I was introduced to Behavior Styles 16 years ago and it continues to be one of the most impactful things I have learned as an adult.
When I first took the Behavior Style Self Assessment and learned that I came out with a Stabilizer–Persuader preference, I felt that I was “one of the good ones.” I wore the label with pride knowing that I was comfortable around people; unfortunately, I also tended to discredit others who held a different Behavior Style preference than me. One could say that my preference became a bias. Not only did this bias get in the way of team success but so did my struggle to fully appreciate the importance of technical expertise alongside relational savviness.
Thriving teams value all four patterns of behavior. In other words, they esteem doing tasks and achieving results (a strength of “above midline” Behavior Styles) just as much as fostering good relationships and interacting with people (a strength of “below midline” Behavior Styles).
Realizing My Own Lack of Awareness
My awareness around this—or perhaps, the realization of my own blind spots—drastically changed when I became an administrator in an elementary school. All of the relational and people skills that I brought were helpful, but I also needed to understand schedules, get things done in a timely manner, and have very challenging conversations with teachers, students, and parents.
While refreshing my understanding of Behavior Styles during my first year, I overheard people say things like, “If you need a hug, you know where to go,” and “He can be funny but don’t ask him to organize things.” These comments, and the subsequent coaching they motivated me to pursue, brought me to a place where I realized that to be an effective leader I needed to understand which behaviors were better suited for which social circumstances. Put simply, I needed to become more emotionally intelligent. Emotional intelligence is, in part, matching the appropriate behavior with the appropriate situation.
Because I was deathly afraid of hurting other people’s feelings, I did not like conflict. To remedy myself of this, I started reading every book I could find regarding having difficult interactions, including classics like Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High (2002), and Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time (2002). I went to workshops, (sometimes twice!), took classes at the local university about mediation, and started to develop skills that helped me enter situations that I would never have dreamed of doing before.
I still don’t enjoy conflict but I have developed a wide range of tools to help me have the courage and capacity when those instances come about and I can regularly do it when there is a win-win for all parties involved.
Learning from My ‘Above Midline’ Colleagues
Throughout my leadership journey I have tried to remain receptive to feedback. Not that I enjoy the process mind you, but it has also helped me grow.
Whether it is a Behavior Style 360 Assessment or an evaluation conference, I try to be open to learning. When I approach things that way, I start to look at colleagues who possess skills that I don’t naturally gravitate toward.
In my position now, I have several colleagues who strive toward quality, accuracy, and thoroughness (Analyzers), and those who also know how to get results (Controllers). The task-focused thought process is one that I struggle with. However, I know that it is something I need to do at certain times in my role.
I find myself asking these team members questions about how they did something, how they pieced together an idea, or even how to better work Microsoft Excel! In return, I have shared with them my knowledge about People Skills and the importance of trust and respect. Although I know that I don’t naturally do what they seem to do with such ease, I have learned how to more wisely navigate situations that help me be more effective in my personal and professional life.
Helping Children Become More Emotionally Intelligent Through Behavior Styles
I have also seen this mental model and its social practices fostered among children. Several years ago, I worked with a kindergarten teacher who was highly impacted after learning about Behavior Styles and determined to use it with his students.
Building on the framework that there are four Behavior Styles, he tied each pattern of behavior to a superhero. While teaching them about Behavior Styles, he also made them aware that these are not labels. He would rotate his groups so that each individual got to be a different Behavior Style or superhero. He would ask questions like, “Which superhero would be the best one to be right now?”
This provided kids with the chance to see how other patterns of behavior worked and to understand that all Behavior Styles need to be valued. This teacher told me, “Students are becoming more aware of themselves. It gives kids the freedom to be themselves and to capitalize on their own Behavior Style preferences.”
Not only were students becoming more aware, but this teacher also noticed how his students became more tolerant of one another. He told me that his “students understand now that while one desk partner needs to be up and talking about their ideas, another needs more time to think about them before speaking.”
He has seen that tolerance and understanding increase significantly with his students because they are acknowledging their differences—and becoming okay with them.
[Read “‘I Control the Narrative’”]
A Key to Enlarging One’s Impact in the World
After 25 years in public education, I continue to learn how to better balance the “people side” with the “task side.” I’m intentional about seeking feedback regarding the things I am doing well and the things that need to change.
When I am working with new teachers and administrators, I can quickly discern their Behavior Style preferences (with relative confidence). This enables me to affirm individuals’ strengths as well as introduce them to the need for a balance between being task- and people-focused. To put it differently, we can respect a person because they demonstrate technical skills, but if they appear to lack competent “people skills,” we are less likely to trust them. And vice versa.
We need both halves of the whole in order for our organizations, families, and communities to really flourish.
Each of the Behavior Styles has its place. Further, I know that If I am patient and help others strengthen their awareness and abilities to situationally modify behaviors—using the pattern of behavior appropriate to the situation—then they can leave an impact that will be larger than they could have previously imagined.