Project Management

Yeah Baby! Now That's My Style!

George Ball
What is style? Is it: a) a characteristic mode of action; b) a mode of expression; c) a descriptive or distinguishing appellation; or d) the gnomon of a sundial? Personally, I would vote for the last one, but then I have gno idea what a gnomon is. It just sounds funky. And hey, that's my style.

Practically, however, I'm talking more about how people communicate and interact with one another. In my most recent musings I postulated that maybe we in the knowledge management world have been spending too much time, energy and resources on accumulating more and more stuff--content--and not enough on connecting people; i.e., in enhancing live, real-time communications.


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 I think we've focused on collecting stuff because it's easier; just build the infrastructure and the processes, add a little incentive for making contributions, and it will come pouring in. But while you'll undoubtedly have a lot of stuff--and some of it will be very good, very usable knowledge--much of it will be of limited value because it will lack almost all context, the environmental factors that contributed to and affect the completeness and usability of the knowledge. Good communications is essential to surfacing and collecting context.


Enhancing communications is harder than collecting stuff because we're all, well, individuals, each with our own unique approach and style. Enhancing communications requires working almost at the transaction level, on each individual exchange or dialog. But fear not; it is possible to do this. The key is to have a common framework so that the individuals involved can manage their own communications, without the intervention of a centralized KM organization.


One framework that I have seen used successfully to do this is called People Styles, from the book People Styles at Work  (Robert Bolton and Dorothy Grover Bolton, AMACOM, 1996). While we're all wired differently, there are actually just a few basic types of wiring common to almost all of us. The four basic people styles--Analytical, Amiable, Expressive and Driver--are derived from where we fit on two behavioral dimensions: Assertiveness and Responsiveness. An individual's level of assertiveness is the degree to which one's behaviors are seen by others as being forceful or directive. Very assertive people tend to exude more energy, move faster, gesture vigorously, have more intense eye contact, speak louder and more rapidly, etc.


Responsiveness is the degree to which one is seen by others as showing his or her own emotions or demonstrating awareness of feelings of others. Less responsive people are less disclosing of feelings, appear more reserved, use more facts and logic than anecdotes, prefer working alone, etc.


Figure 1. The Four People Styles


Let's consider a few extreme communications scenarios, where diametrically opposed styles are trying to execute an efficient exchange of knowledge.


Ain't knowledge fun? 


Pronunciation: (stIl), n., v. styled, styl-ing. 1. a particular kind, sort or type, as with reference to form, appearance or character: the baroque style; The style of the house was too austere for their liking.
2. a particular, distinctive or characteristic mode of action or manner of acting: They do these things in a grand style.
3. a mode of living, as with respect to expense or display.
4. an elegant, fashionable or luxurious mode of living: to live in style.
5. a mode of fashion, as in dress, esp. good or approved fashion; elegance; smartness.
6. the mode of expressing thought in writing or speaking by selecting and arranging words, considered with respect to clearness, effectiveness, euphony or the like, that is characteristic of a group, period, person, personality, etc.: to write in the style of Faulkner; a familiar style; a pompous, pedantic style.
7. those components or features of a literary composition that have to do with the form of expression rather than the content of the thought expressed: His writing is all style and no substance.
8. manner or tone adopted in discourse or conversation: a patronizing style of addressing others.
9. a particular, distinctive, or characteristic mode or form of construction or execution in any art or work: Her painting is beginning to show a personal style.
10. a descriptive or distinguishing appellation, esp. a legal, official or recognized title: a firm trading under the style of Smith, Jones, & Co.
11. stylus (defs. 1, 2).
12. the gnomon of a sundial.


Pronunciation: (nO'mon), n.
1. the raised part of a sundial that casts the shadow; a style. See illus. under sundial.
2. an early astronomical instrument consisting of a vertical shaft, column or the like, for determining the altitude of the sun or the latitude of a position by measuring the length of its shadow cast at noon.
3. Geom. (formerly) the part of a parallelogram that remains after a similar parallelogram has been taken away from one of its corners.


The first scenario has an Analytical trying to get knowledge from an Expressive. The Analytical is interested primarily in the facts and figures, and wants to get the information she needs quickly, efficiently and without a lot of fanfare. The Expressive, on the other hand, is excited about the knowledge he possesses and doesn't necessarily remember all the important facts and figures, but does want to tell the whole story about where the knowledge comes from. If neither individual appreciates how the other is wired, the most likely outcome is that the Expressive will dominate the conversation, telling his story in great detail, but the Analytical will come away from the conversation feeling that it was a complete waste of time. She will think she didn't get the detailed facts and figures she wanted and probably didn't have too much of an opportunity to ask questions.


The second scenario involves a Driver trying to pass on knowledge to an Amiable. The Driver is convinced that he knows exactly what the Amiable needs to know, and is not interested in answering questions that stray far from the core of the subject. The Amiable is just as interested in the relationships that were involved in the creation of the knowledge, while the Driver could care less. If neither individual appreciates how the other is wired the most likely outcome is that that Driver will do a great "data dump," but the Amiable won't find much value in the conversation--and therefore the knowledge--because the Driver didn't accommodate the Amiable's need for information about the people involved.


Now, as I mentioned above these are extreme communications scenarios. None of us are purely one style or another. In fact, we each tend to have two main styles, two different communication "comfort zones." Personally, I am pretty much equal parts Driver and Expressive, and am comfortable wearing either hat depending on the circumstances; one-on-one I tend to be more of a Driver, but in a group I tend to be more Expressive. I can also work pretty well with most Analyticals because of my engineering degree and background. But make me work closely with an Amiable and I almost always get in trouble by inadvertently stepping on their feelings somehow.


Bottom line: You can dramatically improve your organization's internal communications abilities by adopting a simple, common framework for understanding and appreciating the differences in how we interact with and relate to one another. You can roll-out such a framework either at the team or the organization level. Good communications are essential to the efficient workings of any organization, and are especially important if one of your objectives is good knowledge management. Make the effort to improve your interpersonal communications and pretty soon your KM efforts will really be "stylin'."


For more insight into how to apply the People Styles framework to enhance your organization's communications skills, and as a result your KM abilities, check out the new premium gantthead deliverable So What's Your Style, along with the accompanying premium member self-scoring individual styles diagnostics People Style's Questionnaire (Excel spreadsheet).

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