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Demystifying Compatibility by Dr. Tony Alessandra, PhD.

Compatibility, or the lack of it, is not such a mystery. Both rapport and tension are rather predictable, once you know what to look for. Here’s the basic principle: In social situations, like behavioral styles attract. People with similar interests and habits are drawn to one another as friends and acquaintances. There’s a sense of satisfaction in knowing you’re among people who prize what you prize, enjoy what you enjoy, play by roughly the same rules as you do.

If you’re a Relater or Thinker, you’re a more structured person who’s not fond of surprises. Thus, you find stable, predictable relationships more satisfying. You get your needs met by being around those who won’t embarrass you by, say, showing up in a magenta sportscoat, or asking deeply personal questions upon first meeting you.

Or maybe you’re a faster-paced, more outgoing person, a Director or Socializer who thinks life’s too short to worry about whether your tires are properly inflated, or your socks match your tie. Who the heck’s going to know or care 100 years from now, right?

The Big Ten–And How They Perform Socially

So what happens when these sometimes contradictory types get together? Well, the four basic behavioral styles mix and match into ten combinations. Behavioral science research shows clearly which combinations–prior to use of The Platinum Rule–mesh or clash naturally. (Please see highlighted box for definition of The Platinum Rule.)

For starters, people with similar tendencies are most compatible with one another socially. That’s because those with common interests, habits, and approaches help reinforce each others’ self-esteem.

So it won’t surprise you to learn that the most naturally compatible combinations in social situations are:

Thinker-Thinker
Relater-Relater
Socializer-Socializer

Where, you ask, are the Directors? Well, they also tend to flock to one another–at least for awhile. But they possess such a strong competitiveness that even the Director-Director relationship isn’t quite as naturally harmonious as the others.

That pairing does, however, show up under the moderately compatible category:

Director-Director
Relater-Thinker
Director-Socializer
Socializer-Relater

Compatibility doesn’t come quite as naturally in these cases. But with effort, progress is possible and, in fact, success in working with less compatible individuals can be an esteem builder in each case.

Directors and Socializers share an outward focus and often similar interests. Relaters and Thinkers, on the other hand, are both inward-oriented and may like the same kinds of activities.

Both Socializers and Relaters aspire to be in a supportive relationship. Usually, though, it’s the Relater who’s in the giving role and the Socializer who’s the receiver.

Meanwhile, the fast-paced, extroverted Directors and Socializers commonly find it hard to develop rapport with the easygoing, quieter Relaters and Thinkers, who are less decisive and enthusiastic. And the Relaters and Thinkers, in turn, find the Directors less desirable because they’re too pushy, too loud, and often demand too much of them.

Therefore, of all ten combinations, these three pairs are often the least naturally compatible socially:

Director-Relater
Socializer-Thinker
Director-Thinker

To the Director, who just wants to get things done, and to the Socializer, who just wants to have fun, the cautious Thinker and steady Relaters can be drags. While Relaters often resign themselves to tolerate the forwardness of Directors and Socializers, the Thinker frequently just prefers to be alone.

What’s more, even when relaxing, the Thinker wants to do all things right. Whether it’s just grilling hot dogs, chatting about politics, or setting up the croquet wickets, the Thinker sets standards and judges himself and others by how they meet them. The Thinker, in the eyes of the Director or Socializer, is not living as much as he is just serving time. By and large, never the twain shall meet–at least unless and until The Platinum Rule is practiced.

On the positive side, though, there is a fascination factor in these three pairings, and bridges can be built. Given positive energy, the natural differences can fuel attraction, particularly when one style sees what it can learn from another. A Director, for example, may see how he can become more patient and responsive to others by taking a cue from a Relater. A Relater, meanwhile, may be able to draw on the Director’s strengths for taking charge and accepting risk.

Similarly, a sensitive Socializer can see how she can learn discretion from the Thinker, and the Thinker perceives that she can become more relaxed and sociable by being around the Socializer.

Perhaps the most difficult hurdles socially are posed by the Director-Thinker relationship. For it to work, both must yield their personal control needs, with the Director deciding to give the type of space the Thinker needs, and the Thinker learning to be much more direct and open about his concerns with the Director.

It’s Different Task-Wise

When it comes to tasks–whether it’s doing a project at work, purchasing a family car, or just balancing the checkbook–the dynamics differ dramatically. Here, the alikes who are drawn to one another socially don’t necessarily attract as much as they compete or even conflict.

Now their similarities can get in the way because they have the same needs. After all, to complete a task, one must have resources, rewards, time, space, and attention. But there’s only so much of those to go around.

So when those needs aren’t met, tension and conflict can result. When one partner feels a need to win’ for instance, the other one may sense he or she’s been shortchanged. The frequent outcome: resentment.

But, before getting into which pairs clash, let’s look at the most naturally compatible combinations taskwise:

Thinker-Relater
Director-Relater
Socializer-Relater

See a pattern here? You bet! The Relater gets along with everybody in a task situation. He or she’s the universal antidote for disharmony. It’s the Relaters’ most distinctive trait. They’re supportive workers who exert a calming, stabilizing influence. Naturally interested in others and in making a contribution, they enjoy being productive partners. No wonder they’re everybody’s favorite.

The moderately compatible combinations, as far as working on tasks together, are:

Thinker-Thinker
Relater-Relater
Socializer-Thinker

Thinkers loom large in this second grouping. While not as easygoing as Relaters, they are sensitive to others’ feelings and have a passion for excellence that others usually recognize.

Interestingly, Thinkers figure in many of the least compatible combinations socially, but among the highest in tasks. This suggests that others appreciate the quality and thoroughness of their work, even if the Thinkers aren’t always viewed as being a lot of laughs.

Last come those combinations that are least compatible because they tend to see one another as competitors:

Director-Director
Director-Thinker
Director-Socializer
Socializer-Socializer

Director-Director combinations work fairly well socially but when it comes to tasks, a Director’s competitive nature and need for control can stymie cooperation, especially with like-minded Directors.

As for the Director-Thinker, there’s a fundamental clash in the Director’s need for speed and control versus the Thinker’s penchant for being slower paced and systematic.

Notice that while the Socializer-Socializer pair was ranked as among the most socially compatible, now they are likely to be the least productive as far as working together on tasks. That’s because neither is motivated to deal with task details.

Similarly, Directors and Socializers also have moderately high social rapport but plummet to the lowest rungs of compatibility when tasks are involved. That’s because they both tend to want to delegate.

But don’t give up yet on those whose personal style may not be a perfect fit with the situation. With some effort at understanding and applying The Platinum Rule, you can adapt your compatibility so that you can work successfully with anyone.

Used with permission from Tony Alessandra, Ph.D.

©2002, By Tony Alessandra, Ph.D. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form, without permission in writing from Dr. Tony Alessandra. For more information about Dr. Alessandra’s books, audio and video programs, or for information about using Dr. Alessandra as a keynote speaker at one of your meetings, call his office at 1-800-222-4383 or visit his website at http://www.alessandra.com.