Behavior Style Cultural Bias Racism

Don’t Let Your Behavior Style Preference Become a Cultural Bias

There are a few important things I’ve learned about Behavior Styles over the years:

  1. Most people exhibit all four to some degree, but no one equally enjoys doing each of them. (One caveat: good actors know how to do all four Behavior Styles with convincing depth . . . but even they don’t equally enjoy doing all four in real life.)
  2. There are many variables that influence who we are (i.e., our personality), such as birth order, family of origin, culture, ethnicity, race, life experiences, genetics, peer pressure, age, gender, etc. The depth of these elements prevents Behavior Styles (i.e., what we do) from becoming narrowly defined in real life. (And for this, I am thankful. Imagine how boring the world would be if it could be reduced to four Behavior Styles or their 16 primary-secondary combinations!)
  3. These factors not only add richness and depth to the Behavior Styles model that are worth exploring and understanding but also create remarkably powerful inaccurate assumptions and negative impacts.

In other words, besides the negative impact the four Behavior Styles can have on each other, the layer of other components adds significant weight to those variables. One simple example: if someone has low self-esteem or self-worth, the Behavior Style they prefer will be perceived more negatively by others, regardless of which Behavior Style it is. Conversely, if someone has high levels of confidence, humility, and emotional intelligence, the Behavior Style they prefer will, again, be perceived more positively by others, regardless of which pattern of behavior it is.

[Read “Why I Prefer Behavior Style Assessments over Personality Tests“]

Behavior Styles and Culture

One social aspect that continually fascinates me as I view it through a Behavior Style lens is culture. A simple definition of culture: “the characteristics and knowledge of a particular group of people, encompassing language, religion, cuisine, social habits, music, and arts.”

Taking this one step further, culture creates norms that “codif[y] acceptable conduct in society; it serves as a guideline for behavior, dress, language, and demeanor in a situation, which serves as a template for expectations in a social group.”

Specifically, it is these norms that emerge from culture that are so intriguing. To be clear, I’m not thinking of only geographic culture, but also of organizational, team, family, and ethnic communities. What I repeatedly see is how very difficult it is for individuals, teams, families, organizations, ethnic groups, and nations to equally value all four Behavior Styles. We may intellectually know that all four are important, but just like on an individual level, we tend to prefer two and elevate them either slightly or substantially above the others.

To illustrate this phenomenon, I like to half-jokingly ask people in Behavior Style training sessions which is the best one. The correct answer, of course, is that there is no best Behavior Style, but the more primal answer is that “my Behavior Style is the best one.” While there is humor in this, there is also a powerful insight.

[Read “You Are Not Your Behavior Style“]

National Cultures and Their Biases

In my observations, travels, and many conversations with people around the world, I’ve observed how some countries value two Behavior Styles over others. I’m not an anthropological expert, but I don’t think it takes that level of knowledge to see these tendencies. All you need to do is ask many people how to describe a culture and listen to see if a pattern of words appears. 

They usually do.

Let’s try an experiment. What words come to mind when you think of Japan? Germany? Brazil? England? My guess is that when you think of these countries, different adjectives go through your head. These words reflect a culture, and they also indicate a Behavior Style preference. There’s nothing wrong with that. Cultures are wonderfully unique, in part, because they have distinctives.

One of the most powerful memories I have of seeing this cultural bias took place years ago when I traveled to a foreign country. I was teaching Behavior Styles to a group of college students. After I knew they had a clear understanding of the four basic patterns of behavior, I asked them to raise their hands based on which type they most identified with. What I saw was a revelation. The students with Controller, Analyzer, and Stabilizer tendencies affirmed their preference with outward expressions that matched the corresponding Behavior Style. But for the Persuaders, the response was dramatically different. A Behavior Style that is normally expressive and enthusiastic was affirmed with more subdued and an almost embarrassed demeanor. This response grabbed my attention so powerfully I had to explore it.

As I continued to have conversations in that country about patterns of behavior, I avoided any explicit or direct reference to the Behavior Styles model. Instead, I asked about their culture. What I repeatedly heard confirmed what I saw in the classroom—one pattern of behavior was considered inappropriate, or less appropriate, than the others. The more expressive tendency of that pattern came across as more muted because of cultural norms.

[Read “Here’s the Fundamental Difference Between Behavior and Personality“]

Implications for Organizations, Teams, and Society

It usually doesn’t take long for me to see which two Behavior Styles are more highly valued in an organization. They are readily apparent and often reflected in the leadership. If the senior leader has a Stabilizer-Analyzer preference, the organizational culture will typically be described as nice and high-quality (or passive and critical, depending on levels of trust and respect within the structure). If the senior leader has a Controller-Persuader preference, the organization will often be known as direct and dynamic (or cold and aggressive, again depending on the degree of trust and respect present in the organization).

At one company, one Behavior Style was so implicitly valued over others that employees took pride in physically displaying an image that symbolized this particular Behavior Style on their door. The unspoken but overt truth was that if you wanted to get ahead in the organization one requirement was that you needed to prefer it over the others. The bias was so strong that many people who took the Behavior Style assessment would make sure the results came out showing the Behavior Style the company favored—even though they personally preferred a different pattern of behavior.

This same bias can occur in a team. Although all four patterns of behavior are necessary for organizational and team success, the deeper cultural truth is that two Behavior Styles are considered better than others in most organizations and teams.

These biases are natural when you consider the nature of the business or requirements of a role. An accounting firm will, understandably, tend to reflect more of an Analyzer culture. Elementary school teachers will, understandably, tend to model more of a Stabilizer preference. Salespeople will reflect more Persuader, and so on. While these tendencies are reasonable, if you play them out to an extreme, I hope you can see the danger. 

Each of the Behavior Styles are necessary because they bring different strengths to the team, organization, and society—they cover each other’s blind spots. But if we are not aware of the natural bias we individually or institutionally have toward our less preferred Behavior Styles, we will disenfranchise people and minimize the strengths they offer. 

Behavior Styles are not often considered an important aspect of diversity, but they are, and when they are not equally valued there are powerful consequences.

[Read “Simple Things Emotionally Intelligent Teams Do“]

A Deeper Look at Our Current Cultural Moment

There are buried and profound implications around this tendency in society, especially when it comes to ethnic groups or race. An example? What words come to mind when you think of an expressive Asian woman? Or an intense Middle Eastern man? Or an assertive African-American woman? There is a definite possibility, depending on your ethnic or racial background, that an uncomplimentary word will come to mind, and those words can also be associated with a negative Behavior Style descriptor. But within that ethnic group or race, the words that come to mind could be quite different.

I was inspired to write this blog post because of the current dramatic social unrest in the US pertaining to racism. Although Behavior Style differences are not directly related to issues of race, the model can be one helpful way to understand tendencies of thought, action, and unconscious bias. 

In the weeks ahead, I plan to explore this subject more fully with others. I hope you will check in and see what we’re learning.

George is President and CEO at Effectiveness Institute. With 30 years of experience in leadership development and organizational management, he has helped organizations reach higher levels of performance in industries that include technology, finance, legal, academia, healthcare, automotive, aviation, and service.

He is an avid reader and musician who loves hiking around the PNW.

4 thoughts on “Don’t Let Your Behavior Style Preference Become a Cultural Bias”

  1. Well said, George. This is a refreshingly deep inquiry into underlying human tendencies, especially the default assumption of superiority of “my” way over anyone else.

  2. Thank you for the post, George! There is inherent risk in believing we “are” our Behavior Style. These were some great examples based on your work around the world, demonstrating the effect on inclusion.

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