Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bigger Life

Yesterday, in response to Big Life, Sree posted some comments on roles and personality types that I found inspiring and useful.

For example, Sree points out that classification can help us to better understand and communicate with others.

I think the basic concept of classification is very useful at first – at least, I found it tremendously useful to explain the behavior of people around me, and to a certain extent my own.

That garrulous aunt who used to drive me up the wall? That overbearing cousin who keeps ordering people around? That nitpicky brother-in-law? All can be neatly explained by identifying their personality type.

It even helps me work with them ongoingly – I know to emphasize facts and figures with my brother-in-law, actions and results with my cousin and people and fun with my aunt.

Sree also points out that classification can be useful in understanding our own behaviors and the roles we take on when around others.

It’s also useful when looking at one’s own actions in the past. I can see that I’ve typically been Compliant when around my mother, but an Influencer around certain friends.

I think this insight is a great one to draw upon when seeking to change behavior. For example, let's say that you want to become more assertive. There are likely people around whom you're a wallflower and those around whom you're already pretty darn assertive. What's the difference? What "makes" you assertive with some, but shy with others?

I totally agree with Sree's identification of the point where classification goes from useful to counter productive; it's when we start confusing what we do with who we are.

I think the pitfall comes when I project it into the future. When we start saying things like, “Oh, I’m a Steady type – I don’t want to raise objections at the meeting”, or “I’m a Driver – I just don’t know how to tone it down”, that’s when we start limiting ourselves. And I think it’s because we have unknowingly converted “Communication Style” to “Personality Type”, which as you pointed out, Tef, is something we consider fairly static.

Unwittingly say something at a party to which people take offense. Are you an insensitive bastard or did you innocently step into something you had no way of seeing?

Forget the name someone to whom you were just introduced. Are you just bad with names or were you just not paying attention when introduced?

Stutter and stammer when trying to express something. Are you someone who's not good with words or did you just make what you had to say too important?

Classifications and personality types quickly backfire when we transform them from a way of looking at ourselves and those around us to a statement about who we or they are. Do you ever find yourself saying things like, "I'm just the kind of person who..." or "People like me have to..." or "You know, guys like that...". To quote Faith (and Bob Newhart): "JUST STOP IT!"

Another important distinction that Sree calls out (this is specially important if you can't distinguish doing from being) is the difference between concept and execution.

Also, each of these behaviors can be done well or badly. A Driver can direct tasks well, but may also come across as overbearing or pushy. The Steady type is valued for being supportive, but could also be weak and indecisive, and so on.

If you get annoyed by overbearing and pushy Drivers, if you lack patience for painfully slow Compliant types, it could simply be that you've been exposed to Drivers and Compliants who just aren't that good at it.

Finally, I love the idea of viewing personality types as a color.

Just last month, here at work I was at a training class where a similar classification was presented as ‘color energies’. So the Driver would be a Fiery Red, the Influencer a Sunshine Yellow, the Steady an Earth Green and the Compliant a Cool Blue.

So we just use different energies at different times and in different situations, with no implications on personality or static-ness. We may have a strongly preferred energy, but as long as we remain aware that we have a choice in the matter, it’s all good.

Let's say that you're working on a project and you want to stay in an Influencer mode. When things heat up, you tend towards being a Driver. When the bosses are around, you tend towards being a Compliant.

You ask a friend to help you stay an Influencer. Whenever you start shifting to Driver, she says, "Hey, you're starting to look a little red there", or to Compliant, "Do you need some air? Looking a little blue."

It'd be fun.

In short: classifications can be really useful until they're not at which point they not only become useless but really not useful.

Happy Thursday,

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