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Matching Styles: How Adopting a New Boss’s Behavioral Style Can Help Employees Succeed

As a rule, it is worrisome when a new boss comes on the scene, especially if you were comfortable working under the former one. You could have been doing a good job, but then you get a boss that is very different from you or from your previous manager. All of a sudden what you did before isn’t working, and now the same behaviors are actually getting you in trouble. Maybe the new boss isn’t seasoned or hasn’t learn how to manage well, but sometimes there is nothing wrong with the new boss – it’s just that you and that person don’t click and don’t seem to be on the same wavelength with one another. You might have even heard great things about the new person from colleagues but for whatever reason, he or she isn’t working well for you.

Oftentimes the disconnect lies in differences in behavioral styles and the inability to bridge a connection or communicate effectively. We instinctively gravitate towards – and like more – people with behavioral styles that are most similar to our own, and we have a hard time understanding people who are too different from us. If you are fast-paced and “get it done” but your new boss is thoughtful, and likes to take their time and create a process in the approach, your results-oriented style could actually be off-putting to them. Your old boss might have really liked that approach and even rewarded you for it, but now it just gets you in trouble over and over again! Conflicts can arise in situations where employees are not aware of the impact that different behavioral styles make on their work relationships. They may misattribute any existing tension at work to the fact that their boss or co-workers are trying to sabotage them, when it’s just the way these people naturally tend to behave.

Most research on job fit shows that people take a job because of the job itself – the work is good, and satisfies what they want to do for a career. However, most people who quit a job do so because of the boss: They can’t make it work, or the relationship is bad and the experience of working for the boss causes so much stress. If you are in a role where you just can’t understand your boss, or vice versa, consider that there may be a behavioral disconnect at work.

Behavioral research shows that you can read another person. Watch what they do and you get a window into their preferences for behavior and for communication. If you watch people’s behavioral styles, you can often understand:

  • How they make their decisions
  • What expectations they have of others
  • How they evaluate others’ efforts and results
  • How they like to be communicated to
  • What steps they will likely take with regard to problem-solving, interacting with people, pace and procedures

The more you can adapt your own behavior and match your boss’ style, the better you will be heard and understood by your boss.

So what exactly are these styles that we have been talking about? At the Collaborative we use the DISC model to generate individual behavioral profiles that are based on four scales of behavior: problems, people, pace and procedures. Every person has some natural inclination towards Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness, and the DISC tool allows us to measure to what degree these determinants define a person’s natural style of behavior.

Let’s look at some examples. If a person scores high on the Compliance scale, it is clear that this individual places a high premium on obeying the rules and following procedures according to their respective guidelines, and expects the same behavior from others. Someone who scores high on the Dominance scale is extremely task-driven and result-oriented; rules and regulations do not matter as much to “High D”s as they do to “High C”s. Because these two types of people value contrasting things they work at different paces, too: “High D”s do things fast, they talk fast and want to see the results fast, whereas “High C”s are slow-paced people who put a lot of research, thought and analysis into everything they do. Some bosses are a combination of both – they may be quick to pull the trigger, but only when they have all of the facts and data necessary to feel comfortable making the decision! It’s what is referred to as a me/me conflict when one person is pulled in two different directions – and it’s not uncommon.

To be successful in business, one doesn’t have to have a specific behavioral style. It is not surprising, then, that for many employees dealing with a new boss can be quite challenging – the new boss’s style may be completely different from the previous manager’s, which implies new expectations and changes. It is not so much that the new manager will expect his or her subordinates to change what they do, but rather how they do it.

For instance, employees who were succeeding under a “High I” manager can become very frustrated with their new “High C” boss. Under the “High I” manager they were expected to be enthusiastic, come up with new ideas and approaches to doing things, and verbalize their ideas regularly. They were rewarded for this behavior, but now their “High C” boss stresses accuracy and order, wants detailed weekly emails on the work progress, and doesn’t care for suggestions that are not supported by facts or some evidence. The work itself didn’t change; the style in which the new manager prefers to have it done did. The new boss could even say, “You are too fluffy and verbal. Stick to the facts!” You might walk away thinking, “I’m the same person, why isn’t my approach successful now?”

There are a few way in which employees can learn to manage up to a difficult boss, especially if this new manager is not a competent leader. For those cases where nothing but the new manager’s style is an issue, employees should seek to adapt their personal behavioral style to that of the new boss in order to do well under the new leadership.

Some people find it difficult to match others’ behavioral styles, in which case they could benefit greatly from some third-party assistance; in fact, professional advice from a behavioral analyst or coach is the fastest way to successfully adjust to a new leadership.

At the Collaborative, we have been using the DISC process and years’ worth of experience to help numerous organizations and groups overcome their differences and coalesce into high-functioning teams, despite the mismatched individual behavioral styles. By discovering how to identify behavioral styles of others and making a shift in their preferred style, employees can learn new and valuable ways to help their teams and achieve professional success.