The other day, I was chatting with Dr. Nate Regier, author of Conflict without Casualties, and I was reminded of a popular debate I had while studying intercultural relations twenty years ago--is our behavior caused by outside influence or genetic make-up? That is, are our personalities a product of nature or nurture?
Continuing our month's theme of speaking with thought leaders in the consulting space who also work in global and/or cross-cultural contexts about leadership best practices, I explored this question with Nate.
Interculturalists will tell you nurture is what defines us. But psychologists will say that nature plays a larger role.
Nate is a psychologist and a certifying master trainer for the Process Communication Model® (PCM), a behavioral tool aimed at enabling people to understand, motivate, and communicate effectively with others.
Although he has lived all over the world and recognizes that dimensions of diversity such as culture and gender impact our values and behaviors, he believes that we are each born with a temperament that fits within one of the personality types outlined by the PCM: Thinker, Persister, Harmonizer, Rebel, Imaginer, and Promoter.
"As he so succinctly put it, "We are born with a temperament, and our personality structure, made up of all six personality types in a preferred, set order, is then groomed by nurture--our culture, environment, gender, race, and so on."
Nate shared this powerful example--there was a person in one of his trainings who felt like she was being discriminated against by her team members. (She had a history of experiencing prejudice.)
Nate took the time to dissect what was going on and found that her behavior was in fact creating conflict within the team. He carefully diagnosed the situation to distinguish that it was personality-based perceptual filters, not prejudice, that was causing tension.
I appreciated this example because as an interculturalist, bridging cultures, I aim to do the same--I analyze individual and organizational differences and how they interplay with cultural diversity.
Finding this intersection is important because without seeing it, communication can break down and productivity may halt. It takes time, patience, courage, and practice.
But here are four ways you can reveal the junction when in a difficult conversation or conflict.
1. Consider the cultural norms and values within a particular country context.
2. Consider a person's individual personality traits.
3. In situations of conflict, seek first to understand the cultural and personality needs, then explore what "content" disagreement still exists.
4. Understand that you may need to adapt your style of communication and motivation to that person's preference.
Nate gave another example that shows the importance of these steps. Recently he met with PCM master trainers from around the world. With trainers from Japan, he discovered that the personality type "Harmonizer" was highly valued in Japanese culture overall, emphasizing harmony, compassion, and courteousness.
However, in the German culture, the "Thinker" personality type was more highly valued, emphasizing a non-emotional linear, logical, organized frame of reference.
In the US, the "Promoter" type with it's entrepreneurial traits of adaptability and charm is appreciated. So what happens when only 10-30% of those populations actually possess the base personality type that is most valued by society?
I have found that when I understand what motivates another person, then I have more compassion for who they are and where they are coming from.
For example, if someone is trying to express logic when I just want them to listen and empathize--if I understand that they are a "Thinker," then I understand that they are trying to help me in the best way they know how. This reduces anger and frustration--and opens the lines of communication for me to have more acceptance or voice clearly what I need from them.