Opinion Column

Using different styles to enable better relationships

By Larry Schruder, The Delfi Group

Our last two Delfi Columns described the simple DiSC model of understanding how we differ from each other in our personal and relationship behaviour styles. We learned that there are four main behavioural style categories built around two behaviour dimensions: fast-paced and outspoken versus cautious and reflective; and questioning and skeptical versus accepting and warm. Today let's explore the last two of these styles (Influence and Conscientiousness) in greater detail and specifically, how people with either of these strong tendencies can use this information to reduce the relationship collisions or frictions that they might experience in relating to others in the other style.

A person solid in the Influence style sits in the top right corner of the DISC map. This behavioural style is characterized by a fast work-pace and high energy when it comes to tasks and getting things done. This top right style is also home for people with very strong positive feelings about interpersonal relationships - people who are seen as encouraging, enthusiastic, passionate and high spirited, very outgoing, talkative and placing a high value on collaboration and teamwork. Incumbents here tend to be seen as charismatic with keen social skills with a general attitude of 'Get it Together' as they work at achieving timely results. They also fear social rejection, disapproval and loss of influence with others. Others usually perceive people in the Influence style as too fast-paced, too talkative and overly concerned about the feelings of others. They can also be seen as being more passionate than objective about a matter, and somewhat light on following through and completing tasks, being more concerned about relationships than results.

Across the model in the bottom left quadrant we find people in the Conscientiousness style, at the intersection of the cautious/reflective and questioning/skeptical dimensions. Incumbents here are more reserved and systematic in tackling a task, more analytical and precise as they work to 'Get it Right'. Residents here are more quiet and private, less outgoing and talkative. They are cautious and skeptical about risk, appear more conventional than daring, and want to check their work over two or three times before being satisfied. They are very comfortable asking challenging questions about "why" and in pointing out flaws that others may have missed. However, they pull their own weight on a team and can be relied upon to follow through on commitments with high quality results. Incumbents of other styles often see Conscientious as too private and detached, too risk adverse, too perfectionist, and too organized and detail-oriented to really 'go with the flow' to get things done in a timely manner. But they do appreciate their accuracy.

Now let's put Influence and Conscientious together in an important project or emotional conversation and see how it goes. If they are not aware of each other's style and how to work with the differences from their own style, then it is pretty safe to assume that sparks will fly and the exchange will be difficult and unpleasant. Their styles are completely opposite to one another - and neither is likely to be very appreciative of the interaction behaviours of the other.

Both must recognize and accept that they are bringing two very different styles of interpersonal behavioural and interaction to the meeting. Both styles are legitimate and equally valuable in our society - and the one is not automatically wrong or bad because it is different than the other.

What would the "fly-on-the-wall" interested observer see happening in a constructive and productive encounter? Our Influence player would be seen to be dialling back a little on the drive to results, and the passion and talkativeness. Influence would avoid pressuring Conscientious for immediate decision and action and allow time to analyze new ideas. Arguments and positions would be backed up with evidence and facts rather than passion and intuition. Although the need for urgency may be reinforced, there would be visible effort at finding a balance between being adventurousness and being cautious. Effort would be made to view questions and challenges as pursuit of the best answer, rather than a lack of acceptance of the idea or its author.

Our Conscientious player would be seen to be moving ahead at a slighter more hurried pace than normal comfort would allow. Encouragement would be given to Influence to provide fact and data rather than intuition - but always looking for ways to address the ambiguity when data was not possible. Conscientious would be accepting of the value of energy and spontaneity and would take care to express areas of caution or concern in a straightforward manner without shutting down the creativity and energy. Conscientious would refrain from over analyzing ideas and appearing inflexible, while at the same time, reassuring Influence that disagreement on the merits of the idea now does not mean a poor relationship going forward.

As with last column's analysis, with a little effort, people who have very different styles can find a constructive way to interact. It takes self-awareness of one's own preferred style of behaviour, a sensitivity to how the other person's style is different, and a willingness and determination to stretch styles enough to get the job done without bruising relationships.

There are inexpensive assessment instruments available, with high scientific reliability and validity scores, that can help anyone get a better understanding of their personal style. In our busy world of important and sometimes complicated relationships at home and at work, there are high returns on any effort or investment made to be more understanding and effective in our relationships with others.

Larry Schruder is president and co-owner of The Delfi Group, Pembroke and can be reached at larry.schruder@thedelfigroup.com.