– Meghashri Dalvi
A lot has already been said about SMEs and their critical role in delivering user assistance on time and accurately. Most of the technical communicators will tell you that quite often their outlook and that of the SMEs differ vastly,and almost always their priorities seem to be diametrically opposite. Then is it possible at all to work well with SMEs?
The key lies in nurturing a long and strong relationship with the SMEs rather than just reaching out to them near the release date. And there you can use one of the simplest principles of a successful relationship – communicating by Behavioral Styles.
According to Dr. Tony Alessandra (founder of The Platinum Rule) the behavioral preferences of individuals can be classified into four basic styles: Director, Socializer, Relater, and Thinker. Each person has a mix of these styles, but there is always a dominant style with which that person behaves and communicates.
The typical characteristics of each style can be easily identified:
- Prefers direct approach, control, freedom, action, and results.
- Rejects openness, wastage of time, excessive display of emotions, and unsolicited advice.
- Often decides and works alone.
- Prefers direct approach, openness, group activities, camaraderie, and spontaneity.
- Avoids solitude, urgency, and concentration.
- Is an excellent team player, but may not deliver results. Direct and Open
- Prefers indirect approach, openness, close relations, listening, and security.
- Avoids decision-making, conflicts, big picture, and self-reliance.
- May need counseling in weak areas.
- Prefers indirect approach, caution, analysis, organization, precision, problem-solving, and solitude.
- Avoids openness, group activities, and spontaneity.
- Does not easily display or acknowledge emotions.
While Directors and Socializers are fast paced, the Directors are focused and Socializers are easily distracted in nature.
Directors and Thinkers both like to keep a distance from others; however, their reasons are different. Directors prefer control, and exercise this control in disclosing their personal information. Thinkers, on the other hand, put exacting standards on themselves and are afraid to display themselves in poor light.
Socializers and Relaters are people-friendly, but Relaters prefer intimate one-to-one setting. Socializers are quite opposite, and get involved with too many people, too many activities, and too much impatient talk.
Thinkers and Relaters both prefer indirect cautious approach and do not easily get into conflict.
You will notice that there are similarities and differences between styles. As you would expect, a number of style combinations emerge from this classification – some are naturally successful and some need deliberate work. If you can understand and classify your SME’s behavior style, it would be easier to plan your communication strategy.
For example, the Director SMEs will initially hate you for encroaching on their time. But since you know that Directors take great pride in delivering results, focus on the results. Explain how you need the information immediately to complete the entire project as scheduled. You will soon find that the required information not only arrives in time, but also contains pointers to future planning.
You need not spend any extra time to “get to know” the Directors. As long as they recognize why you need to interact, the interactions will be short, smooth, and conclusive. Once you establish that both of you have the same final objectives, your personal equation is firmly set. Irrespective of your own behavioral style and any personal conflicts, the Director SME will always continue to respond your queries.
Cut to the Socializers. They will first talk about a dozen personal things and invite you to the canteen. It would be wise to accept the invitation, for the Socializers need to be friends first, much before the professional relationship. Socializers love to network, so be prepared for party invitations, too. However, they are very open and respect others, so it is perfectly alright to decline.
If you are a Socializer yourself, make the best of the situation. You will enjoy the celebrations besides getting the technical information. On the other hand, if you prefer a much closer relationship like a Relater, continue being friends and evade the group events.
Socializers also like to share jokes, anecdotes, personal experiences, professional wisdom – you name it. If you want to enhance your content with additional information, cases, tips and tricks – they are the right persons. Their time-management is not very rigid, so you can approach them anytime and chat as much as you want. But remember, they have a vivid imagination and a tendency to exaggerate. It would be a good idea to cross-check their version of facts with other sources.
If your SME is a Relater, it is a great boon. In the beginning, you will need to spend extra time to open the Relaters up. But once they become close friends, they will really care about you. The only behavioral style to give information without asking, Relaters will actually do a lot for you.
The biggest problem with Relaters however, is that they are not too good comprehending the holistic picture and hence avoid making decisions. This delay and hesitation will certainly affect your deliverables, and also annoy you if your style is Director. If you also happen to be a Relater then there will be no decision – ever!
Logical, analytical, systematic, plus in-depth technical knowledge, Thinker SMEs can totally make your day. They will explain things to you with charts and diagrams. They will give complete details, justify them, and structure them nicely. They will practically write half of your deliverables! Obviously, you will need to simplify and embellish their writing to make it much more interesting.
Like Relaters, Thinkers prefer indirect approach. So do not go barging in to their solitary shells, but knock gently. They tend to value only Thinkers, dismissing Directors as arrogant, or the other two styles as emotional. If you are a Thinker, you two will bond very easily. But if you are not a Thinker, you will have to first start building trust,which incidentally takes a long time for a Thinker.
The actual interaction pattern between you and the SMEs will vary depending on your and their style combinations. However, you can always keep your calm and employ the general communicating strategies as:
- With Director SME, be direct and focus on work.
- With Socializer SME, mingle a lot but be firm about work.
- With Relater SME, show affection and be sincerely concerned about work.
- With Thinker SME be formal and show systematic work.
So is it possible to find your own behavioral style? Check out some free tests on the Net. Try them from the SME perspective, too. Your possible combination will emerge and then onwards, communication with SMEs will be a breeze!
About the Author
Dr. Meghashri Dalvi has combined her love of writing with engineering and management experience to create a successful career in technical communication. She currently works as Consulting Technical Communicator and Researcher at Progress Software. You can reach her at email@example.com.