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Virtual Versatility

A number of months ago we reported research that examined the ability to identify people’s SOCIAL STYLE from the contents of their emails. But what about Versatility? Although Versatility fluctuates, is it possible to accurately determine Versatility when working with a person in a virtual environment? Could Versatility be even more apparent than Style? Over a long period of time, could Versatility become the most apparent set of behaviors when working virtually, in essence replacing Style as the most obvious and predictable pattern of behaviors?

These aren’t just questions that I ponder while mowing the lawn. In fact, these were actual questions presented to me from a client who had recently completed a learning program with a group of people who were meeting for the first time in person, but had worked together for a number of years through phone and email. The client noted that several people saw each other as having a balance of Styles (in the middle four sub-quadrants) because they had high Versatility and were basically experiencing the Versatility of others. (They had rated one another before ever meeting face-to-face).

This observation led the client to another intriguing question: If people only experience each other in virtual work settings, is one’s Versatility seen more as a person’s Social Style? Thus began a discussion of the impact that Versatility has for people working in virtual environments.

While there are some clues to determine Style virtually, these are only helpful after someone has learned Style concepts and how to diagnose behavior patterns. A person who has not learned about SOCIAL STYLE would have no basis for utilizing those strategies. In contrast, people can accurately complete the SOCIAL STYLE Profile before learning about Style concepts because the Style-related survey questions are obvious physical behaviors that are seen every day. For example, body posture, amount of eye contact, and facial expressions are apparent in person but cannot be determined through phone or email. Because the people in this group have only interacted virtually, they may have had a hard time accurately answering some of the Style-related questions on the survey, which was designed for people that have regular face-to-face interactions.

In virtual settings, Versatility behaviors might be more obvious and therefore easier to evaluate. For example, Competence skills can be identified as easily virtually as they are in person: Is the person reliable, persevering, flexible, and so on? Even Feedback skills can become apparent after a lengthy virtual relationship: Does the person listen effectively and communicate an understanding of your messages? Do you feel comfortable talking with the person because she is adapting to your communication style?

As the client noted, people seem to adapt their behaviors more in the virtual environment, so Versatility is likely to become the most apparent set of behaviors. This could easily result in Style being perceived in the middle categories because Style behaviors are toned-down and Versatility becomes paramount.

What have been your experiences with Style and Versatility when working in virtual situations? Do you agree that Versatility is more important or noticeable than Style?

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