Interaction Styles

Solving Interpersonal Conflict and Developing Situational Skills

The How

Interaction Styles is based on observable behavior patterns that are quite similar to the popular Social Styles models and DiSC® Instrument. Interaction Styles tells us the “how” of our behavior. It refers to patterns of interaction that are highly contextual and yet innate. Knowing our interaction style helps us locate interpersonal conflicts and situational energy drains. It gives us a map for greater flexibility in our interactions with others.

Key Sections

  • History
  • 4 Styles
  • Things-in-Common
  • Applications/Resources

Information on this page has been adapted from Linda V. Berens, Understanding Yourself and Others®: An Introduction to Interaction Styles, 2.0 (Telos Publications, 2008) *Used with permission.

History of the Four Interaction Styles

Throughout the ages, observers of human behavior have repeatedly identified patterns or configurations of behavior. Such holistic sorting of behavior patterns has been recorded for at least twenty-five centuries. Ancient philosophers described four dispositions called temperaments—a choleric, a phlegmatic, a melancholic, and a sanguine temperament. Interpretations of these patterns have varied over the years, with two distinct interpretations: one is David Keirsey’s temperament theory and the other relates to the Interaction Styles model.

Most twentieth-century psychologists abandoned holistic observation of human behavior for a microscopic examination of parts, fragments, traits, and so on. To them, all human beings were basically alike—and individual differences were due to chance or conditioning—yet many of them ultimately described patterns that resemble our holistic view.

The seeds were sown for the Interaction Styles model in the 1920s. In 1928, William Marston wrote about the emotional basis for our behavior. John Geier built on Marston’s work and developed the DiSC® instrument. Geier looked at traits and clusters of traits that would help us understand how we behave in the “social field.” Then came a long string of frameworks and instruments that described the social styles of people. These frameworks yielded descriptions similar to Geier’s interpretation of Marston’s work.

Many of these authors referenced the work of Carl Jung, Isabel Myers, and Katharine Briggs. Their primary focus, in contrast to Jung, was on outer behavior, not inner states. Some even reference the Keirseyan Temperament Theory. They seemed to not realize they were referencing separate models.

All of these models suggest that these styles or types are inborn. In the meantime, studies continue to be conducted on the various “temperamental” traits that can be identified and tracked over time with physiological measures. Many of these traits seem to relate to the Interaction Styles patterns.

The Four Interaction Styles

Chart-the-Course™
(Drive to get a desired result)The theme is having a course of action to follow. People of this style focus on knowing what to do and keeping themselves, the group, or the project on track. They prefer to enter a situation having an idea of what is to happen. They identify a process to accomplish a goal and have a somewhat contained tension as they work to create and monitor a plan. The aim is not the plan itself, but to use it as a guide to move things along toward the goal. Their informed and deliberate decisions are based on analyzing, outlining, conceptualizing or foreseeing what needs to be done.
Behind-the-Scenes™
(Drive to get an integrated result)The theme is getting the best result possible. People of this style focus on understanding and working with the process to create a positive outcome. They see value in many contributions and consult outside inputs to make an informed decision. They aim to integrate various information sources and accommodate differing points of view. They approach others with a quiet, calm style that may not show their strong convictions. Producing, sustaining, defining, and clarifying are all ways they support a group’s process. They typically have more patience than most with the time it takes to gain support through consensus for a project or to refine the result.
In-Charge™
(Drive to get an achievable result)The theme is getting things accomplished through people. People of this style are focused on results, often taking action quickly. They often have a driving energy with an intention to lead a group to the goal. They make decisions quickly to keep themselves and others on task, on target, and on time. They hate wasting time and having to back track. Mentoring, executing actions, supervising, and mobilizing resources are all ways they get things accomplished. They notice right away what is not working in a situation and become painfully aware of what needs to be fixed, healed, or corrected.
Get-Things-Going™
(Drive to get an embraced result)The theme is persuading and involving others. They thrive in facilitator or catalyst roles and aim to inspire others to move to action, facilitating the process. Their focus is on interaction, often with an expressive style. They Get-Things-Going with upbeat energy, enthusiasm, or excitement, which can be contagious. Exploring options and possibilities, making preparations, discovering new ideas, and sharing insights are all ways they get people moving along. They want decisions to be participative and enthusiastic, with everyone involved and engaged.

Things-in-Common

Directing versus Informing communications—ways we influence others
Initiating versus Responding roles—ways to define relationships
Outcome versus Process focus—where we focus our attention when interacting

These dynamics are always operating in a situation, and if we become polarized along these dimensions as we interact with others, miscommunication and misunderstanding are probable and likely to result in destructive conflict. However, we need to remember that we always have at least one aspect in common with someone of a different interaction style.
Chart-the-Course™ & In-Charge™ have in common a preference for Directive Communications—Give structure, direct

Behind-the-Scenes™ & Get-Things-Going™ have in common a preference for Informing Communications—Evoke, draw forth, seek input

In-Charge™ & Get-Things-Going™ have in common a tendency to take Initiating Roles—External World, reach out, interact

Chart-the-Course™ & Behind-the-Scenes™ have in common a tendency to take Responding Roles—Internal world, reflect, slow pace

In-Charge™ & Behind-the-Scenes™ have in common a tendency to focus on Outcomes—getting the outcome or having control over the quality of the outcome

Chart-the-Course™ & Get-Things-Going™ have in common a tendency to focus on Processes—having a process or being in a process

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