical to successfully building more cohesive and effective workplaces and to enhancing long-term relationships with key clientele. By ensuring that each of your employees communicates with style, you can use today’s economic downturn to strengthen critical relationships.