Speak My Language

Recently, I have had many requests to get involved in situations with corporate clients where there is an individual who is just “not working out”. The stories are different, but the theme is the same – a person who looked good on paper, and interviewed well, is in the position and now just isn’t doing what they were supposed to do. In some cases the firm is trying to manage the person out, in others they want me to coach the person to a higher level of effectiveness, and in others they are just simply spending time and energy on being frustrated about the lack of success the person and firm are having.

In my work with behavioral styles, the DISC process (with the four scales of behavior: problems, people, pace and procedure), I frequently come across situations where the natural behavioral style just isn’t a fit for what the role or the firm requires. When I hear a complaint about someone and I have the ability to look at the person’s natural behavioral style, more often than not the person is trying to make an adaptation to be successful in that role.

What does this really mean? As an example, if I am a rules-based person by my natural style (high-C on the procedures scale), then doing a job that requires no rules, lots of creativity, and thinking outside the box will demand a shift from me. I liken this to asking me to speak a completely new language for the entire time I am at work. If someone said to me, “Just talk German today,” I would struggle. Why? Because I don’t know German – I could probably learn it and get by for what I need to do, but it wouldn’t feel right to me.

Behavioral style is akin to this. When someone is asked to make a shift in their preferred style, it pulls them out of their comfort zones. As another example, if I am a hard-charging, driven, and assertive individual and I find myself in a role with a boss who says, “Hurry up and wait,” all the time, it is going to cause me pain.

Anytime we aren’t allowed or able to perform in a way that just feels right for us and fits us naturally, it’s like being asked to speak in a foreign tongue. It’s not that people can’t adapt – we do it several times a day; it’s just that adapting in a job over and over again is definitely going to diminish my effectiveness. This is often the case when I get asked by a client to deal with the person who isn’t doing what they are expected to do. In many cases, it’s a behavioral disconnect.

If the person is able to do more of the job with their natural style intact, they may improve their performance. The problem is when we try and force our style to change, or the boss tries to force us to be like him or her. “Just do it my way” doesn’t work if your way is not natural to me. It takes tremendous energy for us to adapt and change every day, just as it would if we had to speak a new tongue every time we went into our own work place.

We want to be aware of this “foreign” feeling and when we know we are adapting, we should question whether we really need to do so. While it can be fun to learn something new and test it out, it’s much more easy and comfortable for us to do what comes naturally!