Taking a Look at Yourself and Others with LIFO®

By Carrie Matlock posted 08-19-2019 09:33


That person is a real jerk! Have you ever thought this about another person? Or, maybe you have been in a situation where someone thought that about you. In either case, you weren’t having a good communication experience. Now, granted some people in this world seem to make life a little more difficult than it needs to be and sometimes it is hard to be self-aware enough to realize that person might be yourself. Maybe you weren’t having the best day and came off a little atypical but someone assessed your character based on that encounter. My guess is that the “jerk” isn’t always bad and that there are probably a number of people in the universe who love the “jerk”. Yes, I try to keep my glass half full, but I also understand that everyone is an iceberg. You only see what is above water, you don’t see what is below the surface. The history, the struggles, the stress and ultimately the “jerk’s” perspective. But what if we could? What if we took a moment to think about someone else’s perspective on a situation? Would a jerk still be a jerk? Maybe not.

As President and part owner of an architectural firm of almost 50 employees, trust me, everyone does not always see eye-to-eye. In fact, some days I spend much of my time counseling new and future leaders in our firm on how to handle challenging conversations within and outside of our organization. And for those who have not participated in the Illinois ASBO Leadership Institute, it is always a revelation for them to learn that they need to bridge the conversation in order to get their desired results. For instance, one of our leaders was having a challenging discussion with another employee, it didn’t go so well and voices were elevated. Both parties want the best for the company but they both have very different behavioral/communication styles. The leader’s immediate reaction was that this employee won’t do what I want and is acting like a jerk and may need to be removed from the organization. I didn’t challenge the thinking, I just let that individual tell me the story. When I learned all that transpired, I asked some relevant questions and we did a quick LIFO exercise.

LIFO is a leadership/management tool I learned while attending the Illinois ASBO Leadership Institute. The premise is basically that all of us tend to look at the world through four different vantage points. Those vantage points are Controlling Taking (be competent, get results), Conserving Holding (go slow, be sure), Supporting Giving (prove worth, be helpful) and Adaptive Dealing (know people, get along). These styles are the ones you go to immediately, almost unconsciously. Your vantage point might change with your role, for instance, whether you are speaking to someone at work or at home. Stressors might also push you to a different behavioral style. So, depending on the type of day you are having, that preferred view may change. For example, when you are having a good day you may be Adaptive Dealing, but when you are low on sleep and everything seems to be falling apart at the office you might be Controlling Taking. The idea then becomes if you can identify how other people look at the world then you can approach them in a manner they prefer. If you do that, most likely voices will not be elevated and you will be able to have positive communication experiences.

“LIFO is a fantastic tool to help better convey ideas. I use the concepts from LIFO daily, to better communicate with the people in my life in terms that they best suit them. I find this tailored communication makes for better connections and more productive outcomes.” - Edward L. Wright, AIA, LEED ®AP BD+C, Principal, DLA Architects, Ltd. 

So, together we assessed the leader’s and the employee’s strengths and preferred communication styles. We identified the employee as a controlling taking behavioral style who is confident, forceful, competitive and directing. An excess of this particular employee’s confidence strength could be ego and the competitive attribute may make this individual feel they should always be right. This particular behavioral style does not like dismissiveness or challenging of credibility/ideas. The leader is a supporting giving behavioral style. This individual seeks excellence and is cooperative, loyal and modest in good conditions. In the worst conditions, such as a confrontation or an argument, they feel betrayed, a lack of support and personally criticized.

One could imagine that this situation would need some communication bridging. Bridging is a powerful strategy that allows a person to speak to another person in a way that they prefer to hear. This particular situation may have been diffused a little if the leader understood that the controlling taking individual tunes out when they have their authority undercut, resources restricted or a lack of flexibility when completing their job. In addition, the leader may not have experienced an alarming response from the employee had the employee understood that the leader tunes out when critical words are used or when the employee becomes unhelpful, which is how the conversation went as soon as the controlling taking employee lost control of the outcome. Unfortunately, this concept takes time and thought and cannot be accomplished in the heat of the moment. Instead, bridging takes reflection, effort and a willingness to learn. 

“I use LIFO in a few different ways, I definitely use it with the clients I am working with. I find that there are two dominant orientation types with my clients which are controlling taking and conserving holding so I tailor the information I present to them differently based on those types (either present executive summary or a detailed analysis as an example). I also use it when I do staff performance reviews and just managing the staff in general. Based on their orientation types I will try and tailor my evaluations or general comments in a way that relates to their LIFO Strengths.” - Lou Noto, AIA, NCARB, LEED ® AP BD + C, Principal, DLA Architects, Ltd.

I am a controlling taking person. You probably know some folks in this vantage point. They are the ones in the meeting that always want to know the bottom line and what is next, wondering why we are still talking about this when we could be doing it already. They are the people who get things done. Or maybe you see yourself in this archetype? Coming from my current position in the firm controlling taking behaviors seem understandable to most people; however, I didn’t always have this position. At one time or another, I was that employee that challenged all the other behavioral styles in my company. Controlling taking employees can be a bit of a challenge depending on what behavioral style the leader is. I currently have several different scenarios in my office where a newer manager is in charge of leading a controlling taking behavioral style and most of them are having some struggles. Honestly, we are not an easy style to lead/manage and trust me, I know that now more than ever. I often struggle with how to respond to these individuals without shutting them down. Because inherently, that is what I want to do. Instead, I have to challenge myself to inspire and teach them that not everyone thinks the way they do and to manage their level of confidence and authority. Because honestly, these individuals are worth it. They are hard workers and want to succeed. If their strengths are used right, they will eventually flourish. But understanding controlling taking individuals comes easier to me because I am dealing with someone like me and not someone looking at the world completely differently. However, it still takes time and thought to get the desired results, something my behavioral style does not like to do regularly. Controlling taking is not a bad behavioral style, and none of them are. They are all just different vantage points. Together they all make an awesome team that can solve problems from all different angles.

LIFO and bridging have become essential tools that I use regularly when managing people and relationships. Also, I’m not alone, three of my partners have completed the institute, and they all use these techniques on a regular basis with our staff and our clients.

If you are interested in learning more about LIFO and bridging, I would encourage you to sign up for the next leadership institute at IASBO. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

By Carrie Matlock
DLA Architects, Ltd.