In my short time at Georgia State, I have learned one thing about our students regarding collaborationthey arent very good at it. But I have also learned something about myselfIm not very good at teaching it. In fact, teaching collaboration is tough to do. In the mentoring packet Elizabeth and I put together, we lean on project management as a way to ensure effective work teams, and we believe in the importance and usefulness of project management. But that set of tactics still doesnt address the fact that poor collaboration is often due to poor interpersonal skills. Our students dont know each other very well, they often dont (heck, they cant) take the time to get to know each other. This document is an attempt to give you some strategies for exploring these interpersonal issues with your students inorder to facilitate more effective collaboration.
I must admit something at this point: Im not a particular fan of personality inventories or other, similar tools. So Im skeptical of what Im suggesting here but not cynical. Im going to try this, and I suggest you try it as well. But be sure to collect feedback from your students about anything you do related to this and perhaps we can come up with some techniques that would allow our students to get to know each other more quickly and work together more effectively.
All material in this document is taken from People Styles at Work: Making Bad Relationships Good and Good Relationships Better by Robert Bolton and Dorothy Grover Bolton (1996, American Management Association). Our library has the book.
One premise of the book is that we have problems working with others because we are differentwe think, work, communicate, play, fight, emote differently and that all these factors play into how we work together. Another premise of the book is that behavior is predictable and flexible, and that if we spend the time to understand our styles and the styles of those with whom we work, we can manage to work together effectively (I feel a weekend retreat coming every time I write something like this, but then again, that is likely a function of my style ;-)
There are four basic styles in this system:
In actualityand this is something I like about the bookeach of us is composed of multiple styles; we just have dominant styles that make us predictable. In addition, each style is actually a number of styles and tendencies, and therefore the authors present a fairly complex picture of personality styles. I wish I could capture that complexity in this document.
In order to assess ones style, students must take an inventory. On the next page I reproduce the inventory from their book. You can photocopy this page and use it with your students if you would like. You can also get an electronic copy from me (Jeff). In subsequent pages, I will tell you how to score it and suggest ways to use it in class.
This inventory is used to assess your personality style. As you take this, remember that your style is not based on how you see yourself but on how others see you. As you take the inventory, you must choose the statement that most closely reflects how you think others see you.
Select one statement from each pair. Place an "X" in the appropriate box.
scoring the inventory
The inventory is based on the following grid:
The first two columns of the inventory deal with assertiveness. Column 1 is the "less assertive" score; column 2 is the "more assertive" score. The last two columns deal with responsiveness. Column 3 is the "less responsive" score; column 4 is the "more responsive" score. To score the instrument, one merely plots ones position on the grid, and when that is done, each person should be positioned in one of four quadrants:
To try to make sense of this, let me begin with a list of characteristics for the two continua that form the grid before I gloss the four personality styles:
The authors of People Styles take these characteristics and construct the four basic styles Ive listed above. In the book, they spend an entire chapter discussing the tendencies of teach style, and these tendencies amount to strengths and potential weaknesses. Here is my gloss of that chapter. You may find it useful to share this information with students in class either verbally or on a handout.
It is important to stress with your students that each personality style is a good one. In other words, each quadrant of the graph is "a good place to be." It is also important to note that ones dominant style is a tendency. Each of us exhibits aspects of each style, and few of us exhibit all the tendencies of our dominant style. The style we adopt is also situatedwho we are at work, for example, is not necessarily who we are at home (I hope).
OK, so where does all this lead? What is the point of knowing ones personal style, and in the case of your students, knowing the styles of others in the class? The point, as you probably guessed, is finding a way to change behavior in the workplace so that folks can work together more effectively. As with most books like People Styles, the last few chapters of the text are devoted to this issue. The Boltons call their ways of changing workplace behavior "flexing." We call it audience analysis.
"Style flex" is a temporary adjustment that one makes in ones own behavior; this is an important point to make with your students. When planning how they will work together (an issue of project management we will cover later in the semester), have your students plan individually and collectively how they think they may need to adjust their preferred style or preferred way of working in order to mesh with their group. And certainly when conflict arises, they will need to consider how to adjust in order to work through the conflict. What wont work but what we often want to do is to change others.
Key aspects of style flexing:
When the Boltons get to the chapter that discusses "flexing in action," the anecdotes and cases they use to illustrate flexing all show people utilizing fairly standard audience analysis techniquesknow your audience and adjust your behavior/communication to meet your audience needs. Simple. But of course, not so simple.
in the classroom
I am open to suggestions for how to use a tool like the personality styles inventory in the classroom. I intend to give the inventory to students and have them assess their style. Then I plan to discuss the characteristics and tendencies of each style. And as I suggested above, during project management discussions and writing later in the semester (the organizational communications project), I will incorporate the results. But each of these tactics amounts to an "awareness" activity, and ultimately, the hope of such an activity is that if students are aware of their working style tendencies and those of others, they can and will adjust accordingly to make for better working relationships.
Please share any ideas you have for how to move from hope to reliable practice.