Interpersonal Style

Reliability and Validity

Research and Development of the Interpersonal Style Profile

Walter F. Daves, Ph.D. & C. L. Holland, Ph. D.

It is safe to say that there is no time in history when people have not tried to make sense out of the behavior of other people, usually in terms of a relatively simple descriptive model. The Greek physician, Hippocrates (ca. 460-370 B.C.), for example, identified four basic humors, or body fluids, which he thought were related to a variety of conditions, including temperament. Five hundred years later the physician and scientist Galen (130-200 A.D.), who advanced the traditions of Hippocrates, identified these humors with specific temperamental characteristics, as described below:

The sanguine person is characterized by the tendency to be overly cheerful, optimistic, vain, and unpredictable. Such a person is usually in danger of being taken advantage of. In Hippocrates’ terms, a sanguine person’s physiology was dominated by blood.

The phlegmatic person is nonchalant, unemotional, cool, persevering, and needing direction. The physiology of such an individual was thought to be dominated by phlegm.

The melancholic person, characterized by the dominance of black bile, is slow in responding, softhearted, and oriented towards doing things for others.

Persons of the choleric temperament are domineering, stubborn, opinionated, and self-confident. Their physiology is dominated by yellow bile.

These four dispositions have remained in our language for describing persons, although the biological causes of them have, of course, been discarded. (New causes are not agreed upon, but it is clear that the old ones are inadequate.)

In recent times these attempts have been quite numerous, and make up many of the contributions to the growth of modern personality theory. These ideas have also been popular in management training circles, since understanding other people is a basic prerequisite to successful management of them.

Jung (1923), the Swiss psychiatrist and founder of analytical psychology developed a concept of four psychological types. He called these, the intuitor, thinker, feeler and sensor. The intuitor seems very akin to the sanguine temperament. The thinker bares a close resemblance to the phlegmatic. The feeler is similar to the melancholic person. And the sensor closely resembles the choleric temperament.

Marston (1928), who is also known as the creator of Wonder Woman, in the late 1920’s developed a 4 part scheme which was applied by Geier in the development of the Performax instrument, a testing/training system that is widely used. Marston identified four emotions of normal people, (the title of his book), which he labeled dominance, compliance, submission, and inducement. A person whose primary emotion is dominance seems much like a person of choleric temperament. Compliance seems to be the main emotion of the phlegmatic temperament; inducement is associated with the sanguine temperament, and submission is related to the melancholic.

Related to these ideas is the fact that two major personality characteristics have been identified by a number of theorists. La Forge and Suczek (1955), for example, analyzed ratings of people on 144 different adjectives and came up with dimensions that they labeled love-hate and dominance-submission. Their system was used extensively by Leary (1957) in his work on personality description. At about the same time, Carter (1954) had observers rate the behavior of group members, analyzed the ratings, and identified three factors, two of which were called individual prominence and sociability.

These factors seem much like LaForge and Suczek’s love-hate and dominance-submission. Carter’s third factor was called group goal facilitation, and includes traits such as helpfulness, efficiency, cooperativeness, and meaning with a third factor identified by Merrill and Reid (1981) that they labeled versatility. LaForge and Suczek’s system has been extensively used by a number of theorists and practitioners in addition to Leary, who used it as the basis for a broad scale approach to the measurement of personality. More recently, Norton (1983) has used the system as part of a basis for his theory of communication styles.

Similar arrangements of factors were found by Tupes and Christal (1958) and by Norman (1963). They identified five factors, labeled extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and culture. The first named seem to be closely related to dominance and sociability. Albert Mehrabian (1971), well known for his work on non-verbal communication, employed a conceptual model for describing non-verbal behaviors that employed the same two dimensions. He labeled them dominant versus submissive and affiliative (liking) versus non-affiliative (non-liking).

Robyn Penman (1980), in his theoretical analysis of interpersonal communication, developed a model based upon these same two factors, which he labeled power and affiliation. All communications, he suggests, can be described in terms of whether they intend an increase or decrease in power and affiliation.

It is clear that these dimension are pervasive and certainly are very important in understanding how persons perceive and respond to the behavior of other persons. For this reason, they have found their way into various models used in training and consulting, including our own.

Over the years, training and consulting activities using proprietary test instruments and descriptive nomenclature have been developed around these basic concepts. This includes our own version of these concepts which is expressed in terms of the basic behavior patterns I through IV. A common device is to represent the two main variables, dominance and sociability (or whatever else one wishes to call them), as two axis at right angles to each other. Some of the various terminologies are shown in the matrix below.

The matrix is perhaps an oversimplification of the nuances of the different perspectives represented. However, given the inherent imprecision in the measurement of personality, the correlations suggested are reasonable.

Indeed, it is comforting to know that a number of different perspectives have converged on a model with so much agreement. Discomfort must certainly follow, however, if one is looking for distinctions to be found; they are not in the model itself, but rather in the way in which persons are assessed against the constructs of the model, in the way in which the concepts are communicated to students of the model, and in general the way the elements hang together  to the advantage of the participant.

Our work began in 1980 when a test instrument was developed in which managers were assessed by five co-workers: their superior, two peers, and two subordinates. Each rater was asked to rate the manager based on a list of adjectives, using a seven-point scale. A list of 85 adjectives and phrases was gleaned from various sources, including the dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus, as well as the research of others, such as LaForge and Suczek (1954), Cattell (1945) Gough and Heilbrun (1965), Jackson (1067) and Wiggins (1979). These adjectives were identified as reasonably well related to the dimensions for which the measurement was intended. Dominance and Sociability were factors of particular importance, as well as others in the literature, such as adaptability, goal facilitation, and versatility (Merrill and Reid, 1981). Ratings were obtained on 184 managers using these adjectives. The ratings were factor analyzed in order to determine which, if any, varied in people’s ratings of other people, and therefore could make up coherent scales. The result was that four scales were identified. The scales were named Assertiveness, Responsiveness, Emotionality, and Conscientiousness. Each scale contained 10 adjectives, for a total of 40.

The second phase of research with a sample of approximately 500 managers confirmed the statistical basis for these four scales. The word list used in the test instrument was reduced in length to 58 adjectives and phrases retaining the 40 on the scale plus 18 additional adjectives that were kept for research purposes. These 18 adjectives have been slightly changed from time to time, with the aim of improving the original scales.

This work was followed by a third phase, based on ratings of over 2,000 managers. The same four scales were identified in the research. On the basis of an analysis of these ratings, a different scoring system was devised whereby each of the 40 adjectives is included in each of the four scales, but with a different arithmetic weight depending upon how much that adjective contributes to the particular scale. The result is four scales that are highly reliable, and which are uncorrelated with each other. That is, the scales clearly measure four separate attributes.

In order to improve communication about our concepts measured by the scales, the names as described in the training material have been changed. Assertiveness if now referred to as Dominance, or the tendency to yield or dominate, and Responsiveness is now called Sociability, or the tendency to be reserved or outgoing.

The Emotionality scale has been replaced by two scales, which we believe are more directly observable aspects of a person’s interpersonal behavior. The first is the Comfort Index, which is a measurement of interpersonal stress, and the second is Orderliness, a measurement of structure and organization as applied to interpersonal situations.

The Comfort Index is a measure of tension as seen by others. The origin of tension is, of course, not specified by the scale. It could be a component of the individual’s basic temperament, or it could be the result of unproductive or harmful interpersonal relationships. Most likely, in many cases, it is both, since tension begets tension, and regardless of where it comes from, it affects the quality of interpersonal relationship, particularly in situations where the stakes are high, such as in many work settings.

As we have learned more about the Orderliness Scale mean, we have included this information in our training explanation. For example, current research suggests that a high score on this scale is associated with a high level of endorsement of the manager by his/her subordinates, and that for a less assertive person a high level of conscientiousness (i.e., being precise, orderly, and well-organized) can effectively compensate for the lower level of assertiveness. The impact of orderliness whether it is applied strictly to oneself (e.g., by keeping one’s desk clean, files in order, and keeping in touch with all projects for which one is responsible) or to one’s subordinates (e.g., by telling everyone exactly what time, and exactly what manner) seems situational. In the latter case the close, highly structured supervision can be quite effective for immature employees or when the task is ambiguous and not completely clear. However, with mature employees, or when the job itself is clear as to what needs to be done, such close supervision can be unproductive.

This interpretation of the Orderliness Scale, in terms of its implications for effective management, depends upon the nature of the situation in which one is working and also one’s interpersonal style.

As more data are accumulated and as we learn more about the managers on whom we have interpersonal style data, our understanding about the meaning of the basic scales will no doubt change. That is the nature of progress.

We don’t have the final answer nor do we have the complete picture. We do know, however, that what we are measuring at the present has an important bearing upon the ability of managers to develop and maintain productive working relationships. For this reason we make no apologies for the unfinished state of our work with this model.



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