One of the most popular workshops I deliver to corporate clients focuses on communication styles. The model draws on the work of two psychologists—Robert and Dorothy Grover Bolton—and their model of “behavioral styles.”
Bolton & Bolton argue that two main dimensions can explain and predict how people behave: assertiveness and responsiveness. Assertiveness is the degree to which people’s behavior is seen as forceful and directive. Responsiveness is the degree to which people are seen as showing emotions or demonstrating sensitivity.
The two dimensions yield four resultant “people styles”: quick to action but less demonstrative is the Driver type—these are the “Get it done, damn it!” types. Bold and impulsive, but also charismatic are the Expressive types. These folks are the life of the party. Less assertive but deeply empathetic are the Amiable types—your classic “people people.” And finally, thorough and detailed, but emotionally reserved, are the Analytical types.
In a professional context, the model is meant to help you identify your own type, appreciate how others may see you, and—crucially—learn how to flex your style so that you can get along effectively with different types you encounter at work.
From a personal standpoint, what I find interesting about this model is how perfectly I can place my parents into two of those boxes. My mother was your classic Driver: highly organized, efficient and action-oriented, but at times practical to a fault. My father was a vintage Expressive: an enthusiastic storyteller who connected with people easily, but couldn’t keep track of details.
I’m right on the line between the two types: organized and logical on the one hand, but lively and voluble on the other. I’ve written before about how my current portfolio career as a communications consultant suits me well for psychological reasons: it combines the pragmatic trouble-shooter of the editor, with the animated cheerleader of the coach.
When I shared this insight with another friend of mine, he concurred. He’s worked for nearly two decades in assorted senior roles in a global financial services company. A couple of years ago, he started coaching younger colleagues in the company on the side, and he now leads the company’s talent development division. As he explained it:
“My mother was a school teacher who once told me that she loves nothing more than seeing a child develop. After business school, my father took a job with a large freight company where he worked for about 25 years. He was a company man…very loyal and got a lot of his value through his contribution at work.
While the links to my father were apparent early in my professional career, the links to my mother were a little more subtle. Over time though, I realize that working with individuals on my team and helping them develop is what provided me the most reward. In some ways, my most recent role has consummated that professional marriage between my mother and father.”
A couple of years ago, I wrote about the things our parents leave us when they die. (In my case, this amounted to a life-long love of writing and a bottle of instant decaffeinated coffee, among other treasures.) But we take other things forward as well: who they were as people and how those traits embed themselves within us.
As I settle into a prolonged stage of reflection—and grief—over the deaths of both of my parents, I take comfort not only in their memories, but in how they live on within me.
Which personality traits did you inherit from your parents?