For years, my colleagues and I have said I will never do that to
someone, or I will never behave in that manner. Those words define
the core of the Process Communication Model, which allowed meand I
hope will enable youto improve as a manager and a leader of
military and civilian public servants.
Psychological Origins of Process Communication
Taibi Kahler, a clinical psychologist, began focusing on the
process in 1971. As he entered clinical practice, Kahler observed
that how he talked with clients (process) determined how receptive
each client was to what was said (content).
Kahler was intrigued by the importance of process in the way people
interacted with one another in both positive and negative ways. He
discovered that human behavior could be objectively identified
second-by-second as either productive (communication) or
non-productive (miscommunication). Both of these patterns were
measurable, sequential, and predictable.
His clinical colleagues from 52 countries recognized the value of
his discovery and awarded Kahler the 1977 Eric Berne Memorial
Scientific Award, calling it the most significant discovery in the
field of psychology. Kahlers clinical tools afforded his colleagues
the ability to diagnose a client within minutes and accurately
predict their pattern of negative behavior under stress. Kahler is
known for saying, If you want them to listen to what you say, talk
I have found the Process Communication Model quite useful in my
last 18 years of professional work. I cant make any of you experts
in Process Communication through this article, but I hope reading
it will make you curious to learn more.
We have observed myriad misbehaviors and errors in the workplace.
Have you observed those who believe that they are the only ones who
can do a job well and refuse to delegate or participate with a
team? Do you often watch people complain about why a change is not
how they would have made the change and then create more stress in
the workplace through passive-aggressive tactics? Perhaps you see
people, who are perfectly capable of completing various
requirements, make what seem to be silly mistakes, laughing at
themselves about it and criticizing themselves at the same time.
I remember high-stress periods when you just had to laugh as people
gathered to do the job. But the necessary equipment failed them,
and the project could not be completed on time.
A friend described one such situation: minutes after his team was
directed to remain at work (without warning about that potential
requirement earlier in the day) the copier and scanner broke down.
One of the team members smiled and said, Guess we just have to wait
until tomorrow. Often we learn more about what not to do by
observing our leaders than we learn of performance to emulate.
Why is it that those who did manage or lead well did not take the
time to explain how and why they succeeded? Fortunately, one of
those good leaders took me aside and suggested that I learn a
concept called Process Communication.
Workers Six Personalities
Process Communication explains that each of us have varying levels
of each of six different personality types. Each type has different
- Workaholic. Demonstrates an ability to think logically;
perceives through thoughts; and has character strengths of being
logical, responsible, and organized. Recognition of work and time
structure are the psychological needs of the workaholic.
- Persister. Demonstrates an ability to express opinions,
beliefs, and judgments; perceives through opinions (judges first);
and has character strengths of being dedicated, observant, and
conscientious. For the persister, recognition of work and
recognition of conviction (their opinions or beliefs) are their
- Reactor. Demonstrates an ability to nurture and give to others.
Reactors are good at creating harmony. Reactors perceive through
emotions (they take in people and things by feeling about them),
and have character strengths of being compassionate, sensitive, and
warm. Reactors need recognition of their worth as a person and an
environment that is full of sensory pleasure.
- Promoter. Demonstrates an ability to be firm and direct.
Promoters perceive through action and experience the world by
doing. They have character strengths of being charming, adaptable,
and persuasive. Incidence is the psychological need of the
- Rebel. Demonstrates the ability to be humorous, playful, and
enjoy the moment. Rebels perceive through reactions and react to
people and things with likes and dislikes. Their character
strengths are being spontaneous, creative, and playful. The rebels
psychological need is for contact.
- Dreamer. Demonstrates the ability to see the big picture.
Dreamers perceive through inaction; they are motivated into action
by people and things. Dreamer character strengths are being
reflective, imaginative, and calm. Solitude is the psychological
need of the dreamer.
Challenging Workplace Scenarios
All of us have encountered challenging scenarios in the workplace.
In the following section, I describe several challenging scenarios
and how I used Kahlers techniques to address miscommunication and
negative behaviors. In some of these situations, I provided
reinforcement of positive productive behaviors.
Shortly after my arrival as the chief nurse anesthetist in a large
medical center, I met a reactor who had been bullied by the
previous boss. I knew the boss had a tough and unresponsive
reputation, but I had no idea how badly that had affected the team
until late one afternoon.
That day a junior anesthetistIll call her Suetimidly knocked on my
open office door. When I looked up from my desk, Sue meekly said, I
know I am not allowed to talk with you about my leave and then
burst into tears.
I was stunned. I asked her to come into the office and sit down. I
asked why she felt she could not talk with me about her leave. Sue
wanted to request a vacation. She explained that staff was not
informed about leave until the night before it was to begin. If
they did ask about the prospects of having leave, they were
scolded. I asked who had done that to her and the other staff. Sue
explained it was the previous boss. I smiled and told her that a
new sheriff was in town. She showed a hint of a smile. I gently
asked her to tell me about her leave plans.
Sue explained she was asked by a close friend to be the maid of
honor in her wedding, but was afraid that as a junior officer, if
she could not make the travel arrangements early she would not be
able to afford to go to the weddingand started crying again.
I spent several minutes talking with Sue about what a compliment it
was to be asked to be the maid of honor, what a wonderful friend
she must behow her caring and compassion was demonstrated in what I
had seen of her work with her patients as well. I told her that
maintaining that caring and compassionate attitude would make her
friends and her patients cherish herjust as I did.
It was obvious that she would be quite timid in interactions with
me and that consistency in my approach to her was essential. I took
her leave paperwork and signed it immediately so she could begin
her travel arrangements. Additionally, I asked Sue to let the other
staff know that the old rules went out with the old boss. I sought
opportunities to see her with patients and reinforce how the
patients seemed calm and trusting. She continued to need that
regular reinforcementas most reactors do. It was such an easy thing
to help an employee or colleague enjoy being at work.
Front Desk Fears
Another work situation was a disaster until I realized that an
excellent worker with a dreamer personality had gone into severe
distress. Carol, one of the administrators, was superb in data
management and analysis and worked alone in a small, almost
closet-size office. Because of some personnel losses, the operating
room department director wanted to promote her into a position in
the front of the office to schedule the daily surgeries.
These surgeries were sometimes routine and other times emergency.
The job required constant coordination with the anesthesia
department, the operating room, and the surgical teams. The front
area was constantly buzzing with activitypatients coming in and out
on wheeled stretchers, pharmaceutical personnel delivering special
evaluating the board for their assignments through-out the day.
Carol was grateful for the recognitionof her abilities, but did
not verbalize that she needed quiet and calm to work to a high
level. It did not take long for her to decompensate and simply sit
there unable to move on to the next task without direction.
Fortunately, I recognized her need for quiet and solitude to do the
work. I addressed the environmental challenges with her and then
her supervisor. She told the supervisor she would rather have her
old position, at a lower pay level, and do it well than constantly
feel panicked because of all the noise and commotion at the front
desk. The three of us discussed it, and she then agreed that she
could manage the new work if she could do it from her old office
area. One of the younger staff, a promoter, was looking for more
responsibility. He asked if he could perform the coordination for
the emergency procedureshis energy ran high during those periods.
This turned out to be an excellent solution, and we met the needs
of both a dreamer and a promoter.
Walter Reed Morale
Some of you may remember the negative reports about the care of our
wounded warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2007. As a
result, I was placed in charge of the Army Medical Department, the
first time that a woman and non-physician held the role of acting
surgeon general and commander for the medical department in any of
the military services. Morale was at an all-time low. I was
concerned about potential resignations of our high-quality
physicians and nurses after these reports.
To counter this, every month I sent a five-minute video to all army
medical department staff to clarify priorities and recount all the
good things that were happening. I reinforced what a good job they
were doing, how valuable they were to the military, and how much I
appreciated their commitment to, and performance of, their duties.
I also told them each month that I appreciated their concern for
the wounded troops and the family members left behind. I made sure
to meet the needs of each personality type in my comments. As a
result, the interest in these short videos increased each month.
Moreover, the videos had the desired effect on the staff. Morale
soared, and everyone rededicated themselves to serving our
beneficiaries and carrying out my vision as their acting surgeon
general and commander.
The more I use Process Communication, the easier it becomes to use
and explain to others. Moreover, the results are positive for
everyone. When I have expended the energy to use the Process
Communication Method, staff job satisfaction and job performance
improved. In hospitals and clinics, I watched patient safety
efforts flourish and employee morale gain ground. Often, my own
superiors did not understand how I was working so well with my
team, but were delighted with our results. You, too, can enjoy the
same high personal satisfaction being the catalyst for improvement
in your organization!