Category Archives: Tackling Difficult Conversations

David Merrill & Roger Reid: Social Styles

Social Styles are a model of personality that focuses on our outer behaviour, rather than the inner you. Its founders described it as ‘the you that’s on display’.

In the early 1960s, two industrial psychologists, David Merrill and Roger Reid wanted to understand whether they could predict managerial, leadership and sales performance. To do this, they explored how people behave in social situations. They chose not to concern themselves with why.

Starting with BF Skinner’s ideas of behaviourism and James Taylor’s structured list of behavioural descriptions, Merrill and Reid discovered that people’s behaviour follows two continua, which they labelled: assertiveness and responsiveness.

Assertiveness and Responsiveness

Assertiveness styles range from ‘asking’ behaviours to ‘telling’ behaviours, while our responsiveness varies from ’emoting’, or displaying our feelings, to ‘controlling’ our emotions.

From these two dimensions, they defined four behavioural styles that we each display. As with other models, we each have our preferences, but can display all of the styles from time to time.

The value of the model lies in using it to assess the people around you, and knowing how to get the best from people with each preference.

Merrill and Reid labelled our ability to adapt to other people’s styles as ‘versatility’.

Four Quadrants: The Social Styles

David Merrill & Roger Reid - Social Styles

David Merrill & Roger Reid – Social Styles

The four quadrants that the two dimensions of assertiveness and responsiveness create, give the four social styles.

Analytical

The analytical style of interaction asserts itself by asking, rather than telling. It is also characterised by a high level of emotional control. It values facts, logic and accuracy, presenting a disciplined and unemotional – some would say cold – face to the world. This manifests in a deep need to be right about things, and therefore a highly deliberative, data-driven approach to decisions. As with all styles, there is a weakness, which is a lack of willingness to state a position until the analytical person is certain of their ground.

Driving

The driving style is the typical task-oriented behaviour that prefers to tell rather than ask and shows little concern for feelings. It cares more about results. This is a fast-paced style, keen to make decisions, take power, and exert control. Often unco-operative, this is an efficient, results-driven behaviour, the inevitable compromise of which is to sacrifice personal relationships in the short term and, in extremis, in the long term too. The weakness of this style is evident: a frequent unwillingness to listen and accommodate the needs of others.

Expressive

The expressive style is also assertive, but uses feelings to achieve its objectives. The behaviour is highly spontaneous and demands recognition and approval, and favours gut instinct in decision-making. At its best, this style comes across as charismatic, enthusiastic and idealistic. At its worst, however, the expressive style can be seen as impulsive, shallow and even manipulative.

Amiable

The amiable style expresses concern for people above all else. Keen to share emotion and not to assert itself over others, building and maintaining relationships dominate behaviour. These concerns manifest a slow, deliberate pace, coming across as sensitive, supportive and dependable. The corollary is a certain nervousness about, and even a resistance to, change. This arises from a deep need for personal security. The weaknesses of this style are the reverse of the strengths of the opposite quadrant: a low willingness to initiate change, and take action.

Assessment of Merrill and Reid’s Social Styles

Is this just another four box model?

Well, yes and no. In its current form, the company that David Merrill formed, Tracom, uses the model with a third, fully-integrated dimension: versatility. This is about how the four styles manifest in the real world, to meet other people’s needs. It is  closely related to ideas of Emotional Intelligence.

Even as ‘just another four box model’, it’s a good one. As a result, it has been widely emulated. A very similar model by Tony Alessandra uses the styles of Thinker, Director, Socialiser and Relater to replace Merrill and Reid’s four social styles, and dimensions of relationship and task orientation, to replace responsiveness and assertiveness.

Both models have considerable power in helping managers understand their behaviours and those of other people around them. And by adapting their style, the models allow managers to get the best from any social situation. And work is, of course, if nothing else… social.

Managing Difficult Relationships: How to Handle Different Monkeys (and what they think of you)

Today we have a second guest blog from author Pete English, on the topic of ‘Mastering Difficult Conversations: How to Handle Different Monkeys (and what they think of you)’.

This is part 2 of the earlier blog, ‘Mastering Difficult Conversations: What sort of monkey are you facing?

 

Managing Difficult Relationships
Part 2: How to Handle Different Monkeys
(and what they think of you)

Rapport is easier if you can identify the kind of person that you’re dealing with.

In my last blog post I described the different kinds of primates that we encounter in the workplace, and how to spot them. This post will show you how to tailor your approach to each type of monkey.

If you’re dealing with a Chimp you’ll know because they will want to focus on the task in hand, they’ll use debate as a way of getting to the truth (which can come across as argumentative) and they will be conscious of power relationships.

If you’re dealing with a Bonobo you’ll know because they are responsive and smiley when you talk to them, they’ll appear relaxed and friendly, and their primary focus will seem to be on the relationship – forming a connection with you.

If you tend to be a Chimp and you’re dealing with a Chimp, then it’s normally pretty straightforward – you ‘get’ each other. Similarly, Bonobos recognise one another and can rely on their preferred way of working. 

But if you’re a Chimp and you have to work with a Bonobo (or vice versa) then you need to adapt your approach.

How a Chimp Views a Bonobo

How a Chimp Views a Bonobo

The Chimp misinterprets the Bonobo’s friendliness as weakness.

How a Bonobo Views a Chimp

How a Bonobo Views a Chimp

The Bonobo misinterprets the Chimp’s strongly task-focused approach as an attempt to dominate and bully.

So…

Whether you’re a Bonobo or a Chimp, if you are facing a difficult conversation and you want to avoid being misread here are three tips to help you handle the situation:

Tip 1 Pay Careful Attention to Etiquette.

Small things matter. If you are a Chimp, be very polite and solicitous (Bonobos place great emphasis on courtesy). If you are a Bonobo, show respect for the other person and their environment but without demeaning yourself (Chimps get very agitated if their physical, organisational or psychological territory is threatened).

Tip 2 Use ‘Safe Phrases’

The following phrases press the right buttons whether you are dealing with a Chimp or a Bonobo (they convey the message ‘we are in the same troop’):

  • ‘We can handle this’
  • ‘We’ll sort this’
  • ‘We’ll get through this’

Tip 3 Get a Grip on Your Inner Primate

Recognise that we all tend to act instinctively most of the time, and that this includes becoming defensive when we feel threatened (eg in a difficult conversation).  If you have the chance, have a clear view before the encounter of:

  • how you want to behave
  • what you are going to say
  • how you will respond if the other party behaves in a certain way.

Pete’s website is www.peterenglish.co.uk and he can be contacted at pete@peterenglish.co.uk   He has written three Pocketbooks:

This article was originally published at: peterjenglish.blogspot.co.uk

Mastering Difficult Conversations: What sort of monkey are you facing?

Today we have a guest blog from author Pete English, who has just given a successful presentation at CIPD’s Annual Conference and Exhibition on the topic of ‘Mastering Difficult Conversations: What sort of monkey are you facing?’. Pete’s website is www.peterenglish.co.uk and he can be contacted at pete@peterenglish.co.uk   He has written three Pocketbooks: Tackling Difficult Conversations, Confidence and Succeeding at Interviews.

We’re all primates.

Many of our day-to-day behaviours have been hard-wired into us over thousands of years of evolution. Our ancestors survived by being excellent threat-detectors (it was important to decide quickly whether an animal or situation was safe) and by being good at sucking up to the leader of the pack, to put it bluntly – according to the evolutionary psychologists, being friendly with the alpha male or female enhanced your survival prospects.

So, we’ve evolved to be vigilant and status conscious. Apparently when we meet someone, the first thing we unconsciously assess is their level of status – do I need to be wary of this person? Do I need to keep on the right side of them?

And other primates are sniffing you, picking up cues as to how powerful you are, how much respect they need to give you.

If you want to master this game, it helps to know what kind of monkey you are dealing with. Let’s consider the Chimpanzee and the Bonobo.

Chimpanzees

In the wild, chimpanzees are very territorial, competitive and (particularly when threatened), ferociously aggressive. There is a strict hierarchy with a male chimp at the top.

Chimpanzees

 

In your organisation, you know you’re dealing with a chimp when:

  • you feel like they’re trying to dominate (often using their tone of voice and body language), and they are inclined to displays of power and status;
  • the conversations often have an argumentative tone – there’s a Win/Lose feel to the interaction;
  • their focus is on the task in hand, with little or no attention paid to pleasantries.

Bonobos

Bonobos are very different. They are much more relaxed about their territory. Rather than seeking to dominate, they engage in ‘affable social networking’. Bonobos are much less hierarchical than chimps, and tend to form matriarchal groups.

Bonobos

You know you’re dealing with a bonobo because:

  • their body language is responsive and affirming – lots of smiling and nodding;
  • the conversation is friendly, and relaxed;
  • you get the impression that their primary focus is ‘mutual stroking’, with the task being secondary.

Next time: how to handle each type of monkey (and what they think of you).

 

How to Manage a Challenging Conversation

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


As a manager, you will sometimes have to set up and have conversations you would really rather leave to someone else.  These challenging conversations can be about:

  • performance issues
  • personal issues
  • employment issues
  • terms and conditions
  • giving bad news
  • complaints
  • conduct issues

This is one of the least pleasant parts of your job, so it pays to prepare well and follow a process.

Exercise 1: Before You Go any Further

Take a moment to review the last module, Transactional Analysis for Managers. How does this apply to challenging conversations?  You know that an Adult state is ideal, but….

How would your being in Child state affect the way you manage a challenging conversation?

How would your being in Parent state affect the way you manage a challenging conversation?

What body language betrays Parent and Child state? How can you adjust your posture to support an Adult ego state?

Seven Steps

Let’s look at the Seven Steps for handling a challenging conversation.

Challenging Conversation

Preparation

Think through in advance how you want to conduct the conversation. Review the things you want to raise and identify those that are most important. Your conversation will be easier and more effective if you can focus it on the most substantive matters. Continually saying ‘and another thing’ can only make it harder.

Create Safety

Look for the right time and place to conduct the conversation and give the other person notice of what you want to talk about, so they can prepare, rather than react against you if they feel hijacked. Acknowledge that you and they may find the conversation difficult but express your desire to work through it openly and constructively. Demonstrate a relentless commitment to being respectful and maintain that even if the other person does not. If the emotional temperature rises to a level where you not feel emotionally or physically safe, call for a recess.

Setting-up the Conversation

If the relationship renders it appropriate to start with a short rapport building chat do so – otherwise stick to the courtesies that are standard in your culture. Too much pleasantry can come across as evasive – even manipulative.

So be honest without being blunt. Start by stating the nature of the conversation and what you want to achieve as a result.

Saying your Piece

Now say your prepared piece. Be clear, explicit and follow the facts concerned. Check understanding frequently and respond openly to questions and challenges.

If you are interrupted, listen to the interruption respectfully, deal with it and then resume where you left off – clarifying where you had got to if there was a long gap.

Listening to the Response

Listen carefully to the response, without interrupting. Note any misunderstandings and make the assumption that they are all inadvertent. Take responsibility for not explaining clearly enough and explain again, differently if possible.

Dialogue

Take responsibility for the structure and process of the dialogue, but do not try to control the other person’s responses. Listen hard when they are speaking and pause to consider your responses even if you think you know the answer immediately.

Ending the Conversation

Close the conversation by emphasising the next steps that either you have both agreed or that you can reasonably require of the other person.

Further Reading 

Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook

The Problem Behaviour Pocketbook

The Resolving Conflict Pocketbook

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook

Blog: Conflict: As simple as AEIOU

Blog: Resistance to Negotiation

Blog: Is This Relationship Going To Work?

Is This Relationship Going To Work?

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that we wouldn’t necessarily have chosen, working with people who aren’t our natural soul-mates. Whether the relationship is Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, or two colleagues sharing an office, conflict is probably going to arise at some point in the relationship.

Messrs Clegg and Cameron are both assertive and persuasive individuals who are used to winning the argument. But if they are going to work successfully together they will need to use a range of styles to manage potential conflict between themselves and their party members.

Five Approaches to Managing Conflict

Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann describe five approaches we can take to handling any particular conflict:

Compete – we aim to win.

Accommodate – our priority is to keep the other person happy.

Compromise – we do a deal. It’s not perfect but we can both live with it. At least in the short term.

Avoid – we take the view that it’s better not to open the can of worms, so we don’t address the issue.

Collaborate – we look for a solution that fully meets our needs, and also satisfies other person. A true ‘win/win’.

Which One To Use?

Looking at these five styles, you would think that the ‘right’ approach to conflict would always be to collaborate. However, there are a couple of problems with collaboration:

  1. It can take a long time – you have to sit down, explore the other person’s position, analyse the underlying needs and concerns then try to thrash out a resolution. It’s great when you have the time (and the energy) to do this. But sometimes there’s a deadline. Sometimes the markets are showing signs of impatience.
  2. It isn’t always possible. For example, when you and your colleague have fundamentally opposing views or values.

The trick is actually knowing which type of approach is most appropriate in any situation, and consciously adapting your natural preference for one of the five styles.

T-KStyles

So here’s the deal

One of the secrets of handling conflict successfully, whether it’s in a shared office or the House of Commons, is choosing the right strategy.

Management Pocketbooks you may enjoy

TacklingDiffConvsFor more on handling conflict, and coping with difficult conversations generally, take a look at Peter English’s new Pocketbook, The Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook.

.

.

Other Pocketbooks you might like include:

You may also be interested to know …

The Thomas-Kilmann model is also available as a self-scoring psychometric instrument. For global sales, check out the CPP website, or for UK sales, check out OPP’s website.

Author: Peter English

This article was written by Peter English, author of:

The Tackling Difficult Conversations Pocketbook and

The Succeeding at Interviews Pocketbook.