Report Support Article Written by Dan Perryman
My dad was a fireman when I was growing up. Visiting the station, playing pool in the recreation room, and crawling around on the apparatus in the equipment bays were the highlights of my childhood. We lived down the street from the station and were the first to know if there was a pasture burning out by the rodeo grounds, a car aflame at the Welch’s plant, or a kitchen fire over on Parsons Road. But that all changed when I was a teenager. The Fire Department made a transformational change to keep our town safer– they stopped focusing on being fire fighters and made their business fire prevention. Making fewer emergency runs with more inspections or safety demonstrations was not as glamorous, but it was better for the community.
Why am sharing this story? Well, it relates directly to our goal at Birkman. In our new Signature Report, we have put less of an emphasis on Stress scores. So, does that mean Stress is less important than it used to be? Absolutely not! Our emphasis is more on managing Needs to see fewer Stress Behaviors. Like my dad, we like to focus more on prevention instead of recovering from an unproductive reaction.
There are no questions on the Birkman questionnaire that address stress. We don’t ask respondents how they look when they flip out, get frustrated, or hit the end of their rope. In his research, Dr. Roger Birkman found that the stress reaction to a situation was almost always an exaggeration of one’s Need score. If someone prefers to work independently of others and likes their time alone (a low Social Energy Need), they usually become uncomfortable during long periods of forced social interaction and team meetings. When the pressure builds to a certain point, they are typically driven to action and meet their Needs by pulling back from involvement in the session, making excuses to leave, and possibly declining future invitations to participate—Stress Behavior.
In effect, when stressed, we see our reaction as a viable solution to the problem. It is the impact on others that tells the true story of Stress. What didn’t we share that the group needed to hear? What happened that we don’t know about? Who did we leave hanging with a commitment to follow up on a conversation? For the person in stress, they often have no clue they are damaging the team’s results or their personal relationships while in the moment. They just feel better.
Another thing I recommend about Stress scoring is to not pay too much attention to the scoring number. A “1” does not mean a person will stress harder, longer or faster than someone with a “24”. The number just tells you which end of the scale to look at for the possible Stress Behavior. For Social Energy, both scores just indicate that the person will probably react exactly as described above – escape from social pressure. If the score is below 40, expect the behavior on the low end of the scale. Above 60, the higher end of the scale. In the middle? It will probably be a reaction that is opposite to whatever pressure is on them at the time.
How do we know that? By looking at the NEED scoring. For a person with a 55 Social Energy Need, they are saying that they expect to be involved in team events, but also to have the opportunity to work alone or with a couple people on projects. Too much social pressure and they might pull back. Don’t invite them to a social event they were looking forward to attending, and you might see the opposite.
When people act out, remember that the pressure has probably been building for a while and there is an emotional load to deal with. When something is outside our comfort zone (what our Needs score defines for us) we begin to notice it. There aren’t necessarily alarm bells, but we start paying attention because what is different could be dangerous. It’s our amygdala talking to us subconsciously. If the situation continues, we may be distracted mentally, start to feel the emotional distress, and finally take action to make the offending situation go away. We had choices all along the way. Stress behavior is not a guarantee. We all have the choice, and the obligation, to get our own Needs met in some way so that we can remain a productive part of our environment.
When you are covering Stress Behavior with a respondent, remember to circle back immediately to the underlying Need, making sure it is met. My dad is much prouder of the lives they impacted because of fire prevention (even though no one really noticed), than the news coverage they got for dealing with burned-out houses. You can stop fighting fires too.