Sunday, December 23, 2007

Five Thinking Styles

You improve your communication with others when you can match their thinking style. You can also avoid rubbing your boss the wrong way by paying close attention to how they approach the tasks of the day. In Coping with Difficult Bosses, Robert Brahmson identifies five thinking styles to categorize our modes of thinking and problem solving we use most frequently.

Five Thinking Styles
The five thinking styles are:

  • Synthesists
  • Idealists
  • Pragmatist Thinkers
  • Analyst Thinkers
  • Realist Thinkers

Bramson writes:

"Synthesists are creative thinkers who perceive the world in terms of opposites. When you say black, they think white, when you say long, they think short. They are curious (in both sense of the word) people who are interested in anything that doesn't fit a mold. Their conversations are often sprinkled with speculations, "what ifs," and off-the-wall comments that seem little related to the conversations that proceeded them. As they sort through this mishmash of ideas, they often see essential connections that elude more straight-line thinkers, and can thereby produce genuinely new perspectives."

Connecting with Synthesists
Bramson writes:
"To connect well with Synthesists, listen appreciatively to their speculations, and don't confuse their arguing nature with resistance - after all, if you thought in contraditioncs, you would sound argumentative, too. If you listen to them long enough and are willing to sit through their theorizing, they will often sell themselves on your ideas. Since Synthesist thinkers often see themselves as very clever and creative, it can't helpto remind them that you see them that way, too."

Bramson writes:

"Idealists believe in lofty goals and high standards. They ask: Who is benefiting from what we're doing? What are our long-range goals? As managers, they espouse quality, service to others, team work, and cooperation."

Connecting with Idealists
Bramson writes:
"Therefore, the most your can associate what you want to do with these goals of quality, service, and commmunity good, the more likely you are to get your Idealist boss's attention. It's equally important not to seem dishonest, or untruthful. Not that you can't fool Idealist thinkers -- actually they are quite gullable because they deeply believe in the importance of truth. However, once they catch you being devious, they will withdraw their support, often without telling you, and you will find yourself with surface agreement but no action from them.

Idealist-thinking managers strive for agreement, and they feel disappointed and buffaloed when their team can't, won't, or doesn't agree. If you seem unwilling to compromise with other's perspectives, they may be reluctant to grant you full authority."

Pragmatist Thinkers
Bramson writes:
"Pragmatic thinkers are flexible, resourceful folk who look for immediate payoff rather than for a grand plan that will change the world. Pragmatists are not much interested in why things happen, nor in their eventual impact. Thus they tend to tackle problems one step at a time. They are interested in practical, short-term results, and a plan of action that will get things started in the right direction without too mcuh hassle. Pragmatists have a knack for seeing things as they are, especially what others really want, as opposed to what they ought to want, an Idealist preoccupation. Therefore, they are often experts at fitting in and surviving when others fall."
Connecting with Pragmatists
Bramson writes:
"To communicate effectively with Pragmatist-thinking bosses, emphasize short-term objectives on which you can get started with resources at hand. Make sure that they know that you are not ignoring the political aspects of the situation. Don't overwhelm them with a plethora of data or an emphasis on a wonderful overall plan -- they'll just get over-loaded or bored."
Analyst Thinkers
Bramson writes:
"Analyst thinkers equate accuracy, thoroughness, and attention to detail with competence. They like to gather data, measure it, categorize it, and rationally and methodically calculate the right answer to any problem you come up with."
Connecting with Analysts
Bramson writes:
"To get the approval of Analyst-thinking bosses you must provide a logical plan repleate with back-up data and specifications. Above all, you must never submit anything that contains typographical errors, mispelled words, or numbers that do not add up properly. It's not that they'll get angry if you do. It's that they'll dismiss you as anyone competent to be put in charge of anything important."

Realist Thinkers
Bramson writes:
"Realist thinkers are fast-moving doers who know that reality is what their senses - sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch - tell them it is, not that dry stuff that one finds in accounting ledgers, or the insipid pages of manual of operations. At managers, Realists are seldom interested until something goes wrong. Then they move in on the action, get whatever the problem is and what should be done about it. Thankfully, as soon as whatever was broken is once again clinking along, they lose interest in it."
Connecting with Realists
Bramson writes:
"If you communicate with Realist bosses as if they were Analysts, you will never get their attention. Rather than gobs of computer-printouts and other detailed information, Realists want a three-paragraph "Executive Summary" which tells briefly what is wrong and how you propose to fix it. For rather complicated reasons, they will often take you at your word if they see you as a qualified expert. You become an expert in their eyes when they know that you've assembled a store of facts in which they are interested, and you have proposed a set of actions that they already believe are the best things to do."

How To Use the Five Thinking Styles
Take the time to place your boss or who you need to interact with into one or two of the five thinking-style categories. Keep in mind that while one or two styles predominates for most people, about fifteen percent use all five styles equally. Those who do, are seldom dificult bosses. Once you've identified their preferred categories, figure out how you can change your approach to better suit their style.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood. The more you understand somebody, the better you can adapt your style. I think the five thinking styles are a helpful framework in addition to understanding somebody's learning style ( auditory, visual, or kinesthtic), their NLP meta-programs, their motivation (towards pleasure or away from pain), their values, their "rules", their extraversion and introversion tendencies, their passive or aggressive tendencies, whether they are more "task-centered" or "people-centered", ther decision making style (consult-and-decide or build concensus), and their management styles (Autocratic, Paternalistic, Democratic, and Laissez-faire.)
  • Establish rapport. I think the heart of identifying the five thinking-styles revolves around establishing rapport. Rapport is the key to communication, influence, and trust.
  • Know the anti-patterns. It's probably more important to know how to avoid rubbing somebody the wrong way, than getting the preferred or ideal communication style exactly right.
  • Wear different hats. I think you can use the Six-Thinking Hats concept to switch your hat based on who you are working with. Each hat you put on or take off can represent a different thinking style.

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