You probably remember learning in your high school biology class that it’s not the strongest of species that survive but the most adaptable. The same could be said for business. Those who learn how to adapt often experience the greatest success.
When I lived in Berlin, I met the foreign minister who was doing a lot of negotiating with President George Bush and his cabinet at the time. He asked me if I would do some coaching for him to understand US political culture more effectively. He didn’t feel like he was coming across clearly to the American leaders.
He didn’t always feel this way.
The German leader told me that he felt comfortable with former President Bill Clinton and had tremendous success with him. I found this interesting. Clinton had lived abroad and had a lot of experience interacting with different cultures, so he became quite adept at adapting his style depending on where he was. For instance, in Germany he acted more academic and intellectual versus, in America, where he held a more down home, good ol’ boy persona. Because of Clinton’s ability to adapt he was able to establish relationships with the European government much faster than President Bush.
Adapting your style can help you build relationships and credibility, and anyone can do it. Here’s how.
Observe. Treat situations like you are an anthropologist. Watch what others are doing to learn about particular cultures, personalities, organizations, or situations. For example, note if someone is more introverted or extroverted, or direct or indirect. Recognize if the organization or culture is hierarchical; process-oriented or flat. Fine tine your observational skills to bring these aspects into focus.
Learn. Work to gain knowledge about the other organizations, cultures, personalities, or environment. During interactions, pay attention to aspects such as how others are making eye contact, taking notes, speaking, and making introductions. Simultaneously read the room and read other people’s behavior while still being focused on the task at hand.
Practice. Once you have watched and learned, try it out. Spend some time stepping into the other’s shoes and act out their behavior. For example, I will sit in meetings and mimic other people’s body language. If they use lots of gestures and speak in exaggerated tones, I will do the same. If they are reserved and still, I will be reserved and still. This establishes some credibility upfront until trust is built and people can feel a bit freer to be themselves.
Know the situation. Just as Ken Blanchard’s situational leadership model notes that good leadership matches the capability and level of engagement of those that are being led and the task at hand, recognize when the differences may not stem from personality, culture, or character but by the skill level of the other person. And it might not be capability but perhaps they lack motivation. Adapt to these differences as well.
Be authentic. While doing all this, don’t feel like you need to be a chameleon. You don’t need to be someone that you aren’t. But as much as you can meet someone in his or her behavior, the more credibility you will establish with them; and, the better chance you have at being able to express yourself more naturally.
When you adapt to someone’s style, the more comfortable they are with you and the stronger connection you have. This enables you to explain your thoughts and actions more clearly and have greater success in achieving your goals.