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Demystifying Compatibility
by Dr. Tony Alessandra, PhD.

Compatibility, or the lack of it, is not such a mystery. Both rapport and tension are rather predictable, once you know what to look for. Here's the basic principle: In social situations, like behavioral styles attract. People with similar interests and habits are drawn to one another as friends and acquaintances. There's a sense of satisfaction in knowing you're among people who prize what you prize, enjoy what you enjoy, play by roughly the same rules as you do.

If you're a Steady Style or Compliant Style, you're a more structured person who's not fond of surprises. Thus, you find stable, predictable relationships more satisfying. You get your needs met by being around those who won't embarrass you by, say, showing up in a magenta sports coat, or asking deeply personal questions upon first meeting you.

Or maybe you're a faster-paced, more outgoing person, a Dominant Style or Interactive Style who thinks life's too short to worry about whether your tires are properly inflated, or your socks match your tie. Who the heck's going to know or care 100 years from now, right?

The Big Ten--And How They Perform Socially

So what happens when these sometimes-contradictory types get together? Well, the four basic behavioral styles mix and match into ten combinations. Behavioral science research shows clearly which combinations--prior to use of The Platinum Rule--mesh or clash naturally. (Please see highlighted box for definition of The Platinum Rule.)

For starters, people with similar tendencies are most compatible with one another socially. That's because those with common interests, habits, and approaches help reinforce each other’s self-esteem.

So it won't surprise you to learn that the most naturally compatible combinations in social situations are:

Compliant Style-Compliant Style
Steady Style-Steady Style
Interactive Style-Interactive Style

Where, you ask, are the Dominant Styles? Well, they also tend to flock to one another--at least for a while. But they possess such a strong competitiveness that even the Dominant Style-Dominant Style relationship isn't quite as naturally harmonious as the others.

That pairing does, however, show up under the moderately compatible category:

Dominant Style-Dominant Style
Steady Style-Compliant Style
Dominant Style-Interactive Style
Interactive Style-Steady Style

Compatibility doesn't come quite as naturally in these cases. But with effort, progress is possible and, in fact, success in working with less compatible individuals can be an esteem builder in each case.

Dominant Styles and Interactive Styles share an outward focus and often-similar interests. Steady Styles and Compliant Styles, on the other hand, are both inward-oriented and may like the same kinds of activities.

Both Interactive Styles and Steady Styles aspire to be in a supportive relationship. Usually, though, it's the Steady Style who's in the giving role and the Interactive Style who's the receiver.

Meanwhile, the fast-paced, extroverted Dominant Styles and Interactive Styles commonly find it hard to develop rapport with the easygoing, quieter Steady Styles and Compliant Styles, who are less decisive and enthusiastic. And the Steady Styles and Compliant Styles, in turn, find the Dominant Styles less desirable because they're too pushy, too loud, and often demand too much of them.

Therefore, of all ten combinations, these three pairs are often the least naturally compatible socially:

Dominant Style-Steady Style
Interactive Style-Compliant Style
Dominant Style-Compliant Style

To the Dominant Style, who just wants to get things done, and to the Interactive Style, who just wants to have fun, the Compliant Style and Steady Styles can be drags. While Steady Styles often resign themselves to tolerate the forwardness of Dominant Styles and Interactive Styles, the Compliant Style frequently just prefers to be alone.

What's more, even when relaxing, the Compliant Style wants to do all things right. Whether it's just grilling hot dogs, chatting about politics, or setting up the croquet wickets, the Compliant Style sets standards and judges himself and others by how they meet them. The Compliant Style, in the eyes of the Dominant Style or Interactive Style, is not living as much as he is just serving time. By and large, never the twain shall meet--at least unless and until The Platinum Rule is practiced.

On the positive side, though, there is a fascination factor in these three pairings, and bridges can be built. Given positive energy, the natural differences can fuel attraction, particularly when one style sees what it can learn from another. A Dominant Style, for example, may see how he can become more patient and responsive to others by taking a cue from a Steady Style. A Steady Style, meanwhile, may be able to draw on the Dominant Style's strengths for taking charge and accepting risk.

Similarly, a sensitive Interactive Style can see how she can learn discretion from the Compliant Style, and the Compliant Style perceives that she can become more relaxed and sociable by being around the Interactive Style.

Perhaps the most difficult hurdles socially are posed by the Dominant Style-Compliant Style relationship. For it to work, both must yield their personal control needs, with the Dominant Style deciding to give the type of space the Compliant Style needs, and the Compliant Style learning to be much more direct and open about his concerns with the Dominant Style.

It's Different Task-Wise

When it comes to tasks--whether it's doing a project at work, purchasing a family car, or just balancing the checkbook--the dynamics differ dramatically. Here, the “likes” who are drawn to one another socially don't necessarily attract as much as they compete or even conflict.

Now their similarities can get in the way because they have the same needs. After all, to complete a task, one must have resources, rewards, time, space, and attention. But there are only so many of those to go around.

So when those needs aren't met, tension and conflict can result. When one partner feels a need to “win,” for instance, the other one may sense he or she's been shortchanged. The frequent outcome: resentment.

But, before getting into which pairs clash, let's look at the most naturally compatible combinations task wise:

Compliant Style-Steady Style
Dominant Style-Steady Style
Interactive Style-Steady Style

See a pattern here? You bet! The Steady Style gets along with everybody in a task situation. He or she's the universal antidote for disharmony. It's the Steady Styles' most distinctive trait. They're supportive workers who exert a calming, stabilizing influence. Naturally interested in others and in making a contribution, they enjoy being productive partners. No wonder they're everybody's favorite.

The moderately compatible combinations, as far as working on tasks together, are:

Compliant Style-Compliant Style
Steady Style-Steady Style
Interactive Style-Compliant Style

Compliant Styles loom large in this second grouping. While not as easygoing as Steady Styles, they are sensitive to others' feelings and have a passion for excellence that others usually recognize.

Interestingly, Compliant Styles figure in many of the least compatible combinations socially, but among the highest in tasks. This suggests that others appreciate the quality and thoroughness of their work, even if the Compliant Styles aren't always viewed as being a lot of laughs.

Last come those combinations that are least compatible because they tend to see one another as competitors:

Dominant Style-Dominant Style
Dominant Style-Compliant Style
Dominant Style-Interactive Style
Interactive Style-Interactive Style

Dominant Style-Dominant Style combinations work fairly well socially but when it comes to tasks, a Dominant Style's competitive nature and need for control can stymie cooperation, especially with like-minded Dominant Styles.

As for the Dominant Style-Compliant Style, there's a fundamental clash in the Dominant Style's need for speed and control versus the Compliant Style's penchant for being slower paced and systematic.

Notice that while the Interactive Style-Interactive Style pair was ranked as among the most socially compatible, now they are likely to be the least productive as far as working together on tasks. That's because neither is motivated to deal with task details.

Similarly, Dominant Styles and Interactive Styles also have moderately high social rapport but plummet to the lowest rungs of compatibility when tasks are involved. That's because they both tend to want to delegate.

But don't give up yet on those whose personal style may not be a perfect fit with the situation. With some effort at understanding and applying The Platinum Rule, you can adapt your compatibility so that you can work successfully with anyone.

©2002, By Tony Alessandra, Ph.D. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form, without permission in writing from Dr. Tony Alessandra.


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