Catherine Stothart road tests Linda Berens’ Interaction Styles™ – four ways your emotions work when interacting with others
What it is
The Interaction Styles framework was developed by Linda Berens from her work with David Keirsey, the architect of modern temperament theory. They noticed consistent patterns of behaviour when people were interacting that went across different personality types. Their observations were not adequately explained by the 16 types of the MBTI® nor by Temperament groupings.
Berens researched this, drawing on other sources besides Jung’s psychological type, (such as Marston’s work, The Emotions of Normal People, the social styles of Bolton and Bolton, and the DISC ® instrument, developed from Marston’s work by Prof. John Geier). From this research she created the Interaction Styles™ model.
The MBTI® is about how your mind works – what sort of information you pay attention to and trust, and how you make decisions. Interaction Styles™ is about how your emotions work when you interact with others – how you behave and what drives that behaviour.
What does it do?
Each of the four Styles has specific patterns of communication and decision-making which have an impact on interactions with others. Berens’ key insight – and the key differentiator from similar tools – is that the physical and verbal behaviour people display when interacting with others is linked to their inner drives and aims.
This means you can pick up cues from other people’s behaviour about what might be driving them, and therefore can respond more appropriately. It also raises your awareness of how you come across to others and how to adapt that if you want to. Interaction Styles™ is a tool for being emotionally intelligent in the moment.
How it works
There isn’t a validated questionnaire to help people assess their natural Interaction Style. This is because people often assume that results on a personality questionnaire are ‘the truth’, but Berens believes that no questionnaire can be relied on to be completely accurate about our patterns of behaviour over time.
Instead of completing a questionnaire, clients work through exercises to explore their style in discussion with a coach or facilitator. This exploration includes reviewing how they get results and make decisions, how their behaviour is experienced by others and what situations cause them stress when interacting.
They also consider their preferred behaviour on three polarities which underlie the overall patterns: whether they have a more extraverted style or a more introverted style; whether they try to influence others by giving Direction (telling) or by giving Information (suggesting); and where they focus their attention when interacting – either on the desired outcome or on the process for reaching the goal. (There is a shortcut to this exploration if your client is confident about their best-fit personality type, as each Interaction Style™ maps to four of the 16 MBTI® types.)
Once your client has settled on the Interaction Style™ that fits them best, you can explore with them what impact this style has on their communication, their relationships, how they react when under stress and how they manage conflict. They can also reflect on when it might be beneficial to adopt another style for specific situations.
The coach’s perspective
I came across the Interaction Styles™ framework about ten years ago. As a long-standing MBTI® practitioner, I was familiar with different ways of applying personality type to help people understand themselves and others. Interaction Styles™ added a whole new dimension to my practice. I started using it, initially in team-building workshops and then with my coaching clients. I found that people got it quickly and could apply it straight away. I have been using it ever since, sometimes as a stand-alone tool, and sometimes alongside other approaches to personality type such as the MBTI®.
I have found that Interaction Styles works very well in workshops with teams. I am still evolving how best to introduce it to my coaching clients particularly when they and I are working remotely. With the client below, we met twice virtually – initially to explore the client’s own style and then to apply the knowledge of his style (and of the other styles) to how he can best communicate with a positive impact and how he can deal with conflict. I used a quiz, slides, videos, case studies, discussion, and some reading between the two sessions.
My aim was that by the end of the second session, the client would:
- identify his natural Interaction Style™
- know the pros and cons of his style for different situations and how to adapt it
- be able to pick up cues from others and know how to flex his style to connect with them
- relate this framework to achieving his coaching objectives.
How far these aims were achieved for the client is discussed below. From my perspective, I think a follow-up session would have been beneficial, to review the client’s experience of trying out the practical tips in real situations, and to fully embed the learning into practice.
- Catherine Stothart, founder of Essenwood Consulting and author of How to Get On with Anyone (Pearson Business, 2018)
The Clients’ perspective
Catherine guided me through practical steps using simple self-assessment tables and discussion. These covered key parameters such as my preferred pace and tone (more Introvert or Extravert) and my preferred mode of influencing (by Directing or Informing). These helped position me on a 2×2 matrix of Navigator/ Synthesizer/ Mobiliser/ Energiser styles.
I then completed a summary table of personal ‘Strengths’, ‘Challenges’ and ‘Do differently’, focused on how I typically behave when interacting. The output provided an agenda for action. Short case study videos helped me identify the four different orientations and outcomes when brought together – invaluable for tuning-in to sufficiently recognisable scenarios and identifying improvement opportunities through debrief.
Overall, the framework is simple to use, demands honesty in self-assessment and willingness to recognise scope for improvement. For me the key benefit was finding practical ways to consciously consider and adapt to other styles and this is fuelling my ongoing development.
- Phil Bradshaw is a culture change specialist at Airbus
Note: Berens’ Interaction Styles™ are named Chart-the-Course, Behind-the-Scenes, In-Charge, Get-Things-Going. In the client report above, these equate to Navigator, Synthesizer, Mobiliser, Energiser
- W Marston, Emotions of Normal People, Minneapolis, US: Personal Press, , 1979
- R Bolton and D G Bolton, Social Style/Management Style: Developing Productive Work Relationships, NY: American Management Association, 1984