Understand Other People

Better communication through a better understanding of behavior

I Just Don’t Like You

The Story of Behavioral Differences

Behavioral styles often come between us. The problem is that most people don’t even know there are different behavioral styles. Isn’t everyone like me? Doesn’t everyone approach things the way I do? And if they don’t, isn’t there something wrong with them?

Behavioral research started many years ago, with one popular tool called DISC as the result. William Marston Moulton, the inventor of the lie detector, creator of the comic series “Wonder Woman” and a Harvard PhD, identified four primary approaches to behavior. The DISC tool was created based on Moulton’s work and has been tested in tens of countries and over decades with different people.

It seems simple in concept – we all have different natural tendencies on different behavioral scales. When it comes to “D” for “Dominance,” for example, some people are charge ahead, go-get-results, no holds barred types. Others are more patient and want to pause. They want to think through what they need to do, and wait until they have the information. One is moving fast toward completing the task, and the other is slower, carefully taking steps to get the task accomplished.

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Is either one right or wrong? Of course not. In fact, in different circumstances either one could do very well. The problem comes when I might naturally be the hard-charging boss, for example, and you are the more “low key” employee. I don’t think you are bold enough, and you think I am too pushy and “mean,” trying to get things done.

We react to the person, not to the behaviors. Instead of saying, “My boss is a strong D. She is a results-focused person,” you might say instead, “What a jerk! She needs to calm down and chill out.” We take something that is objective (i.e., behavioral style and approach) and make it subjective.

Behavioral style is often the reason we will like or dislike someone. We tend to “like” those who are like us. We can communicate more effectively, and have greater understanding, with those people who naturally behave in a manner we understand.

But when the styles differ, and we don’t understand the differences, sparks can fly! In the example of the “I” for “Influencing,” there are people on this scale who are friendly, outgoing and perpetually upbeat types of folks. They smile, laugh and make jokes, and genuinely enjoy being around others. If you are not this type of person, and you are more skeptical and distrusting of others, you could view this behavior as “false cheerleading” or “too upbeat” and “rose-colored glasses.” The person who is upbeat sees the skeptic as “a stick in the mud” or “unfriendly and cold.”

We view the behavior we don’t understand in negative terms. Now, of course there are many cases where opposites attract, both in love and in business. We might be married to someone who is our complete opposite and we value the difference. If I am low on the “S” scale for “Steadiness,” and I like to jump from activity to activity and like to shake things up, I could benefit from and enjoy a mate or a partner who is more systematic and logical and who likes to put things in order.

We can learn to leverage – and appreciate – the differences, but only when we put a value on behavior that differs from our own.

Start to think about your natural tendencies and the ways you normally approach the following:

D – Dominance (problems and challenges with emotion of anger or impatience)

I – Influencing (interaction with people with emotion of optimism)

S – Steadiness (steady pace, logic and plans with non-emotion)

C- Compliance (rules and procedures, quality control with emotion of fear and worry)

As you become more aware of your own preferences for these things, start to look at the people you don’t get along with very well, or tend to reject. Do you judge behavior that is different from your own as “bad” and negative? Or do you value the differences and seek to understand?

Learning about behavior can turn subjective approaches to more objective ones, giving us many more options of how to interact with, and understand, others.

Beverly D. Flaxington teaches at Suffolk University.

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