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How Behavioral Patterns can be Exaggerated Under Stress

Posted by Carmen Acton, MBA, PCC | April 1, 2021 | Comments (2)

My friends and family would tell you I’m typically a very calm, laid-back person. That is, until I’m triggered and experiencing emotions of uncertainty, anxiety or panic. Then my behavioral style looks more like that of a lion.  

Recently, my mother sustained a fall and was unable to get to the phone. I became worried when she didn’t return my calls and on day three, I went into command mode. I instructed the police to break into her home immediately! Many would say pivoted from kitten to lion in under a secondWhat was underlying this big change in my behavior?  It was a sudden change in routine and being faced with something unpredictable. 

Recognizing and Adapting to Behavioral Style Tendencies is a Communication Superpower 

There are four broadly accepted behavioral styles that are represented by observable behavioral tendencies. We each exhibit a blend of these based on what we believe the situation, environment or relationship calls forThey may have slightly different names, but we can recognize them if we pay attention to the observable verbal, visual and vocal cues.   

In brief, the styles are Dominant, Influence, Supportive, Conscientious. 

A chart showing the differences in behavioral styles according to DISC (Dominant, Influence, Supportive, Conscientious).

Graphic used with permission from Assessments 24×7

  • Dominant or direct style may appear fast-paced and task-oriented.  
  • Influence or promoting style may appear fast-paced and people-oriented.  
  • Supportive style may appear slower-paced and people-oriented.  
  • Conscientious or analytical/thinker style may appear slower-paced and task-oriented.  

Behavioral Styles Under Stress or in Crisis 

Our natural behavioral tendencies or patterns can be exaggerated under stress or even change in crisis. In my situation, I experienced a physical burst of the stress hormone cortisol and an emotional roller coaster of feelings from fear to guilt. I didn’t immediately recognize I’d been emotionally hijacked.  

When experiencing elevated levels of stress, we often try to deny it, suppress it, manage it or deflect it onto the person or situation we believe is “responsible.” Each behavioral style has its own unproductive, but typical manner of “offloading” stress. This can negatively impact our relationships and well-being 

Too often we ignore our emotions. When under elevated levels of stress, this situation is exasperated.  

Our behaviors may appear highly unusual to others. What’s important to recognize is those extremes are perpetrated by an unspoken need or value. We might observe: 

  • The dominant style as being more dictatorial or even abrasive in order to maintain a sense of control. 
  • The influence style as seemingly superficialdisregarding the source of stress, perhaps criticizing it, when feeling a lack of connection.  
  • The supportive style appearing more passive or hesitant, struggling with heightened uncertainty, lack of safety and security. Supportive styles often bottle their emotions, which can show up as a big response when their patience is tried.  
  • The conscientious style being more withdrawn or slower to act, over reliant on data or research; longing to make the right decision but lacking desired assurance. 

It’s important to recognize the emotion we are experiencing as informationWe can use this information to gain a broader perspective. Many of us generalize stress or anger as a catchall feelingDon’t stop there. Dig deeper to identify the underlying stressor. Is the “stress” fear of loss of security, for example? What is the need or value that is not being met?  

Recognizing how different styles may manifest gives us insight to ways we can acknowledge and meet the needs and be more empathetic toward ourselves and others 

Stress is part of the human condition; a certain level is even beneficial. The true opportunity is to recognize and productively channel the energy 

3 Things We can Do 

We can recognize our own behavioral tendencies and identify what is driving themThis allows us to more readily recognize our emotions and thoughts as well as to manage our needs and actions.  

Pause and ask 

  • What am I feeling (name it to tame it)? 
  • What need is not being met? 
  • What can I do? 

Harness the emotional energy of the stress or crisis by using these tactics to move forward: 

  • Identify what’s personally important to you.  
  • Set just one or two priorities to work on.  
  • Share your feelings with a trusted confidant. 
  • Practice self-care. 

Notice the behavioral cues of others and when they are exhibiting signs of stress or crisis. Acknowledge what you are noticing. Help them identify the need that may be lacking such as assurance, control, connection or a sense of security, and how to productively satisfy it.  

Tuning into the visual, verbal and vocal cues of others and adapting our style is a communication superpower. Leverage it today. 

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Carmen Acton, MBA, PCC

Carmen Acton, MBA, PCC, is a Leadership Elevation and Development Coach and Process Consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area, California. She is committed to sparking insights and actions that matter. She works with motivated, high potential mid- to senior-level leaders to elevate leadership and business performance in a complex world. Carmen is a certified DISC and EIQ-2 practitioner.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Additionally, for the purpose of full disclosure and as a disclaimer of liability, this content was possibly generated using the assistance of an AI program. Its contents, either in whole or in part, have been reviewed and revised by a human. Nevertheless, the reader/user is responsible for verifying the information presented and should not rely upon this article or post as providing any specific professional advice or counsel. Its contents are provided “as is,” and ICF makes no representations or warranties as to its accuracy or completeness and to the fullest extent permitted by applicable law specifically disclaims any and all liability for any damages or injuries resulting from use of or reliance thereupon.

Comments (2)

  1. Miroslav Czadek says:

    Thank you for the great article! And Thank you William Moulton Marston for his DISC theory work, for lie detector and most for Wonder Woman!
    I am using DISC in my work as project manager and can say that it works. Can you please recommend any good book related to this ? And training …

  2. says:

    Thanks for your kind words Miroslav. There are a wide variety of books out there. One I like is The 4-Dimensional Manager by Julie Straw. Likewise, training options depend on what you’d like to learn or the application you have in mind. If you want to get certified to facilitate DISC you might check out Assessments 24X7 or Everything DISC. These are also good options to deepen your understanding.
    There are many practitioners who also offer DISC workshops for teams if that is what you are seeking.
    Lastly, you mention Wonder Woman….a book you might want to check out is Presence by Amy Cuddy.

    Hope that he’s helpful

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