Want to Be More Productive at Work? Know Your People Style

Co-workers are like family. Most of the time, you don’t get to choose them and there will inevitably be people around with whom you naturally clash.

However, at work, how well you relate with others and whether your co-workers like and respect you absolutely affects your ability to get things done.

Fortunately, there’s a new edition of the classic book People Styles at Work by Robert Bolton and Dorothy Grover Bolton that helps us understand the behavioral styles that determine how our co-workers think, make decisions, communicate, manage time and stress, and deal with conflict.

By understanding your own and the people style you’re dealing with, you can establish rapport with someone more easily, become more persuasive, and avoid miscommunication and the possibility of rubbing someone the wrong way.

The Four People Styles

According to the book, industrial psychologist David Merrill found that two dimensions of behavior could explain and predict how people behave: assertiveness and responsiveness (see Figure 4-3).

Assertiveness is the degree to which people’s behavior is seen as forceful and directive. Assertive people are more energetic and quick to action than less assertive people. Responsiveness is the degree to which people are seen as showing emotions or demonstrating sensitivity. Responsive people express feelings more openly, enjoy working with people, and are concerned about the human aspect of issues. Both of these dimensions should be seen as a continuum.

Your people style is based on other people’s perceptions of you – not on how you see yourself. There is a self-assessment exercise consisting of 18 questions in the book to help you determine your style based on how over 50 % of people may perceive you (but it’s best to get other’s direct opinions). There are no good or bad styles; there are only differences among people, and success or failure is unrelated to any style. All styles when used effectively are good ones. The book also indicates a nearly even split, 25% of the population (in the United States) falls into each style.

Analyticals are people who are less assertive and less responsive. Emotionally restrained, they rarely compliment others or get excited. They are organized and systematic. They crave data — the more the better. They are slow decision makers because they want to make sure they have carefully weighed all the facts.

Amiables are, like analyticals, less assertive, but more responsive. Friendly and generous with their time, they are excellent team players. They aren’t flamboyant creators, but rather diligent, quiet workers who do what’s asked of them.

Expressives are, like amiables, more responsive. But they are also more assertive. They’re friendly and empathetic like amiables but aren’t as low-key about it. Flamboyant, energetic, and impulsive, they are the most outgoing of the People Styles.

Drivers are, like expressives, more assertive. But they are less responsive. Decisive and task-oriented, they focus intently on the job at hand. In conversations, they get right to the point. They are purposeful and energetic, just as expressives. But expressives are concerned about people as human beings. For drivers, there’s no time for such concerns.

The Style Flex

According to the authors, “When two people of different styles live or work together, one or both must adjust. If neither adapts to the other, communication will deteriorate, cooperation will decline, the relationship will be stressed, and in work situations productivity will inevitably slump.”

The Boltons advocate a four step process to improving relationships with co-workers who may have different styles than you.  They call this “style flex” and here’s how you use it.

First, identify your style and the style of the other person.  To identify your own style, you have to ask the opinions of others.  Only they can appropriately categorize your external behavior (i.e. assertiveness and responsiveness) without being influenced by your internal motivations or feelings.

To identify the other person’s style, observe them carefully for clues like a loud voice or flamboyant gestures.

The second step is to plan ahead, selecting the specific behaviors you will adapt and how you will adapt them.  The third step is to implement your changes and monitor the other person’s reactions.  Make mid-course corrections if necessary.  After your next meeting with the person in question comes the last step: reviewing the process and drawing lessons for future interactions.

Have you used Style Flex before?  How did it work for you?








Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. Follow her @alevit.

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