Friday, June 17

It's Not All Monkey Business

I do try to keep this blog varied, and with that in mind I'm going to write about something called "social styles" this week.

After attending a course recently I was inspired to read a book by Nigel Rosner called "It's a Zoo Around Here: The New Rules for Better Communication".   Well worth reading -- if only because you can polish-off the entire thing in about 40 minutes!

Although I'm a sucker for psychometric tests and categorisation of personality types, I've become a little jaded over the years by incessant references to Myers-Briggs, Belbin, and more recently the Strengths Finder test.

One of my difficulties has been that my brain simply isn't big enough to switch between a conversation I'm actively involved in and a parallel assessment of which personality type my interlocutor is exhibiting, turns of phrase, body language and other NLP signals, and more importantly, what all that might mean!

So I listened with some trepidation as I was introduced to yet another model which sought to pigeon-hole us all.

Where Rosner's model scores over the others is that it's simpler, and much more useful on a day-to-day basis. 

From what little experimentation I've done since learning about it, I've found that I can just about grapple with four distinct "social styles" alongside a conversation.  I'll express them here as personal ads ...
  • "Dolphin - Friendly and Affable - Low assertiveness, low emotional control - Keen for people to like me"
  • "Elephant - Systematical and analytical - Low assertivess, but high emotional control - Want to do right thing, at all costs"
  • "Lion - Direct and controlling - High assertiveness and emotional control - Success for me is swift adherence to process"
  • "Monkey - Creative and animated - High assertiveness, but low emotional control - Ideas are what's important"
You can all think of a few people who fit neatly into these camps, as well as few people who seem to span more than one of them.  You suspect you know your place, but perhaps you're not entirely sure.

In my course, all this stuff was put to a purpose.  In the same way that rapport results from matching body language, if we match people's social styles perhaps we can have much better conversations.  (That's already started working for me.)

The reason all this is interesting to me is because of its direct contribution to creativity at work.  If we play to people's preferred styles, we ought to get better results.  I would hazard that we should:
  1. Produce hard evidence to persuade Lions that creativity is important, and that it can be procedurised, then ask them to sponsor that view in the organisation,
  2. Encourage Monkeys to launch ideas (they won't need asking twice),
  3. Invite Elephants to vet and refine ideas, and
  4. Rely on Dolphins to keep the peace, especially between the Monkeys and the Elephants
I'm not trying to say that Person X can only play one of these four parts.   Apparently 95% of us have at least one backup style, so we should expect to play naturally in two of them.

(There's huge overlap between these stages and de Bono's Six Thinking Hats, but I won't bore you with that right now.  Some other time maybe.)

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