When we talk about behavior styles, we frequently use the metaphor of an iceberg. If you think of the iceberg as representing your personality, the part that is above the water line is your observable behavior. Unlike the part below the waterline (which is most of who you are), the part above can change quickly based on the situation and environment you are in.

There are four common patterns of behavior, and when someone changes their pattern, we say they are “rotating their iceberg”, which can be visualized as putting a different pattern of behavior above the waterline. Not changing who they are, but changing what they do.

Why should you rotate your iceberg sometimes? There are two reasons:

1. We are more effective and demonstrate emotional intelligence when we modify our behavior based on different situations and environments.

This is easy to illustrate. Just think about the behavior that would be most effective if you were in these various situations and environments:

In each of these situations, some behaviors would clearly be more helpful or appropriate than others. For example, raising your voice about a fire would be a good idea, but not helpful when trying to calm a lost child. And hosting a celebration with the same behavior you have while completing a tax return would make for one boring party.

2.  We create trust and respect with others.

Just as different situations require us to rotate our iceberg and modify our behavior, we also create trust and respect when we do that with others. That’s because we don’t prefer all four behavior patterns equally, and different patterns of behavior have different needs. When someone doesn’t meet any of our behavior style needs, it’s easy to be frustrated and annoyed, which makes it difficult to create trust and respect with that person.

To illustrate, let’s say the behavior you have while trying to calm a lost, upset child – being gentle, kind, warm, encouraging – is easy and natural for you to do. If someone told you what you were doing was not helpful and tried to take over, it’s likely that would not land well. What’s true in that situation is true in day-to-day life. In other words, if someone frequently demonstrated that kind of direct behavior with you, it would be difficult to work with them, and trust and respect would be hard to build.

When we recognize the pattern of behavior someone prefers and “rotate our icebergs” a little bit to meet at least some of their needs, it’s helpful. And vice-versa. Even small rotations can go a long way to building trust and respect with others.