Are Middle Scorers Bridgers?

-Michael Kirton

The short answer is: probably not.

First let’s ask the question: Who are the KAIs middlescorers? Too many users believe that these are the people who score around 95. Well they are certainly located near the middle of the range of the general population mean. But none of us works with the whole population of a country. It is more probable that a dozen significant colleagues and a handful of relatives are all we have habitually in groups close to us, at any one time. A score of 95 may or may not, therefore, be in the middle of a range made up of a group of “significant others”, to use the appropriate jargon. Of course we are not members of a single group but of many. In these groups there are usually some more memberships from outside the usual “in-groups”. Each time we move from one group to another we move our position in relation to the “middle” depending on who else is in the group.

This means we can all be likely to be a middle scorer in at least one of these groups and just as likely to be an extreme scorer in some other group.

Before we move on the Bridgers, let us ask another question frequently put : how wide is the “middle”. Those who are altogether taken up with general population curves often describe the “middle” in statistical terms. A common one is: one standard deviation on either side of the mean. As that accounts, by statistical definition, for 68% of the population, if this description is accepted, only one-third of the population is outside the “middle” – divided equally into two groups of one-sixth, one at each extreme end. That should leave us with an abundance of bridgers, which as anyone knows is not the case! If this statistical definition, based on general population figures, is applied to the small groups of which we are members, we would find that some of our groups are “all middle” and some of them contain no “middle”!. This confusion needs neat resolution.

Research with KAI indicate that about 10 points distance between two people, who know one another, is enough for them to detect this difference in style. Another general finding is that at a difference of 20 points may begin to cause probelms of communication and collaboration that need mutual attention in order to maintain group cohesion and integration. But “one standard deviation on either side of the mean” ( that is two standard deviations) of a general population sample is much closer to 40 points than either the 10 or 20 we have just noted.

If we want a more generally useful and accurate definition, the true “middle scorers” of a particular group are those who are within 10 points of each other and are in the middle of this particular range – and please nobody join or leave the group while the middle is being calculated!

However, bridging is not a score but a social role. It helps, but it is not essential, if the would be bridger is located somewhere between those needing to be bridged or else “coping behaviour” is required. So now the problem is to locate where the middle is between those needing to be bridged. It is not necessarily anywhere near 95, for in many groups (of, say, all adaptors or innovators) such a score could be located at either extreme.

Remember that two adaptors (or two innovators) say 40points apart (eg., 50 and 90 or 100 and 140) may badly need abridger, but not one, as a matter of course, scoring 95.

Another matter to bear in mind is that it is going to be a lucky thing if the group’s would be bridger happens to be plumb in the middle of the KAI range. It would, for sure, be a useful advantage to the would be bridger, but failing that then coping behaviour might be needed. (A lot of consultants often find themselves in this position.)

It will be found most helpful if all parties indulge in some coping behaviour, if the gap is to be narrowed. But that’s another issue we can take up some other time.

Next to ask ourselves is: Is a central KAI position the only essential to being a bridger? And the answer is, so clearly: NO. Because bridging is a social role, one necessary element is that the person concerned is willing to undertake that role. So many colleagues do their best to avoid getting “caught in-the-middle”. In summary, first, a person of about 95 may not be in the middle; second, a person in the middle may not want to take up the role, and, therefore, not a bridger.

Every social role needs skill to do it well. So bridgers, too, need skill and good motive to risk intervention. We have all been in the position here, despite the deploying of our best skills, the protagonists between whom we found ourselves, seem only to agree on one matter: they didn’t like our intervention! No wonder many, who are without high motivation and good skills, prefer to stay on the sidelines.

There are of course other elements still to be considered, in the making of a willing and successful bridger, like being acceptable to both parties, not being too close to one or other, having the kind of knowledge that is respected by both parties, and so on. However, just picking out a general population mid-point figure and investing it with all this social meaning is clearly wrong. We must never make an instrument or its theory do more than that for which it is designed. We should, however, use it to the full in the area in which we know we can trust it. Such judgement is the hall mark of the professional.