The Four Recognizable Types in any Group Discussion in the Office or at Home

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Y’know how, when you’re sitting at a meeting or around the table at a family dinner discussion trying to solve something or make a plan, the same people usually speak up or disagree or criticize or say yes or never say anything? Have you ever stopped to think that they actually fall into definable types with predictable behavior? Well, it’s true.

There are 4 basic types present in such human interactions and learning to recognize and categorize them is a key to handling them more productively and solving many log jams where these personalities clash and end up raising the temperature and defeating solutions.

Here’s a lexicon of the four basic types to be found in any meeting or family—wherever people work or live and interact together. See if you can’t recognize these types (and yourself, too!) as you read these:

Based on some creative family research done by Dr. David Kanter for his book Inside the Family:

Here they are:

  • Movers:  initiate action; suggest or develop ideas
  • Opposers:  react to and oppose movers and new ideas
  • Followers:  hook onto others’ ideas, support or “go along”
  • Bystanders:  watch, stay quiet and remain noncommittal

Recognize them? I’ll bet you could even name who is which one in your own group, right?

To help in learning to handle any of them, whether you’re the leader of the group or simply a fellow member, here’s an analysis of each one’s behavior and suggestions of what can work with each one.

MOVERS : These are natural leaders- strong, sure-footed and creative. Often intolerant of others’ ideas, they see their own as the only way forward and get competitive, even aggressive, about that.

OPPOSERS:  These create an instant challenge by blocking the movers’ direction, and yours. Competitive with movers, they get attention and importance by opposing. They refer to getting the “facts” or the “truth” or negate ideas with “we did that before” or “it’ll never work” or (depending on their age) “dumb, boring”.  They can make enemies or hurt feelings. In groups they’re seen as obstacles to progress.

FOLLOWERS: These are not uncreative! They just need to play it safe, waiting to see the group’s attitude before they commit. They may follow either the mover or the opposer for separate reasons.

BYSTANDERS: Interesting characters who need special understanding. Very different from followers, they stay out of the direct action altogether, making no alliance with either side. They watch and keep opinions to themselves, saying (if pressed) “Interesting” or “Have to think about that”.

Each of these is valuable to the group, if handled with understanding. The goal is getting them all on board.

Here are some ways you can accomplish that.

MOVERS are creative, give new ideas and solutions, get the ball rolling and try to get others on board. So—harness them to pull ahead in the right direction. Be careful not to single them out and approve their ideas too soon. Set a course before the mover gets started, explaining exactly what you want. Affirm movers but encourage others, saying you want to hear lots of ideas. If you’re the leader, you’re probably a mover, too. Make room for the others…

OPPOSERS can bring up important issues overlooked by the mover’s enthusiasm. Since they’re willing to test ideas and scrutinize data, they can actually improve a mover’s initiatives. Give them assignments to look into the idea and find out how feasible it is instead of just reacting negatively to them. This gives them recognition and uses their skepticism constructively as well as taking away some of the hostile reactions to their constant opposition.

FOLLOWERS empower others by granting support and creating a “team” which movers (or newly directed opposers) need. Allow followers to find their own level, giving them assignments to help facilitate the project. They can be great as support staff and implementers.

BYSTANDERS are seductive to both movers and opposers since neither knows what bystanders are thinking and want to convince them to sign on. These folks are not that way voluntarily. They’ve been overshadowed or never given the encouragement or training to try a more public role. To help them participate, assign them a specific task without waiting for them to volunteer.

Ask for a private report (“check back with me”) because bystanders are afraid of being judged publicly.

Although meetings take place more regularly in the workplace, you can see the value of getting to know all this for family interactions as well. Consider how helpful it can be in your family discussions and even family arguments to recognize the types you’re dealing with, understand why they are that way and what you can do to help them get on board…

So here’s the bottom line: now that you have an informed, objective way to evaluate and understand who’s sitting across from you and why they do what they do, you’re on your way to being the great diplomat and constructive problem solver. Live. In the moment.

And that’s what really matters — doing it live. Because here’s a big secret– no matter how great your emails and Powerpoints are, you’ll never sell anything –or yourself –without finally doing it live, in person. And since I’ve spent my life teaching others how to communicate in person in this tougher, no-talk texting world,  I’ll be giving you ongoing insights into how to get your message across personally and make people listen to you.

I’ll be posting an ongoing series giving you insights and new approaches to getting your message across and making people sit up and listen to you.

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One thought on “The Four Recognizable Types in any Group Discussion in the Office or at Home

  1. Sonya,
    This series should serve a really important purpose, from the Courtroom to the bedroom. I think you will be pleased at the number of folks who feel that they have read an important “carry home” message from your words.

    Thank you,

    Frank Weir

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