You know when Marco enters a room. He’s lively, friendly, and thrives when he gets a chance to entertain. He’s a performer by nature, loves to tell stories, and has an opinion on everything.
During a brainstorming meeting Marco comes up with the most ideas, but his co-worker, Julianna, feels that he derails momentum with stories about his weekend.
Afterward, Julianna recaps the meeting to another coworker noting, “We had 30 minutes but half of that must have been taken up by Marco’s stories. He’s such a Persuader: he talks too too much and can’t stick to business.”
Behavior Style Is What We Do
Here, Julianna is referring to Marco’s Behavior Style. Behavior Style refers to patterns of behavior a person tends to exhibit depending on their situation or environment. Unlike personality, which can’t intentionally or temporarily be modified by conscious choice, Behavior Style can be. It’s what we do, rather than who we are. It includes all of our observed conduct.
There are 4 Behavior Styles: Persuader, Controller, Analyzer, and Stabilizer. Each of us tends to exhibit one of these as our primary mode of interaction with others while having a secondary style that colors our behaviors as well (e.g. Persuader-Controller or Persuader-Persuader). Understanding the strengths, driving needs and blind spots that accompany each of these Behavior Styles can unlock profound insights into our relationships.
Unfortunately, we’re prone to reducing a person to their Behavior Style, making it their identity. In doing so, we erase their individuality, pigeonhole them, and cut them down to a caricature. We most often tend to do this when we are frustrated by another person. We experience tension in our relationship and, either as a way to justify our ill feelings toward them or our inclination to do nothing to improve the situation, we respond like Julianna: “He’s such a Persuader…” We resign ourselves to thinking this is just the way it is—and we might begin to resent it.
Behavior Styles Are Like Lines on a Map
Similarly, when we identify too rigidly with our own Behavior Style, we limit our ability to grow and adapt, which is essential for meaningful relationships. Behavior Styles have the same function as lines on a map, musical genres, or hours in the day—they are helpful for navigating the world and for framing conversations. The error we make, however, is when we treat these abstractions as if they are rigid.
If Marco were to identify too fiercely with being a Persuader, he’s likely to ignore his own blind spots, justifying weaknesses common to Persuaders (i.e. not following through on instructions well or missing finer details on projects) and become a self-fulfilling prophecy. He then believes he can’t be faulted because they’re part of his essence.
Or, he might become so assured in his strengths as a Persuader that he doesn’t realize he’s sometimes not “the life of the party.” Instead of doing the work, he might start relying on his charm or thinking he can talk his way out of difficult situations. Acting as if his Behavior Style is in his DNA might incline him to think he holds a host of traits by default because of his new label. This is not necessarily so. You may be a Persuader who can’t tell a joke, or a Controller who doesn’t like conflict.
Further, attaching our sense of self to our Behavior Style can produce unintended effects on our emotional well-being. If Marco were to maintain in his mind an idealized mage of himself as a Persuader, he’ll soon find himself upset when he fails to behave accordingly. He might suffer more anxiety before presenting to a group wondering if he’ll be Persuader enough to keep them entertained, or berate himself when he doesn’t have a quick or witty Persuader response to a question.
What Should We Do Instead?
Instead, one might view Behavior Styles like fashion and fit in clothing. Clothing and style play important roles in our social lives, as performative and functional items we adjust to fit the appropriate contexts—be they working in an office, working out at a gym, or attending a wedding. It would be silly to reduce another person to one of these activities or particular items of apparel, as if seeing this snapshot of them means you know their person-hood—or know them very well at all.
One might say that people tend to have a consistent sense of style informed by values, life experiences, and a sense of self, and therefore we can surmise a fair bit about a person from any one of these outings. However, old high school yearbooks or throwback photos remind us of how often our style can change.
Just as a person’s style of dress might reveal to us their varied interests or what they value, their patterns of behavior can inform other tendencies they might have. A person who uses limited hand gestures when speaking and tends to focus on tasks is likely to be very deliberate about their work. That may depend on the social context, such as being in a traditional office setting versus a business-casual start-up company. And their Behavior Style may even change depending on what type of project the person is working on or the relationship dynamic held among the group members.
Although we have preferences, we adjust our behaviors all the time.
In other words, Behavior Styles is a framework we use to guide our interactions with others, but the more we insist that people are the embodiment of these behavioral forms, the more our relationships are going to suffer.
Returning to Marco and Julianna: as long as he continues building a sense of self around his perception of being a Persuader or she continues to perceive him as an obnoxious manifestation of that Behavior Style, their personal and professional growth will be hindered.