The people we live and work with have such a diversity of perspectives and behaviours that we can sometimes find ourselves totally mystified by them - and likewise, its incredibly easy for us to leave them equally mystified!

We’ve all had the experience of thinking or saying ‘Why on earth did they do or say that?!’ and of being really puzzled by some behaviour, or absence of communication, or approach to doing something.

How do we navigate our way through the complexity of human behaviour and differences and make sense of what we experience? How do we help others to make sense of us?

Let’s start with ourselves and how we can help others understand us better!

Your Birkman scores (you may have your Signature, expresso or Snapshot to refer to) give you a great picture of where you lie on various dimensions. How task- versus people-focused are you? How direct or indirect in your communication? How decisive or indecisive? How assertive or low-key? (…and so on.)

Particularly when your score is positioned on one edge of the Birkman Map or Grid or one end of any of the scoring scales it tells us that you are ‘more _ _ _ _ _ (whatever the measure is) than most people’.

For example, if my usual symbol on the Map/Grid is right at the top edge then I am very direct with others, ready to engage in dialogue or debate or negotiation or influencing, much more than those half way down the Map, and very much more than those at the very bottom edge. It’s so much part of me that I am probably not very aware of it and don’t always realise that ‘most people’ are probably less this way than I am.

Another example; I was recently talking with some senior leaders about their Birkman scores and we were looking at the Insistence (or Structure) score in their Signature Reports. One or two of them had very low scores, which suggests they work with broad plans, are more opportunistic as they work through their day, able to shift priorities and ways of doing things as they go along, able to take new initiatives as they seem appropriate.

In short, they are not tied to a specific plan or way of getting to the end result!

It is less common to be at this end of the scale and so we discussed the implication of how they appear to their teams who might be a lot more structured in their approach:

  • It’s likely that people who normally work with more of a plan are pretty puzzled by their leader’s ‘fluid’ approach, can’t really work out what they are doing, can’t see progressive steps very clearly and wonder at times where things are going and if they are ever going to get to the goal or objective!
  • That may result in uncomfortable uncertainty for them and even lack of confidence in what their leader is doing.

The truth is, the leader may be extremely focused on the end goal or objective and very certain to achieve it. The problem is that the team don’t have a perspective that enables them to see how that’s possible!

So, how do we help others to make sense of us?

It can be a simple as letting them know where ‘we sit’ on these scales or dimensions and letting them know we are aware of our ‘extremity’ and then giving them permission to ‘fill the gap’ we may sometimes leave.

In example one: “I find it very easy to speak up and step right into things but I appreciate others need some encouragement to contribute. Please remind me to ask others what they think so everyone gets heard”.

In example two: “I am very clear on where we are heading and what we need to achieve and by when. My strong preference is to keep our options open about some of the specifics. However, I appreciate others may need more of a plan to work with. Let’s get some key milestones in place and then let’s talk about what you need to be able to do your job. I will do my best to keep you updated on what I am thinking and doing but please remind me to update you if you see me changing course”.

Essentially, its about learning to ‘Explain Yourself’ so others can make better sense of you!