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In Management training we teach people how to recognize their interpersonal style and its plusses and minuses. Most people have a favored way of interacting with others. The others they interact with come to count on them to act a certain way. Events and circumstances can push people into acting in what we call their backup style. Stress, a looming deadline, scarce resources, fear and the pressure to deliver results can push people into their backup style.

This article has a brief summary of interpersonal styles. Keep in mind that people have written whole books and dissertations on this and that you are reading a one page summary. This is usually displayed as a grid and is considered core theory in Organizational Development. The horizontal axis is how responsive one is and the vertical axis is how assertive one is. Even without taking the quiz in the linked article I’m sure you can easily recognize your primary style. Most versions are quick to say that there is no right style or wrong style.

I think that the amount of stress for people, generally speaking, is quite high. We had 9/11 and then the Bush years of fear and terrorism as scare tactics to try to keep us all from questioning the actions of the administration. Then since ’08 we have been faced with economic recession, high unemployment, diminished retirement savings and talks about the deficit. At a time when more and more people need unemployment compensation and medicaid, some are talking about gutting the social safety nets. Does our economic well being really depend on Germany’s ability to save the Euro?

The stress of all these factors is pushing us collectively into our backup styles. People who are normally pretty helpful are losing patience with coworkers and friends and family. People with great senses of humor are moving to sarcasm, cynicism and turning just plain mean. People who usually get along with others become dictatorial. Those with goals and a sense of purpose are abandoning results and just letting things happen. Some people are taking out the pepper spray and using it on fellow shoppers.

People who had a sense of confidence about their ability to thrive are suddenly faced with questions of survival. It is tough out there and it makes it even tougher inside each of us. It is a challenge to not be afraid. Life is as scary as I can ever remember it being. We need hope and change more than ever. It would be the perfect theme for the 2012 campaign.

Fear may have become a passenger on our journey but putting it in the driver’s seat would be a huge mistake. Keep breathing, that’s plan B- just keep breathing.

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