Change and Behavioral Styles

Learning the characteristics of each behavioral style and how people are likely to react will help you better implement change in your organization.

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I recently reread the short, but powerful book “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, M.D. As someone who frequently helps organizations introduce change, I find this book to be a valuable reminder of how differently people react to change based on their individual perceptions. Although most of us are not qualified to know how people perceive change internally, we can observe their behavior as it relates to change. We may even be able to go a step further and see if there is a link between a person’s behavioral style and how that person deals with change.

As Mr. Johnson writes in the book, some of us are extremely comfortable with change and will seek it out whenever possible. These change promoters are not satisfied with the status quo and believe change is vital to any organization’s success. Others are uncomfortable with change and try to stop it. These change resistors spend time and effort focusing on the bad things that could happen to both themselves and the organization if change occurs. Finally, others find they can adapt to change over time. They learn to take change in stride, recognizing that it may not be such a bad thing, and it could actually benefit both the organization and themselves.  

There are four common behavioral styles that each of us gravitate toward. Different authors and researchers describe these behavioral styles in different ways, but here are the descriptors I find the most meaningful: analytical, amiable, driver and expressive. Whereas any behavioral style can react to change by promoting, resisting or adapting it, the characteristics of each behavioral style may be predictive of a response to change in certain individuals. Let’s first look at the main characteristics and needs of each behavioral style (and perhaps even recognize our own predominant style).

Assuming it is easiest for any behavioral style to adapt to change, let’s focus on the characteristics that may lead each behavioral style to either promote or resist change.

The analytical behavioral style may discover the need for change through ongoing analysis and persistence. If the data show that change is needed, the analytical will be onboard and may even be willing to drive the change. On the other hand, an analytical may struggle with change because of the need for additional information. This information may serve as rationale for the change but may take time to acquire. Likewise, the orderly way of thinking will be helpful in understanding the desired change, but the inability to make decisions, at times, may cause an analytical to delay change.

The amiable behavioral style has the advantage of being supportive and agreeable, so amiables can be key allies in making change happen. On the other hand, amiables may struggle with change because they are so supportive of others that they may be concerned about how the change will impact their coworkers. If an amiable believes that others will be adversely affected by the change, they may resist until such time as they are more comfortable with the impact of the change.

The driver behavioral style typically does not fear change, especially if it leads to achieving organizational or personal goals. Once convinced of this, a driver’s decisiveness and sheer determination will make change happen and likely in an efficient manner. Drivers may resist change if it does not present an immediate and recognizable benefit, or if the change will require them to give up some level of control. Their opposition to change may become fierce if they decide the specific change being sought is not the right thing to do at that time.

The expressive behavioral style likely will be the most enthusiastic about change and will seek to make that enthusiasm contagious within the organization. In fact, those who exhibit the expressive behavioral style may be too quick to change, as they become very excited by the chance to do “something different.” Expressives are the least likely to resist change, but they will do so if they cannot play a key role in making the change happen or do not believe they will receive proper credit for implementing the change.

Although I have certainly made some generalizations, I hope to provide food for thought, especially if you are faced with the need to bring about change and must rely on the cooperation and support of others in your organization.