Friday, 18 January 2008

People Styles at Work (book review)

I recently read People Styles at Work by Robert & Dorothy Bolton.

This is not a new publication - rather it is the text that supports our basic Interpersonal Skills training in the US.

[this model seems to have attracted more interest in the US than the UK ... and while not particularly robust evidence - it is interesting to see that the US site carries customer reviews of the book, while in the UK they await the first review to be added !]

People Styles (also referred to as The Social Styles Model') was developed ca. 40 years ago by Dr. David Merrill (an industrial psychologist).

'A person's style is his or her pattern of assertive and responsive behavior. The pattern is useful in predicting how the person prefers to work with others.'

While most models of 'psychological types' can be traced back to the foundational work of Carl Jung, the differentiating factor claimed for Social Styles is that it focuses on differences between people's outer behaviours rather than differences in their inner states.

As the quote above highlights - the model (as used by Bolton & Bolton) suggests that this can be focused down to just two dimensions of ASSERTIVENESS and RESPONSIVENESS. Consequently, the Behavioral Inventory (Questionnaire) is a very simple self assessment comprising of 9 questions on each dimension. From this the reader can identify their style as either:

  • ANALYTICAL (less assertive, less responsive)
  • DRIVER (more assertive, less responsive )
  • AMIABLE (less assertive, more responsive)
  • EXPRESSIVE (more assertive, more responsive)

As with other tools such as MBTI there is no 'best' style. Each style has characteristic strengths and weaknesses not shared by the other styles.

As the authors state:

'Whether at work or at home, success and happiness involve relating to others across a chasm of significant behavioural differences. Clearly, if you could figure out how to bridge the gap between yourself and others, you could make your own life - and theirs - much easier, happier, and more productive. That in a nutshell is what this book is about.'

In my view, the authors do a good job in clearly communicating the model, and helping the reader understand some key concepts, such as:
  • how the specific 'Strengths' for each style become specific 'Weaknesses' when overused
  • the different 'Back-up Styles' that tend to emerge in response to excessive stress (typically these behaviours becoming more extreme and inflexible)

The first part of the book focuses on promoting understand of the model and these core concepts. The second part of the book provides clear, step-by-step advice on how to flex your style ('as the key to productive relationships').

In summary, a book of this nature will naturally draw critique of both the author's structuring of information and the model itself. Bolton & Bolton have created a practical and accessible handbook for the Social Styles (People Styles) Model. The value for the reader will however depend on the level of prior exposure to psychological types and related work used in the workplace (be it MBTI, DISC, FIRO, Transactional Analysis, etc). The simplicity of Social Styles provides a helpful starting point to help colleagues understand that not everyone sees the world from the same frame-of-reference as they do ! (ie to build so-called Emotional Intelligence)

As the authors quote:

'The ability to relate well to people has become a critical factor for success in nearly every position in the modern organization'