HISTORY IS A GREAT teacher. Employee productivity went up during the great recession because the underlying message was “work harder to keep your job.”
As the economy rebounded, the power shifted, and employees said, “reward our sacrifice, or we’ll slow down or quit.” It took years to rehire. As a result, productivity went down. The lesson: sacrifice needs to be rewarded.
As we emerge from the pandemic, look for new expectations for running our businesses and leading our people. We’ll be asking: how can we improve change management, encourage high-performance teamwork in virtual and live work settings, and bring confidence and bold-forward-thinking back into our culture?
Behind the scenes of this and other human endeavors is the desire to influence. Influence is incredibly complicated when the stakes are high. In this three-part series, I shared a model: Contract, Benefit, Agility. In part one, “How to Influence in Fear, Chaos, and Uncertainty,” I shared that efforts to influence are ineffective if those involved lack clarity about the purpose of the relationship and the behavioral commitments necessary to maintain it. Fear of losing one’s job is a tool to influence. Our challenge in today’s innovation age is that employee engagement, loyalty, creativity, and productivity are far higher when people intrinsically want to do something than if motivated by fear. A fair contract solves that problem by understanding and agreeing on the relationship’s purpose and the commitments to guide behavior.
In part two, “The Neuroscience of Influence,” I shared how the unconscious brain interprets each event as either a benefit or a threat. And, unfortunately, the unconscious brain sees threats five times more often than benefits. There are several triggers for this threat/benefit response: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness. The SCARF model developed by David Rock helps us understand why efforts to influence fail and how we can redirect our communication and behavior, so others experience them as benefits.
In this article, I will address the importance of social agility; the ability to reduce communication static by mirroring your communication style with another’s style.
Imagine I have a birthday gift that I know you will love. I put the gift in a box and wrap the box with wrapping paper. You take a quick look at the wrapped box and decide you don’t like it. Let’s say you hate the color. Not knowing what’s inside, you reject the box and the unseen gift inside. In the world of influence, the gift is the content and meaning of my message. The wrapped box is the style in which the content and meaning are delivered. We all have our communication style preference that dictates how we like to communicate, make decisions, and solve problems. From a neuroscience perspective, when our brain interacts with a style similar to our own, it interprets that person as a friend, not a foe—a benefit, not a threat.
The key is to know your communication style preference, learn how to identify other people’s style preferences, and when appropriate, match your style to that of the other so they can hear and receive the content and meaning of your message. Social agility removes the static in communication. It supports good social contracts and clears the way for the unconscious brain to perceive benefits. There are four social agility types. Here is how to spot and respond to each.
Analytical: Look for a slower-paced, business-like person who is time conscious, focused on facts and data, likes to ensure they are right, and dislikes making quick decisions.
Respond by: Slowing down. Using facts and historical data. Providing guarantees. They may need the weekend to decide.
Driver: They are fast-paced, focused on results, time conscious, control, and not very good at listening. They dislike idle chatter and actions that don’t get them closer to their goal.
Respond by: Being professional. Planning. They want results, now! Give them options so they can be in control. Reduce chit-chat.
Expressive: They are fast-paced, socialize easily, enjoy variety, think in the big picture, and seek recognition. They dislike a lot of detailed work.
Respond by: Socializing. Giving them recognition and approval. Using words like “gut,” “intuition,” “feel” when asking them to review your proposal.
Amiable: They are slow-paced, excellent at building relationships and listening, willing to share their own personal life. They dislike taking significant risks and impersonal conversations.
Respond by: Establishing a personal relationship and giving personal guarantees, and relationally reconnecting to uncover hidden issues.
Social agility can be your greatest asset. A few years ago, I was giving a sales presentation for a big accounting firm in Seattle. Back then, accounting firms were beginning to require their accountants to sell. Giving presentations and closing deals was foreign and frightening to the average accountant.
The people I was meeting with were all Analyticals. I, however, was an enthusiastic, fast-paced, big-picture Expressive. Soon, eyes glazed over, and watches were getting checked. To put it bluntly, my presentation was bombing and fast.
I quickly changed my approach and began slowing my pace and talking more quietly. I allowed my arms to fall at my sides. I proceeded to relate to the analytical process of my audience by stating facts such as, “based on our results with XYZ Company, our sales training program helped them realize a 20% annual growth rate.” I drew ROI figures on a flip chart. I also offered a money-back guarantee if they didn’t achieve impressive results.
Since I am not an Analytical, this presentation style initially felt unnatural to me, yet I got the sale. I attribute my success to understanding my style, having the ability to identify the social style of others, and adjusting accordingly.
Social agility isn’t about becoming a chameleon. It’s about common sense – being genuine and sincere while focusing your attention on the client and their needs.
Knowing your social agility preference, being able to identify the preference of others, and when appropriate, adjusting your style to align with theirs is the backbone of developing long-term relationships. Practicing social agility can make a good relationship builder a great one.
The social effects of COVID won’t be fully known for years. The prolonged uncertainty, fear, and grief will reconfigure the DNA of our culture. To be effective at influencing in this environment will require:
1. Firm social contracts – what are we doing, why are we doing it, how will we treat each other
2. Communicating benefits – bypassing the subconscious bran’s addiction for threats
3. Style agility – removing communication static with social agility so our true meaning can be heard