By: Amy Shepley
Ah, reversals. If you are anything like me, you have somewhat of a love/hate relationship with them. On the one hand, I love the insight and the depth reversals provide me when interpreting a Birkman report. On the other hand, I dread the inevitable question that always comes up: “Why is my little Stress box floating inside/outside the Need bar?” (big sigh…)
Regardless of whether you’re new to the Birkman community or a long time consultant, we can all continue to learn and improve our mastery of The Birkman Method. This month I’m kicking off a new series: a booster series on Birkman reversals. For each newsletter, my column will focus on a different Component in the reversal pattern, starting with the Need for Esteem. We’ll work through them all until we make it to the Need for Thought. I will share my own insights and I welcome you to share your comments and the experiences you’ve had in your own Birkman work.
Before we get started, let’s review the basics. What is a “reversal” and how do you explain it?
In Birkman, a “reversal” occurs when an individual’s Usual style (which can be seen by others) and his Stress behavior (unfortunately, also seen!) is the opposite of his underlying Need. This is where it can get difficult for him: because his displayed Usual and Stress behaviors are exactly the opposite, it continues to solicit and reinforce the wrong behavior from other people, and from the person’s environment. As a result, the person’s Needs are not as apparent to others, and they continue to not be met in many social situations. Thus the destructive cycle continues.
From a consultant’s perspective, this is the social answering pattern we call a “reversal”. However, this is not the way I recommend you explain a reversal during your interpretation of a Birkman report. An expert in the Birkman office says they explain a reversal as “a surprise.” In other words, the person’s stress reaction is not what is expected by the outside world and might come as a shock. This disparity can lead to issues for both the individual and the individual’s environment.
The fix? Emphasize to the person the importance of being aware of his unique underlying Needs. Encourage him to communicate– in a positive way– his actual or preferred Need to the rest of the world. Urge him to help others out by taking responsibility for getting his Needs met.
Let’s take a closer look at the Esteem reversal and see how this plays out. The Esteem Reversal
I find the Esteem reversal to be one of the most interesting. Here we have a case where a person sees and describes himself as a sensitive, shy, self-conscious person. Despite the fact that the scores are generally on the lower end of the spectrum, he distinctly sees and describes himself as being more shy than other people.
How do I know this? Check out the examples above. In each case the Usual score is higher than the Need. In other words, the person is identifying that he is are more self-conscious and shy than he perceives other people to be. In fact, we can even see to what extent the person sees himself as being more shy than other people. The first example (31/9/75) is a smaller gap. This individual may say something like “I am slightly more shy than other people.”
The last example (99/1/75) indicates a significant gap. This person is likely to say something like “I am significantly more shy than most people.” [The question begs, who are these “most people” these individuals are referring to? And the answer is this person’s perception of other people. We are not dealing with facts here, people. Reality always takes a back seat. We are only interested in the perception of the individual whom we are addressing.]
So in the case of an Esteem reversal, we have a person who is describing himself as a shy, sensitive person. It would make sense then that when this person goes into his Stress behaviors, his tendency would be to become much more sensitive, and more self-conscious. By looking at the Stress box in our examples, we can see this is the case. In each of these examples the person becomes even more self-conscious, shy and sensitive.
But here’s the surprise.
He actually prefers and is more comfortable when other people are direct, straightforward and matter-of-fact. His score tells us that he views himself as the more sensitive one, not other people. He expects other people to be less self-conscious and more direct. In Birkman, when our expectations are met, we stay in our Usual strength behavior. When our expectations are not met, especially over time, we risk moving into that nasty Stress behavior.
The challenge for those of us on the outside is that we see this shy, sensitive person and immediately think we should handle him with kid gloves. Unfortunately for him, our instincts couldn’t be more wrong. The more careful and cautious we are in our communication with him, the more alarms start going off in his head. He is thinking, “What’s going on? Why are they beating around the bush? What are they not telling me?” In other words, our lack of directness or candor causes him to feel more self-conscious.
So now that you understand what the score is telling you, the next important piece of information is: how do you best coach this person? What’s the “so what” for him? How does this person move forward with more understanding and self-awareness?
The important takeaway is that people will not naturally assume this person prefers a direct style. In fact, people will assume the opposite is true. They will see a sensitive shy, person and most will respond in a careful, cautious way. You can coach this person to manage this response
by being upfront and forthright about his underlying Need. “You may not assume this about me but it’s okay to be candid. Feel free to shoot straight with me. I am actually most comfortable when people deal with me in a direct, straightforward manner. Please don’t worry about hurting my feelings. I prefer this candid style.”
Keep in mind if you are the person with the Esteem reversal that you may have to remind people occasionally that this is still the case. As humans, we are programmed to mirror behavior. We see a sensitive person and instinctively move forward in a cautious way. After working with the Birkman for more than ten years I have found people welcome this type of information. After all, we are all doing the best we can, both in terms of ourselves and how we treat others.
Your feedback? Do you have a reversal on Esteem? Have you had an “aha” with a client? I would love to hear from you about your experiences. Jump over to Linked-In and let’s continue our conversation on Reversals.