In working with people for over twenty-five years, I’ve identified five styles of human interaction. Two of them work really well to create positive personal and professional relationships. Two are more problematic. One can go either way.
If you want to be happy and successful in your relationships, you’re going to have to learn which of these styles of interaction you’ve been using and exchange the problematic ones for the ones more likely to succeed.
What do I mean by five styles of interaction? I’m describing the ways that people relate to one-another based on what’s driving them internally and how much awareness they’re bringing to their relationships.
The more aware you are of yourself and other people, the more empowered you’ll to be to make use of the more successful styles of interaction.
Some people are lucky enough to have naturally adopted successful styles of interaction. For everyone else, these can be learned. More importantly, the problematic styles can be unlearned.
The five styles of interaction I’ve identified are: Empathetic, Playful, Transactional, Strategic and Reactive.
Empathetic: This style of interaction comes out of the desire to connect to other people. People who use the empathetic style of interaction have an open heart and are in touch with their emotions. If this is you, you’re sensitive and the way you deal with other people is driven by your empathy.
The empathetic style works well because it enables you to get close to others. People feel that you care and they respond accordingly. In the empathetic style of interaction, everyone feels seen and heard and it’s easier to build trust. With empathy driving your interactions, people see you as safe, warm, present, emotionally available, and easy to be around.
Playful: The playful style of interacting can work really well or it can keep you from connecting in a meaningful way with others. When you’re playful, it can help to break the ice with someone, but it can also be a way to keep up a mask that hides your authentic self and doesn’t let the other person in.
Flirting is playful, as is banter. Being witty is playful. So is sarcasm. There are a lot of ways to be playful that will help you to ease in to closeness, but too much play can be alienating. Sometimes, you just need to play it straight.
Transactional: This style is driven by need. If you use this style, the underlying message goes something like this: “I’ll do something for you, and then you’ll do something for me.” Codependent relationships are an example of transactional interactions; as are relationships based on people-pleasing.
In the transactional style of interacting, people tend to exploit and be exploited. It ‘s a style that lends itself to power imbalances and bullying, since those who are trying too hard to please will often foster contempt and hostility in others. Politics and business can involve this type of interaction.
Those who’ve adopted a transactional style tend to end up on one side or the other of an abusive relationship. Narcissists, sociopaths and users have this style of interacting, as do those who are insecure and overly nice, pleasing and placating.
Strategic: People use this style when it’s not appropriate to be open or intimate with the other person; for example in a professional relationship (with a boss, colleague, teacher or coach) when it’s necessary to have more of a persona. It’s also a style for when you’re dealing with someone who isn’t that reasonable and/or needs managing.
In strategic interactions, you’re polite and ethical but you play to win. You keep your cards close to your chest and maintain your poker face. You think about who it is you’re dealing with and use what you know to your best advantage. You maintain your integrity but you don’t let anyone mess with you.
Reactive: In this style, people deal with each-other based on their past experiences. If you were hurt, rejected, abandoned, exploited or abused in the past, you’re more likely to use this style of interacting.
With this style, you deal with your current relationships, both personal and professional, as though the people you’re with today are identical to the people from your past.
This will create a lot of problems for you, both personally and professionally. Reactive interactions tend to involve a lot of drama and conflict, and they lead to unhappiness.
It should be clear from the above that the two best styles of interacting are the empathetic and the strategic ones. With these, you’re most likely to achieve success in both your professional and your personal relationships.
If your habit is to use the transactional or reactive styles of interacting, or if being playful has become too much of a smokescreen for you, this is a good opportunity to look at why you interact in these ways and to make some positive changes moving forward.
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