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Diagnosing People's SOCIAL STYLES (or how I learned to be a psychologist by watching TV)

A few nights ago I was flipping through channels and came across a fantastic comedy I hadn’t seen in years, The Zero Effect. In this witty film full of dry humor, Bill Pullman plays Daryl Zero, the self-described “greatest private investigator the world has ever known.” His hapless and over-worked assistant, Steve Arlo, is played by Ben Stiller.

Realizing that Arlo won’t be his Dr. Watson and chronicle his exploits, Mr. Zero is left to write his own memoirs. When describing his own brilliance, he provides the secret for his ability to understand people and their motives. His method relies on observation and objectivity, or “the two obs.” By remaining impartial and unnoticed in the background, he can observe people so carefully and with such detailed precision that he is able to determine everything he needs to know to crack the case. Love, on the other hand, is a topic Daryl doesn’t master so well, but that’s for another blog. 

Most of us can only aspire to be a Daryl Zero, or even a second rate detective like Sherlock Holmes, but nonetheless we can still train ourselves to be pretty good observers of human behavior. Determining other people’s Styles is precisely as described by our detective hero; be objective and pay close attention.

Most of us go through our days as active participants, interacting with other people and trying to get things done, without ever pausing to pay close attention to what’s happening around us. But if you want to know how to work more effectively with people, learn their SOCIAL STYLES. And to do this, you have to distance yourself from situations and people, and observe their behavior. 

Fortunately, there are some specific things to look for that will give you the information you need. Does the person talk more or less, and does he make direct eye contact more or less frequently? These are Assertiveness behaviors and will tell you if the person is Ask or Tell Assertive. Does he tend to talk about tasks or people, and are his facial expressions controlled or open? These are Responsiveness behaviors and will help you understand whether he is controlled or open in his display of emotions. Once you’ve figured out a person’s preferences on these two dimensions, voila, you know his Style. 

When playing detective, be sure to not rush to judgment of a person’s Style. Remember, it takes time to correctly identify Style-related behaviors. Also, try not to form opinions about why people do the things they do; instead, simply observe what they do. 

With enough practice, you’ll be drinking Tab, eating Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, and playing a mean guitar in no time. (If you want to know what I mean, you’ll have to see the movie).


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