This is gonna sound cult-like. The PCM (Process Communication Model) is the real deal. What does it do? It helps you make sense of human behavior in a practical, experiential (non-Nerd Loopy), visceral way. I spent 3 days last week attending a workshop on it. I started as a skeptic. Within an hour I was sold. It bears some similarity to Briggs-Myers (which the government has used for decades), but much more intuitive, practical and applied. It also shares a common thread with improv acting and Meisner acting technique (which formed the core of my book) in that it’s all about putting the focus on the other person. Both Clintons were trained in it and swear by it. Imagine a world where climate scientists no longer stared at climate skeptics and said, “Why do they act like that?” and shouted things that nobody listens to, but instead said, “I get it.” PCM could make that happen.
PRETTY CLEAR METHOD. “If you want them to listen to what you say, speak their language.” Taibi Kahler of Arkansas created the PCM approach to communication in the late 1970’s. The core principles are simple. You figure out what style of language people respond to — robotic orders, robotic questions, warm and comforting words, or highly energized pep talk — then you address them accordingly. It helps you understand why angry climate activists shouting at the right wing haven’t accomplished much. Nor has the Nerd Looped climate communication campaign of the academics. What is needed is this more pragmatic approach to communication.
WHY DOES HE BEHAVE THAT WAY?
Ever ponder this question? It’s at the heart of most people’s discussions of the anti-evolution and anti-climate science movements — countless academics scratching their heads baffled by, “Why do the anti-science folks behave that way?”
At the heart of behavior is personality. For both of my documentaries on the anti-science movements, “Flock of Dodos,” and “Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy,” I came to the conclusion that it’s not about science, it’s about personality. If you were to map out the personality traits of the anti-science crowd vs. the science crowd, they would fall into two clearly distinct groups. So why wouldn’t you take a deeper interest in behavior?
And not the sort of behavior where you bring in teams of Ph.D.’s to give talks on all their clinical studies and sets of polling data, but rather of the visceral/experiential sort. I’m talking about the people who actually use behavioral knowledge in a practical setting — who actually INTERACT with human beings. If you want to consult the experts on this you should probably talk to acting teachers (the source of learning for my book), OR … people who run behavior workshops. Which is what I experienced last week.
THE PCM APPROACH
Before I get into the specifics of the three day workshop, let me bring the gist of it to life with one simple example. On the second day, the instructor, to illustrate how PCM works, said, “Last night when I decided to head to bed and tell my three kids good night I gave the first one a big hug — she’s a HARMONIZER/PERSISTER (meaning she values feelings and emotions), the second one, my son the basketball player, I slapped a high five — he’s a REBEL/PROMOTER (meaning he enjoys energy and excitement), the third I walked right past out of the room without saying a word to her — she’s a DREAMER/THINKER (meaning she prefers to just be left alone). Each one was completely happy in their own way.”
Had he tried to hug the basketball player, slap a high five to the dreamer, and ignored the harmonizer he would have had three uncomfortable kids. It’s that simple.
That one brief example kind of brought it to life more vividly than anything for me. Yes, as a parent you probably intuitively know that your basketball playing son doesn’t want a hug, but this is just the starting point. The ramifications of the personality types is endless.
And yes, the scientist side of my brain began the workshop by warning the instructor I doubted I would last three days — I’m so swamped with things to do and I’m such a short attention span lunatic. But let me just skip to how it all ended. In the last few minutes of the third day I said to the instructor and ten participants, “I know my profile says I’m a Rebel, which means I bore easily, but I just have to say I could honestly do another three days of this workshop without getting bored — it’s that fascinating.”
Take that in. I walked out of, “Django,” halfway through — it bored me. This is about the strongest possible endorsement I could give a workshop. There’s nothing cultish about it. It bears similarity to Briggs-Myers testing developed in the 1920’s and still widely used by the government. But it’s so much better.
It also has a common feel to Meisner acting techniques (I spent two years in a program) and improv acting (I’ve taken several levels of classes and now work with improv instructors in my workshops) in that all three emphasize putting the focus more on the other individual than on yourself. At the heart of all of them is developing your ability to LISTEN. And of course anyone who has heard me speak has probably heard me cite Peter Karieva’s review of my book in Science where he noted that I neglected the biggest problem of scientists when it comes to communication which is, “their inability to listen.” All of these methods of training (Improv, Meisner, PCM) cultivate listening ability, which means they are ALL of value to scientists and environmentalists and academics in general.
OKAY, NOW LOWER YOUR GUARD FOR A MOMENT HERE …
Trust me. I used to be a scientist.
It began with a 50 question questionnaire we had to fill out the week before. They use this to present to you the first morning your profile in a multitude of ways, breaking you down into the six personality types, telling you how much of each type you have (big surprise, my primary level is REBEL, with secondary level PROMOTER — most everyone else in the group had HARMONIZER as their primary or secondary level — I was the outlier, big time). Over the next three days that information becomes the central focus of the exercises and discussions.
The most important element is the “Channels of Communication” — which means basically developing the realization of things like sensitive people don’t like to be talked to bluntly, while there are some other personality types that actually prefer to be spoken to in plain, non-emotive terms.
This is something that has stewed inside of me for over three decades — from waaay back when I was doing my Ph.D. in biology and watched as an abusive professor wreaked havoc on graduate students. What I noticed was that his excessively demanding style caused the more creative students to crumple up while the more discipline oriented students seem to relish in his fierceness. That was the first time I realized that different people really need different channels of communication. This is one of the reasons the training instantly made sense to me on the first day.
A simple way to summarize a lot of the workshop is to say it’s a glorified and detailed exercise in the old adage of, “know your audience.” It’s saying: know which personality type someone is, then speak to them in the manner to which they are most responsive. But the difference is that it is a system that has been evolving since the late 1970’s when Taibi Kahler, a guy from Arkansas with an enormous IQ, first developed it.
Being from Arkansas he became buddies with the Clintons. They both got trained in it early on (see their endorsements here). Bill Clinton’s brilliant, “I feel your pain,” statement came directly out of his PCM training. Pixar Animation Studios has PCM trainers on their staff. On and on. It’s truly powerful stuff. It will have a major effect on me. I walked out of the workshop looking at the world differently. Not in a cultish way — just in the way of now having a simple, functional, analytical criteria with which to look at behavior. And all I can say is that the science world needs it — at least with some of the top level people.
I have no connection with it — I just happened to know the instructor who has been telling me for five years about it — saying I really should take the workshop. He himself is a great communicator so I knew all along there was something to it. I finally decided to take him up on it last week. If anyone wants to hear more about you’re welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can direct you to the relevant resources and share more details of why I ended up so impressed.
The science and environmental worlds continue to be so baffled by human behavior. PCM training is sorely needed.