Report Support - Article written by Dan Perryman
Today, we’re going to talk about the internal combustion engine. Not the topic you were expecting in a Birkman newsletter, right? Hang with me for a few seconds.
The average gasoline-powered engine is a complex system of electronics and mechanical components that when working perfectly together deliver power to the vehicle. Whether that vehicle is a Chevy Silverado or a Ferrari Testarossa – the principle is the same.
A respondent’s Birkman report is a psychometric image of how their personality works for them. It’s a complex system of preferences and expectations that result in an output – their Usual or Stress behavior. That may seem to be a little cold (you=machine) but when you think about The Birkman Method as a scientific instrument you should expect to see patterns and connections. It’s because of behavioral patterns that Dr. Birkman was able to create the questionnaire and reports we use today to help clients understand themselves better and be more effective in their world.
In this article, we’re not going to do an engine overhaul – just some simple diagnostics and maintenance that either makes your conversation with your client hum or sputter.
The spark plug is a key part of the ignition system for an engine. It transfers the electrical energy from the distributor to the cylinders of the engine to spark the fuel and make the whole engine work. They’re cheap, plentiful and effective. But you can’t just take it out of the box and put it in. To create the perfect spark, each plug has to have the correct gap between the two electrodes. Too close and the plug shorts out, too far and the spark never fires. Either condition affects how the engine operates. One misfiring spark plug doesn't shut the car down, but the engine sounds a little wonky and it takes more gas to go the same distance.
So, as a Birkman practitioner, how does this relate to you? Did you already pick up the key word? Yes. Gap. One of the critical learnings from the millions of profiles that Birkman has collected is that there is a pattern between how people see themselves and how they perceive most people. This “gap” between Usual and Need can spark some critical insights during your conversation.
Take Social Energy. For the majority of respondents, their Usual score will be higher than their Need score. The Norm is 75 Usual, 50 Need so the average gap between those two scores is about 25 points. So, the “typical” person is putting some energy into being social when in groups, but feels comfortable when they have to work some independently or with a small team on a project. When you see that 25-point gap (and it doesn't matter if it’s at the top end of the scale or the low end!) the respondent is saying they put that amount of energy into being their version of social.
What about the person with a larger gap? Say, 75/10 in Social Energy – a 65 point gap? That gap would indicate that they are working much harder at being social, even though the Usual score is the same as in the first example. The amount of energy they are putting into socializing has to come from somewhere, so how are they addressing getting their needs met – because it’s probably not from a warm, positive glow they feel during their time around lots of people.
The large gap can show up behaviorally as well. Their “personality engine” is working harder to be seen as friendly and socially active, and others can perceive that – just like you can hear the strain on the engine of a car headed up an incline. Your conversation can focus on the strategies they have for “showing up” when they need to meet the world’s expectations (not their own). They probably have identified the times in their life when they need to “turn it on” and can talk about the emotional load that is released when they can relax and be themselves when alone or with those “insiders” they feel comfortable with.
For the large gap component, there is a more pronounced distinction between the logical/cognitive actions taken because it makes sense to go with the flow of social desirability and the satisfaction (emotive/feeling) they get when the pressure to perform is off.
So, what about the small gap? Say a 99/98 Social Energy score? How much energy are they putting into being inclusive and friendly and gregarious? Very little. They just naturally are that way because they see the whole world as a welcoming place and they are just another social person in people-focused world.
Many new consultants struggle during their conversations with these extreme-scoring, low gap respondents. The temptation is to start the Social Energy conversation with a 99/98 like this “Wow. You are a super friendly person!” And their client’s perception? Totally the opposite. They aren’t putting any energy into their social interactions, and don't see themselves as any more “friendly” than the rest of the world. As a consultant, you are making a big deal about something they don't see about themselves and your credibility is going downhill.
The real conversation here is about how they may have a blind spot to those that are less wired for sociability. They may quickly discount the person who doesn't show up in meetings or doesn't mix easily in social groups. What they see as “easy” may be a “lot of work” for others.
If the gap is large or small, so what? If this was a car, we could pull the fouled plug, clean it, adjust the gap and be back in business. But Birkman is not about “fixing” people. Your two goals in these conversations are to raise awareness and let them make any adjustments that they need. Using the perspectives revealed in a Birkman report, we can help respondents build the elements of emotional and social intelligence that will allow them to manage themselves and their relationships.
Work on self-awareness first. “Were you aware of how much energy you are putting into the way you show up?” “What are you feeling in those situations that don't match your expectations? How do you handle that?” By looking inward, you can address the emotional load that may exist when a social situation goes awry (high Social Energy), or when things don’t go the way they had planned (high Insistence).
Address social-awareness second. “How is this working for you, or against you, in working on a team?” “Have you ever noticed that others may not ‘get’ you easily? Have you felt misunderstood at times?” “How can you more effectively communicate your point on this to others?” Once they understand that they are constantly filtering the motivations of others, and being at the same time understood or misunderstood by those same people – respondents can make sense of situations that baffled them before.