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By Edwin P. Moldof

The analysis of interpersonal styles is an integral part of many courses designed to improve communication with people in our business life-- clients, prospects, direct reports, peers, and the executives to whom we report. I don't deny they have their place, but they are certainly not the cure all their developers would like to believe. The old admonition, "Be true to thyself," brought up to date with 20th century insights into the complexity of personality can go a long way in helping you understand and deal with the people you encounter in your business day. Let me explain.

Most assessment instruments had their origin in the theory of psychological types that Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung developed. The most popular instrument, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), classifies human behavior on four scales: direction of energy (extraversion/introversion), information gathering (sensing/intuition), decision making (thinking/feeling), and dealing with the world (judging/perceiving).

One interpersonal instrument I wrestled with in a practice development workshop asked us to determine where we, our clients, and prospects fit on a scale based on power and emotion. The high end of power was assertive, the low end, receptive. The high end of emotion was responsive and the low end, reserved. To help us identify ourselves and others there were groups of words, such as "challenging," "fast-paced," and "demanding" for assertive; "outgoing," "approachable" and "warm" for responsive; and, of course, a corresponding group of words for their opposites--reserved and receptive. Points were assigned to these words, and the totals let you pinpoint yourself and some of your customers or prospects on vertical and horizontal scales of zero to 10. I forget whether I was high assertive and low responsive or the other way around.

In my experience, these interpersonal style models have limited value in dealing with people inside or outside an organization and may not be worth the time they occupy in a workshop. There are several reasons for this.

* They oversimplify personality and behavior. People seldom fit neatly into the categories of a particular assessment instrument. The traits that strike you as important may be best characterized in many ways. One person may have an inflated view of his or her capabilities, another may be subject to extreme mood swings, still a third may be extremely bright, no nonsense, and highly cost conscious.

* The styles types approach provides few descriptive clues to alert you to personality types. The analyzing type, for example, is reserved and controlled, supports the status quo, and is usually technically superior. These aids may not be applicable on the spot, that is, if you can remember them. Clues to behavior frequently appear in ways not included in the workshop--a tone of voice, a habit of constantly looking at a wristwatch, a desk covered with papers.

* The mesh or adjustment between your personality style and that of the person you manage or the prospect you're calling on doesn't fall neatly into categories. In the world of Myers-Briggs, a person used to emphasizing facts and detail in a presentation should move to broader brush strokes when dealing with an intuitive type. But in the real world the choices are seldom as clearcut.

Assume the business practice developer is in his sixties with a few degrees behind him and his prospect is a brilliant streetwise entrepreneur half his age, with a whole range of baby boomer interests and preoccupations. What is the proper accommodation to make? Should the developer pretend interests in the Bulls, rock groups, or weekends in Vegas?

Be True to Yourself

The temptations to become a chameleon and to fit in with any group were explored in a landmark book, The Lonely Crowd, by David Riesman written almost 50 years ago. In his book, Riesman points out even then our society was becoming "other directed." Riesman defines that as a group of people who get ahead by cueing in on signals from those around them about what they should say, how they should act, and what they should feel.

The alternative for Riesman was autonomy, a growing sense of who you are and the courage and confidence to be that person in the jungle that exists inside and outside an organization. But what does it take to focus on the self as a continually developing entity? Can it offer a viable alternative to psychological types as a means of functioning effectively on the job and getting ahead as we approach the end of the 20th century?

I say it can. One aspect of the evolving self is a set of core values. These are the values we really live instead of just profess to follow. Sometimes, most of these values are stated by the firm or company you work for. If you internalize them, they become core values for you too. For example, my firm has four core values:

* We will give the highest priority to addressing the needs of our clients, both internal and external.

* We will strive to provide values that exceed the client's expectations on each engagement.

* We will try to perform all our work with an economy of means, comparing costs and benefits, and instantly exploring ways to reduce costs without compromising quality or our own professional standards.

* We will follow the rules and procedures of the firm, meet professional standards, and obey the laws and regulations governing the accounting profession.

To a firm's values, whether its culture states or implies them, you could add a few of your own. For me, the additions would be treating everyone within
the firm with the same respect, regardless of position, and accurate reporting of billing time.

Another aspect of developing the self is to try to exercise an intellectual and emotional honesty in every situation and to resist the endless opportunities to compromise or hedge on the truth as you see it or feel it on the job.

This view of the self as a model of integrity is reflected in Dale Carnegie's two dozen principles, the importance of truth to the self is seen in these following statements:

* Give honest and sincere appreciation.

* Become genuinely interested in other people.

* Try honestly to see things from the other person's point of view.

* Make the other person feel important--and do it sincerely.

A more sophisticated and contemporary version of personal integrity is found in Chris Argyris' concept of single-loop and double-loop learning. Argyris, professor of education and organizational behavior at Harvard University, says in single-loop learning, we seek to solve problems or correct errors to maintain policies or achieve agreed upon objectives. In double-loop learning, we may question these policies and objectives.

We can compare single-loop learning to the function of a thermostat that learns whether it is too hot or too cold and then turns the heat on or off. If the thermostat could not only adjust the temperature but question why it was set at 68 degrees, it would be engaged in double-loop learning.

Executives who challenge the wisdom of introducing a new product or service, even though it has the support of the CEO and the rest of the management team, are engaged in double-loop learning. Conversely, every time such an opportunity to speak up is avoided, a compromise in integrity results, and the further development of the self is impeded.

Basic Codes of Behavior

Does this advocacy of being yourself justify acting like Attila the Hun with those you deal with either in a supervisory capacity or, less likely, in calling on clients and prospects? If you tend to be sarcastic or given to quick criticism, is that OK on the job if that's part of the real you? The answer, of course, is no.

Whatever your true self may be, there are certain basic ways of behaving toward others that should be observed. Instead of offering yet another code of conduct, I have found the surest guide to decent behavior in a simple tale of Leo Tolstoy's called Three Questions. A king sought the answer to three questions:

* When is the right time to begin anything?

* Who are the right people to whom I should listen?

* What is the most important thing
to do?

With this knowledge, he felt he would never fail in any undertaking. After seeking in vain for answers from the wise men at court, the king consulted a hermit who lived in the woods. After a convoluted series of actions in which the truth of the hermit's words are demonstrated, the king is told the most important time is now, the most important person is the one you are with, and the most important action is to do that person good.

We Have Many Selves

People have differences in personalities that can enormously affect our responses. Some people are easy to talk to. Others bring out a sense of humor. Others need a lot of nurturing. Instead of trying to match our style with that of another, I would contend that we are all multi-faceted and people bring out different facets of ourselves. This means we can be ourselves most of the time; it is just a different self that is activated.

This can be a source of personal growth as we are called on to cultivate one of our multiple selves. Some clients want the briefest kind of explanation and no small talk. Other clients view a call as a social occasion. Still others want to collaborate with you in developing a project. Others want you to work it out conceptually and prefer to be the fine tuners. You can see the identical patterns of behavior in the people you manage.

We have assumed that the self is evolving. Every new assignment, every person we meet, every relationship--productive or unproductive--offers opportunities for growth. You don't have to wait for a performance review or billing for the year to find out how you are doing. You can find the signs in a word, a gesture, an action, an unreturned phone call--if only you could read them. And in the knowledge you gain, you can change your behavior and further define your self. In this respect all of us, wherever we are in our careers, are always a work in process. *

Adapted with permission from INSIGHT May 1997, the magazine of the Illinois Society of CPAs.

Edwin P. Moldof is the director of strategic planning with the Chicago firm of Blackman Kallick Bartelstein, LLP

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