Social Style and Conflict

Social style does NOT focus on the innermost workings of one's personality, nor focus on one's values or beliefs. A social style is a pervasive and enduring set of interpersonal behaviors. It is quite simply how one acts--what one says and does.

David W. Merrill and Roger H. Reid, Personal Styles and Effective Performance. Radnor, PA: Chilton, 1981.

Initially studied several large insurance companies: observed and recorded interactions and conflicts between management and employees, between managers and managers, employees and other employees, agents and customers, and agents and other agents. Later replicated their studies in several other service industries. Prior to their work, most of the published research about conflicts on the job had been based on studies in industrial settings, where the social gap between employees and management is more profound and more obvious.

Robert Bolton and Dorothy G. Bolton, Social Style/Management Style. New York: American Management Association, 1984

Expanded work of Merrill & Reid and developed instrumentation for diagnosing and assessing social style. Bolton and Bolton identified four primary social styles: amiable, analytical, driver, and expressive, about equally divided among managers and among employees in service industries and government organizations. Each person tends to employ one of these social styles, and the dominant styles affects the way the individual works and interacts with others in conflict and other non-conflict situations.

These styles are defined by two behavioral variables or dimensions: assertiveness and responsiveness.

Assertiveness = the degree to which a person's behaviors are seen by others as forceful or directive.

Responsiveness= the degree to which a person's behaviors are seen by others as emotionally controlled. More responsive people react noticeably to their own emotions or to the emotions of others. Less responsive people are more guarded in their emotional expression.

While no one style works better than any other, flexibility has been shown to distinguish the success manager of conflict from the unsuccessful.

Flexibility=the ability to get along with people whose styles differ from one's own.

Four Social Styles

1. Amiable. Higher than average responsiveness and lower than average assertiveness.

-sympathetic to the needs of others

-sensitive to what is below the surface behavior of another person

-capable of using empathy and understanding in resolving interpersonal conflicts & other problems

-they tend to trust people and to be trusted by others



2. Analytical. Low level of responsiveness and low level of assertiveness.

-precise, deliberate, and systematic

-they gather data before they make decisions

-are generally industrious, objective, and well-organized

3. Driver. Low level of responsiveness and high level of assertiveness.

-task-oriented people who want to know where they are going

-they get to the point quickly and express themselves succinctly

-pragmatic, decisive, results-oriented, objective and competitive

-valued for their ability to get things done

4. Expressive. High level of responsiveness and high level of assertiveness.

-look at the big picture and can act decisively

-like fresh, novel approaches and are willing to take risks

-good motivators and charmers

-usually talkative and often good persuaders and motivators



Assertiveness
Analytical. Low level of responsiveness and low level of assertiveness.

-precise, deliberate, and systematic

-they gather data before they make decisions

-are generally industrious, objective, and well-organized

Driver. Low level of responsiveness and high level of assertiveness.

-task-oriented people who want to know where they are going

-they get to the point quickly and express themselves succinctly

-pragmatic, decisive, results-oriented, objective and competitive

-valued for their ability to get things done









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Amiable. Higher than average responsiveness and lower than average assertiveness.

-sympathetic to the needs of others

-sensitive to what is below the surface behavior of another person

-capable of using empathy and understanding in resolving interpersonal conflicts & other problems

-they tend to trust people and to be trusted by others

Expressive. High level of responsiveness and high level of assertiveness.

-look at the big picture and can act decisively

-like fresh, novel approaches and are willing to take risks

-good motivators and charmers

-usually talkative and often good persuaders and motivators





Strengths and Weaknesses

The definitions and descriptions above indicate the strengths of the styles

Weaknesses result from three sources:

-a lack of the qualities possesses by the diagonally opposite style (above table)

-overextending the style's strength (table below)

-high level of stress may transform the style to a "back-up" style (table below). This shift is usually made without conscious thought or premeditation.

Style Strengths Weaknesses Back-up Styles
Amiable Supportive

Easy-going

Conforming

Permissive

Acquiescing

(Avoiding)

Analytical Precise

Systematic

Exacting

Inflexible

Avoiding

(Autocratic)

Driver Determined

Objective

Dominating

Insensitive

Autocratic

(Attacking)

Expressive Enthusiastic

Imaginative

Undisciplined

Unrealistic

Attacking

(Acquiescing)





Style Flex

A first step toward managing conflict is to understand one own social style and the styles of others. Nevertheless, one can go beyond understanding and use the skills of style flex to be even more successful.

Style flex provides a way of establishing a "comfort zone" in which persons of differing styles can work together with a minimum of disruptive conflict.

We can flex from our particular style and we can flex to other different styles.

Flexing from a Particular Style (Darling, 1990)

If an Analytical, decide

A slow, systematic fact gathering and cautious decision making can trigger conflict & stress in others. When flexing, make a real effort to decide. Take a stand even if all the facts are not in. Do not let fact gathering and careful weighing of alternatives be a hindrance to the progress of others. Once a decision has been made, act on it with reasonable haste. If a Driver, listen

A fast-paced, goal-oriented approach can cause conflict & stress in others. When flexing, make a real effort to listen to others. Try to understand clearly their ideas and suggestions. Equally important, listen until the nature and strength of their feelings is understood, and their values and point of reference are clearly perceived.

If an Amiable, stretch

A slower-paced, people-oriented, co-operative, low-risk approach can create conflict &stress in others. When flexing, be sure to stretch. Demonstrate self-direction. Set and strive to achieve attainable stretch goals. Do not dodge issues--communicate important points of view. Challenge others to do their best. If an Expressive, restrain

A tendency toward quick, impulsive decisions and actions can cause conflict & stress to others. A high energy level and verbal fluency may intimidate others. When flexing, be sure to restrain impulsiveness. Also restrain talkativeness: when others start to speak, do not try to talk over them.



Flexing to Different Social Styles (Darling, 1990)

Flexing to Amiables

Flexing to Analyticals

Be relaxed, and moderately paced; have a comfortable composure, leaning back somewhat; speak softly; avoid harshness in voice

Make person-to-person contact when possible. Be genuine. Do not engage in lengthy "small talk" unless it is real for you and the other person

Invite their conversations; draw out their opinions. Listen reflectively; do not judge their ideas, counter them with logic, or manipulate

Communicate patiently; encourage expression of any doubts, fears, or misgivings they may have. Facilitate decision making without putting excessive pressure on them

Mutually agree on goals, perhaps initiated by you; negotiate action plans with completion dates for segments of the project; offer your co-operative support where desirable; be sure to follow through on your responsibilities and keep in touch on theirs

Offer personal assurance that decisions will have minimum risk. However, overstating guarantees or lack of follow-through will erode trust

Maintain ongoing contact more than with other social styles

Be on time.

Be moderately paced; lean back somewhat; avoid loud voice

It is better to be more rather than less formal in clothing, speech, manners

Get to business quickly; be prepared, systematic, factual, logical, exact--but still keep a human touch

List the pros and cons of your proposal and the alternatives

Show why this approach is best and has relatively little risk. Do not exaggerate the advantages; these people are turned off by overstatement

When possible, allow them to proceed deliberately, even slowly

When they are too indecisive, encourage them to make a decision, but refrain from making it for them

Follow up in writing

See that milestone dates are in the action plan; set up progress reports if in doubt about their meeting schedules

Flexing to Drivers

Flexing to Expressives

Be on time.

Be energetic and fast paced; have erect posture and direct eye contact

Be specific, clear, and brief. Do not over-explain, ramble or be disorganized. From beginning to end, focus on results

Select the key facts, and use them when making your case. Present them logically and quickly.

Provide a limited number of options so the Driver can make his/her own choice

Provide data about the pluses and minuses of the options

Stay on the topic; keep the pace up; and honour time limits

If at all appropriate, ask directly for a decision

Depart quickly but graciously

Be energetic and fast paced; have erect but not stiff posture and direct eye contact

Allow time for socializing. Talk about experiences, opinions, and people. Tell about yourself, too. To a degree, adopt their enterprising, fun-loving behaviour

Expressives like arguments--to a point. Avoid becoming too dogmatic even when they are

Discover their dreams and intuitions

In support of your ideas, use testimonials from people they like or see as prominent

Focus first on the "big picture." Follow up with action plans and details

Tap their competitive spirit

Find a way to have fun while achieving the objective

Keep a balance between flowing with the Expressive and getting back on track

Paraphrase agreements

Ensure that action plans are made and followed and that necessary details are taken care of