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Diversity and 'Social Style'

​Question: What is “social style” and how does it relate to diversity?

Answer: “Social style” describes the differences and similarities in people’s natural behaviors and work preferences, with the ultimate goal of teaching people how to manage those preferences for increased productivity and effectiveness. This is different from the concept of diversity, which refers to any characteristic that differentiates a person or group from other people or groups.

Everyone is diverse, in other words, because each person brings unique perspectives and abilities to the workplace. However, nearly 50 years of research have revealed that, regardless of ethnicity, age and nationality, individuals will have behavioral preferences that cause them to operate with one of four distinct styles:

  • Analytical people value facts above all and might appear uncommunicative, cool and independent.
  • Amiable people are people-oriented and care more about close relationships than results or influence.
  • Expressive people are motivated by recognition, approval and prestige. They tend to appear communicative and approachable, often sharing their feelings and thoughts.
  • Driving people tend to focus on efficiency or productivity rather than devoting time and attention to casual relationships.

Each style brings with it strengths that help individuals succeed in their work lives. However, one person’s strengths can be another person’s stress. Success at the team and organizational levels requires people of all styles to work together. In order for this to happen they need to understand basic style differences and how to manage them.

How Can ‘Social Style’ Boost the Bottom Line?

In the modern world, working across cultures is not only unavoidable, it also is necessary. Common barriers to success include language differences, cultural nuances that suggest appropriate behavior, global politics, and differing concepts of authority structures and relationships. Misunderstanding any one of these things can make it difficult for individuals to work together; misunderstanding more than one can be disastrous.

Most people would agree that the first step in working with individuals from other cultures is to develop a good personal relationship as the basis for success. In many societies, taking the time to develop a trusting relationship is essential before work begins. By observing people’s behaviors it is possible to gain an understanding of their style preferences and to adapt as needed.

For example, the Analytical Style person tends to make decisions based on facts and verifiable information, while the Amiable Style person values the input of others and might allow decisions to be influenced by personal relationships.

Regardless of individual cultural backgrounds, leaders can use an understanding of social styles in business and personal interactions to increase their effectiveness with others. When leaders understand their team members’ styles they can run more effective meetings, delegate more efficiently, manage conflict effectively, and mentor and develop their people with greater skill. Research shows that leaders who adapt their behavior to suit individual styles are seen by their direct reports and bosses as being more effective across a wide spectrum of leadership abilities.

Developing a diverse workforce is all about enhancing productivity and helping people of different backgrounds work together toward success. Understanding styles and learning basic skills for working with people of different styles can go a long way toward helping individuals contribute more effectively to the success of their businesses.

Casey Mulqueen, Ph.D., is director of research for The TRACOM Group, a workplace performance company best known for developing the Social Style Model.


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