Tag Archives: Assertiveness

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.

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Assertiveness

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

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


There is only one thing that you need to know about assertiveness, to fully understand it:

Assertiveness is all about respect

Assertiveness is about the respect you have for the people you deal with and for yourself.  Let’s see a summary diagram.

Assertiveness

Aggressive behaviour has little respect for the other person and instead, focuses on winning-out over them.  It can be controlling – even abusive  – and has no place in modern management.

Passive behaviour shows little respect for yourself.  It focuses on not getting hurt and so leads people to submit their own legitimate needs and desires to avoid the possibility of confrontation.  Often that possibility is more perceived than real.  Passivity shows itself in a fear to disagree, guilt at saying no, and a reluctance to offer feedback.  It too has no value to you as a manager.

Assertive behaviour is what to aim for.  Respect yourself and the other person and focus on over-coming events and getting the best result you can.  Do what is right: not what is easy and celebrate success.  Be collaborative, offer sincere praise and objective feedback, say what you think and feel, taking responsibility for your emotions and for your decisions.  Be confident to ask for help and support when you need it.

An Exercise

Think back to examples you have observed in colleagues of assertive, aggressive and passive behaviours.  In your notebook, note down:

  1. some words you associate with each of these
  2. voice and speech patterns you associate with each of these
  3. facial expressions and patterns of eye-contact you associate with each of these
  4. postures, gestures and body language you associate with each of these

Exercise Part 2: Reflection

Now look over your notes.  Which of these seems most like you a lot of the time?  Which one do you tend towards during stress?

Assertively making a request

Be direct but courteous.  Be specific about what you want and offer details as appropriate.  You don’t need to apologise, unless you know you are putting someone out, but do say ‘please’.  The best asking words are ‘would you…’  Alternatives can seem weak (could you), doubting my ability (can you) or too direct (will you).  Finally, respect my right to say ‘no’.  If no is not an option, then be honest, and tell me.

Assertively disagreeing and putting your views

Listen intently.  Identify where we agree and disagree and acknowledge both.  Use ‘I’ to take responsibility for your point of view and be constructive in building on mine.  Offer reasons, facts and supporting evidence.

Assertively giving bad news

Be proactive in addressing the situation.  Make good eye contact, and prepare me with: ‘I have some bad news.’ Be brief and to the point, though never abrupt.  Be specific about the news, but the more complex and damaging it is, the less information I will be able to take in – at least at first.  Answer my questions and allow me to express my emotions.  You do not need to be defensive.  Be factual and caring and be prepared to help me work through the implications.

Assertively saying ‘no’

Be short, to the point, and respectful.  Offer reasons when you can and alternatives where appropriate.  Make your ‘no’ into a ‘NO’ – a ‘Noble Objection’.  This concept is explained fully in the new  (autumn 2012) book, The Yes/No Book.

Further Reading