When Interpersonal Skills Take Off, Hard Results Soar

Social Styles Versatility: The Engine of Success

When Interpersonal Skills Take Off, Hard Results Soar

What if your company could learn a skill that will eliminate conflict, miscommunication and slow decisions? And what if I told you that the mechanics team inside a global air fleet company did just that and saw a 56% boost in productivity? Would I get your attention? Thought so.

That skill is called Versatility, and it is perhaps the most powerful interpersonal skill you can have.

Today’s mandate to “perform well,” on whatever task it may be, is dependent on functionally and culturally diverse people within and outside the organisation making high performance happen and happen fast. It is difficult to get good innovative decisions and actions carried out with high energy when people feel there is tension and communication is strained. The good news is we can take responsibility for managing our communication behaviour and reducing interpersonal tension, keeping the task focused on solving problems and achieving improvements of productivity, efficiencies and employee engagement.


Versatility is the ability to recognise differences in communication preferences and to adapt to make others more open and receptive—creating more effective and productive relationships.

The Social Styles Matrix

The first step is to recognise communication differences and the Wilson Learning Social Styles model is the tool to help you. Social Style is based on our preferred communication approaches. Your Social Style varies in terms of your actions on the dimensions of Assertiveness and Responsiveness.

Because about 25% of people fall into each of these four categories, you share a Social Style with only about 25% of the people you meet. Just think about the consequences when we can’t or won’t adapt to the other 75%. Do you see an opportunity here?

“The more I know about you, the more I know about me and the more I can take responsibility for managing the difference between us.”

If you choose to take responsibility and manage the differences between your Social Style preference with the other 75%, you can create more productive relationships and as a result, maximise your effectiveness on the job.


Social Style helps you recognise communication preferences and Versatility helps you take responsibility for managing differences. The good news is Versatility is a skill that can be learned and mastered. But Versatility requires effort, requiring you to modify your approach to fit others’ approaches, even when it may not be comfortable. You have to make a conscious choice to be Versatile:

  • Do I need this relationship to work so I can achieve my results?
  • What will be the benefits if I improve this relationship?
  • What will be the risks if I do not improve this relationship?

Having chosen to be Versatile, you then have to act on that choice with a process we call the Versatile Response:


You identify others’ Social Styles by focusing on what they value, the environment in which they work best and how they like to work.


Identify the person's Social Style.

"She or he is..."


Based on the person's Social Style, reflect on and describe her or his expectations for interactions with you.

"So she or he needs..."


Decide how to modify your behaviours to maximise your effectiveness.

"Therefore I will..."

1 Building Relationship Versatility: Social Styles At Work: The Business of Versatility

Analyticals, for example:

  • Value conservative and practical business decisions
  • Rely on structured approach and factual evidence
  • Prefer a systematic approach to coming to a recommendation

Amiables tend to:

  • Value cooperation in business situations
  • Rely on the support of others in shared decision making
  • Prefer an interactive approach to problem solving

Drivers tend to:

  • Be forceful and quick in making decisions
  • Flourish in a goal-oriented environment
  • Expect others to respond in a timely manner

Expressives tend to:

  • Be futuristic in their thinking
  • Attempt to make others enthusiastic about ideas
  • Prefer a collaborative approach to problem solving

How you modify your Social Style depends on both the other’s Social Style and the situation. There is no one straightforward solution. An Analytical (or Driver, Amiable, or Expressive) in one situation may need something different in another situation.

An Analytical, for example, may need a more formal and structured approach, or may just need enough time to think things through. An Amiable may need you to be open and honest about your feelings, or need other people to be involved in the decision. A Driver may need you to get right to the point, or focus a little more on the problem and less on the people involved. And an Expressive may need you to be a little more flexible on time, or to hear your excitement for the issue.

So, before going straight from Identify to Modify, pause a second to reflect: What does this Social Style need? And what is needed now?


People new to Versatility skills sometimes think you have to make big behaviour changes to communicate effectively. But just like the old adage “the best things come in small packages,” little changes in Assertiveness and Responsiveness can have a big impact on the effectiveness of communication. Maybe all you need to do is:

  • Ask for the other person’s opinion first
  • Get to the point quickly
  • Use a slower or faster pace
  • Use more or less gestures and facial expressions

How might this work in the real world? Here are some examples:

A VP of Research and Development (an Analytical) was frustrated because he was not receiving responses from e-mails to the VP of Sales (a Driver). Upon reflection, he realised the VP of Sales needed to get right to the point and the lengthy explanation of the data and how he reached his conclusion was not helping the VP of Sales. So with the next email, the VP of R&D “flipped” the message; he put the conclusion first, the explanation second. The VP of Sales responded immediately.

The VP of Marketing (a Driver) was having trouble getting the Website Design Manager (an Amiable) to make changes to the corporate website. The VP of Marketing paused for a moment and realised that the Website Design Manager always felt more comfortable when more people were involved in decisions. So the VP of Marketing asked her who else might be able to contribute to this decision and invited them all to a meeting to discuss the changes. After the group made the decisions, the Website Design Manager implemented them almost immediately.


Equipping your employees and leaders, in all functions, with Versatility skills enables them to address complex challenges, reduce tension and conflict and build more collaborative relationships throughout the organisation. Without communication obstacles, individuals, teams and work groups can soar as they are free to focus on the work at hand. Join the ranks of the global air fleet maintenance team and boost your productivity to new altitudes.

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 Building Relationship Versatility: Social Styles at Work
About the Authors
Tom Roth

Tom Roth

Tom Roth is Chief Operating Officer for Wilson Learning Worldwide. He is responsible for the strategic direction and business performance of Wilson Learning Worldwide operations and leads the global marketing services and R&D solutions group. He also served as President of Wilson Learning Americas. He assists global executive leadership teams with issues related to employee engagement, leadership development, strategy alignment and business transformation.

Mr. Roth has spent over 35 years developing and implementing human performance improvement solutions. He is co-author of the book Creating the High-Performance Team and is published in numerous business publications. Mr. Roth is a frequent speaker at national and international conferences and client events. He speaks on a variety of issues, including leadership, employee and customer engagement, change and strategy implementation.

Read more by Tom Roth

Michael Leimbach

Michael Leimbach

Michael Leimbach, Ph.D., is Vice President of Global Research and Development for Wilson Learning Worldwide. Dr. Leimbach provides leadership for researching and designing Wilson Learning’s diagnostic, learning, and performance improvement capabilities. He has managed major research studies in sales, leadership, and organisational effectiveness, and developed Wilson Learning’s learning transfer, impact evaluation, and return on investment models. Dr. Leimbach has consulted for a wide variety of global client organisations, serves on the ISO Technical committee for development of ISO 29999 Standard for Learning Service Providers, and is Editor-in-Chief for Advances in Developing Human Resources. Dr. Leimbach has authored six books, published over 100 professional articles, and is a frequent speaker at national and global conferences.

Read more by Michael Leimbach

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