De-Mything Normal: The Birkman Method

by Mark McGowan

When we hear the word “normal,” there are different meanings that come to mind. The medical world defines normal by looking at what is ideal for the human body. If we talk about normal body temperature, there is a commonly agreed standard of 98.6 F or 37 C.  A normal blood pressure level is less than 120/80 mmHg. When a doctor makes a diagnosis, it usually means something is not normal and needs treatment. With personality, we try to do the same thing. As we observe people and situations around us, we may determine to what extent they are behaving “normally” based on our characteristics. For example, if we make decisions quickly, we might think that this is normal and view someone who takes more time to make decisions to be slower or less intelligent. That is an erroneous conclusion, but we often make these types of assumptions.

“Normal” Myths

Thus, the first myth is: I am normal, and anyone different from me is not. 

When we set a normal standard based on our preferences and behaviors, we doubt that people who are different from us can bring value to what we do. In the early days of my leadership journey, I assumed that it was normal for everyone to need direct feedback from me. That was a definition of normal that I had created based on my needs. I quickly learned that some people need this, but some do not. On the other hand, people can look at us who like to give and receive direct feedback and wonder why we are so blunt.  We cannot assume that anyone who doesn’t share our characteristics is not normal. Once we set standards for what is normal, whether formal or implied, we impede the ability of other people to get a job done. How? Let’s look at a second myth.

The second myth is: My way is best

We learn from our experiences based on our unique interests, needs, and personal strengths. Consequently, the methods others choose to accomplish a task may seem awkward and unnatural, and our way of doing things may not work for others. Yet, how many times do we attempt to accomplish a goal using the exact manner as someone else? We see this in books – the author’s method promises to work for everyone who reads the book. Although the steps may work for some, they will not work for everyone. Since every individual is unique in his or her strengths and abilities, how can we expect one standard of behavior to work equally well for all? An even more significant problem exists when we are confident that “My way is the best way,” and we demand that other people conform to how we do things. Only by valuing another’s uniqueness will we be able to guide a person toward a task and allow him or her to accomplish it in his or her way. We may be surprised to find out how many “right” ways there are for doing something. 

Enter the Birkman Method.

You can be De-Mythed.

Dr. Roger Birkman, the creator of the Birkman Method, likes to say that you can be de-mythed through the Birkman Method. 

  • Individuals have Differences.

The first way that we can be de-mythed is by seeing that individuals have differences. Most people will agree with this point, but only on a cognitive level, not when putting it into practice. When discussing various thoughts or behaviors, the conversation quickly shifts to terms of right vs. wrong, good or bad, their way vs. my way. Beginning to understand that individuals have differences includes resisting the temptation to pass judgment on the behaviors of others. For example, you may think that being outspoken, aggressive, and bold are good or preferable traits, while being shy and introverted are less desirable. People who deal with life through introspection are just as “right” as those who power their way through. A person who likes to work alone is just as productive as someone who prefers to work in groups. Those who are much like ourselves are good. Those who are opposite us are also good. We must learn not only to identify individual differences but to respect them as well.

  • Individuals have Strengths and Weaknesses.

After eliminating the right vs. wrong mentality, we can then address each person’s strengths and weaknesses. We sometimes become defensive about our weaknesses, but once we stop thinking with a right/wrong or good/bad mentality, we have the freedom to look at our strengths and weaknesses. We can focus on doing the things we do well and find others stronger in the areas where we are weak. Some people will enjoy doing the things we find unbearable. The Birkman Method looks at strengths through interests and behaviors to help us communicate, grow, and build relationships. 

  • Individuals can manage their behavior. 

When you know yourself well enough to distinguish between strengths and weaknesses, you can adapt to situations where you must operate in ways you don’t particularly enjoy. We all have socialized, normal behavior called “Usual Behavior” that we have developed over time. When you know this behavior and what you do well, you can temporarily step out of this productive, personal style when a situation calls for it. We call this “managing behavior.” By remembering that this new behavior does not reflect who you truly are, you can cope better with the assignment. The Birkman Method can give you language to understand the hidden needs of others and show you when you might want to manage your behavior to help them work at their best. 

The Birkman Method helps us challenge our myths and become de-mythed. These are only a couple of ways to apply the Birkman Method. 

The Birkman Method has been around for over 65 years, and over five million people have taken the questionnaire. If you are interested in The Birkman Method questionnaire or scheduling time with a Birkman Certified Professional, you can email for more information.  

5 thoughts on “De-Mything Normal: The Birkman Method”

  1. robertfilippiss

    Coaching with Birkman Method

    Organisations and individuals who use the services of Coaching with Birkman Method come to us with a very different set of challenges than they did five years ago. It is because people are now dealing with enormous amounts of complexity.


    The Birkman assessment has helped me identify “myths” that I believe and also discern best contributions and future roles for myself and others. I highly recommend it if you’ve not done it before.

  3. This is really helpful stuff! I’ve never articulated it in such definitive language, but now you’ve pointed it out, I can see how often I find myself inadvertently believing those two myths. Thanks so much, Mark!

  4. Great idea to use the Birman during transition when stress behaviors may appear which are outside our personal norms. It would be good to be aware before they appear so that recognize them and reduce unnecessary stress.

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