Structure Reversal

By: Amy Shepley

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 to what he “needs”, the behaviors continue 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 answering pattern is called a “reversal”. I want to emphasize that this is not how I recommend you explain a reversal during your interpretation of a Birkman report. An expert in the Birkman office says she explains 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/her unique underlying Needs and communicating these needs to the rest of the world.


The Structure Reversal

Examples: U/N/S

38/68/25 27/68/25 

Let’s take a closer look at how a Structure reversal plays out:

In each of the above cases, the usual score is lower than the person’s need score. To put that in layman’s terms, the person needs more structure then they create in their usual style. A person with a Structure reversal needs an environment that imposes scheduled activities and predictability. While this pattern doesn’t risk the potential pain of the Acceptance reversal (see the Acceptance reversal booster for more explanation on this), it does potentially set-up the individual for failure.

In the Structure reversal example, we have a person who is describing himself as a flexible, unstructured person. In fact, he distinctly sees and describes himself as being less structured and insistent than other people. How do I know this? Check out the examples above. In each case, the Usual score is lower than the Need. In other words, the person is identifying that he is less structured than he perceives other people to be. In fact, we can even see to what extent the person sees himself as being less structured and insistent. The first example (38/68/25) is a smaller gap. This individual may say something like “I am slightly less structured and insistent than other people.” The last example (1/99/25) indicates a significant

gap. This person is likely to say something like “I am significantly less structured and insistent than most people.” [Again, when we refer to “most people” we are referring to this person’s perception of other people.]

But here is the surprise:

His higher need for structure mean he prefers predictable situations in which he can plan and execute activities according to familiar methods. Stable and predictable life and work situations provide a secure anchor for him. He sees himself as less structured and therefore expects others to be more structured then he is himself. In Birkman, when know when our expectations are met, we stay in our Usual (strength) Behavior. When our expectations are not met, we risk moving into that nasty Stress behavior. The outside world will see this flexible, unstructured style and assume we should avoid putting undo systems, processes and structure on him. Again, our instincts our wrong. The less structured the environment, the less stable the individual feels and the more details and tasks will start to fall through the cracks. And as is true with all reversals, we see a destructive, counterproductive cycle begin to emerge.

So, now that you understand what the score is telling you, the next important piece of information is, what do you as the coach tell this person? What’s the “so what”? How does this person move forward with more understanding and self-awareness?

The important takeaway is that people will not assume this person has a need for imposed Structure. In fact, people will assume the opposite is true. They will see a flexible, unstructured person and assume the last thing this individual would want is Structure. The person can manage this response by being upfront and forthright about his underlying Need. “I prefer and thrive in a structured environment. I like more direction and detail about the best way to proceed with a project or assignment.” Again, the burden lays on the person’s shoulders. If you don’t express your needs, others are very likely to get it wrong. Be self- aware and communicate your underlying need. You will be a more productive and effective person.

Do you have a reversal on Structure? Have you had an “a-ha” with a client? I would love to hear you’re about your experiences. Jump over to LinkedIn and let’s continue our conversation on reversals.