A few years back, after my 36th misunderstanding that year, I decided to research the topic of effective communication. Quickly I realized that in order to master communication, I had to take a step back and start with understanding personality. In this article, I will share with you my most important insights.
First of all, what is personality? Many different definitions can be found. For this article I’ll go with the one of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, that defines a personality as follows:
“… a characteristic way of thinking, feeling, and behaving. Personality embraces moods, attitudes, and opinions and is most clearly expressed in interactions with other people.”
Why does it matter? Because it is the secret sauce for successful communication and collaboration. Becoming aware of your own and other people’s personality types is crucial for effective teamwork or negotiations or any other activity that involves other people. It will allow you to adapt your communication style according to the other person’s preferences. This helps to establish bonds and to prevent misunderstandings as well as unnecessary conflict.
Therefore, a lot of research has been devoted to our personalities. And they all come up with slightly different classifications of personality types.
I prefer the classification according to the “DiSC Personal Profile System” by personality researcher Professor Dr. John G. Geier. Today it is a popular tool to assess people’s behavior used by a broad spectrum of companies and coaching institutions. It is based on the DISC theory of psychologist William Moulton Marston and emphasizes 4 different personality traits along the two dimensions of people- vs. task-oriented and outgoing vs. reserved:
Most people have a mixture of these characteristics. Normally, 1 or 2 of these peculiarities outweigh the others, determining a person’s personality.
In the following, I’ll firstly explain the different personality traits. Secondly, I’ll present some dos and don’ts in communication with different personality types. Thirdly, I’ll look at some of the mixed personality types.
Personality Traits Explained
The dominant type
Their goal is to solve problems and, ultimately, to win and to defeat others. It is their underlying need to be in control, to overcome challenges. They are very assertive in what they do.
Their behavior is characterized by taking command and starting new things. They tackle problems and strive for quick results. They are known to question the status quo. Patience isn’t one of their virtues.
Grocery shopping with a dominant person would look like this: They know what they want before they even get there. Having their list in mind or on paper, they go straight for what they need. Effectively they work through their checklist. If a friend happens to be in the same store, they probably won’t see them. Once they have crossed everything off that list, they leave. Ok, that’s done, what’s next?
They are motivated by frequent change and freedom of action. They crave having authority. They need to see the impact of their work efforts. They are known to struggle with controlling superiors.
The influencing type
Their goal is to influence other people and their surroundings. They are scared to be deprived of attention because their underlying need is to be accepted and liked.
With their extroverted and friendly behavior they easily make new contacts and motivate others. No other personality type is that great at creating an atmosphere of optimism and enthusiasm. They are very group-oriented where they love to be at the center of attention. They are spontaneous and impulsive deciders. Having fun is an important aspect of their life.
Grocery shopping with a high initiative person would look as follows: They have a rough plan of what they want to buy. In the store, they see at least 150 other interesting things and end up buying stuff that they hadn’t planned to buy. Possibly at the cost of forgetting the original items that they actually needed. And, of course, they’ve probably had at least 3 interesting conversations, a couple of good laughs and a wedding invitation by the time they’re going home. Life is good.
Their primary source of motivation is recognition and positive support. Also, good relationships with other people. Showing off their talents and abilities is a must.
The steady type
Their goal is to be together with other people. They are afraid of being alone. So, a steady person’s underlying need is security and stability.
As implied by the name, their behavior is characterized by consistency. They don’t like to try new things. They rather concentrate on their already existing activities. Therefore, they develop specialized knowledge in very few fields.
They like to create stable environments. They are known to be very patient, world-class listeners, and mediators. Let’s talk about this.
Grocery shopping for them is easy. They tend to always buy the same things and waiting in line is no problem at all. They happily let other people pass.
They get motivated through long term planning and clear structures. They need to have their consistent group of people that they identify with. There, they crave real recognition and praise for good work. When there are inevitable changes, they need to understand them.
The conscientious type
Their goal is to understand the consequences of all actions. They are afraid to be criticized and have a strong underlying need to do things right.
Their behavior is characterized by obedience to instructions and regulations. They like perfection and have an undisputed eye for detail. If there is a mistake, they’ll find it. And they’ll find the cause of it.
They think critically and make decisions only based on extensive analysis.
When they do sports, they have 13 different apps to track their heart rate, performance, and progress.
If you ever go grocery shopping with a conscientious person, you better be patient. They analyze everything. They compare different products. They’ll take out their phone and google every single ingredient if need be. What are the pros and cons of buying sea salt as opposed to himalayan salt?
They are motivated by understanding the root causes of problems. They need to define clear goals and tasks. And these have to be confirmed by authority. Everything has to be in order. With their eye for detail they are predestined scientists.
How to tailor your communication
As the different types have very different fears, desires, and perceptions of the world around them, it is imperative to adapt your communication style. This will let you overcome communicative barriers and open up new, unexpected potentials in collaborations or negotiations. So, consider the following when communicating with…
… the dominant type:
- Coming straight to the point
- Focusing on results and benefits
- Being confident
- Asking for their opinion
- Letting them make decisions
- Talking too much
- Being insecure
- Problem orientation
- Too much detail
… the influencing type:
- Using emotional language
- Being enthusiastic and fun
- Being friendly and use praise
- Building up a relationship
- Listening patiently to their visions and ideas
- Being short-spoken
- Being arrogant
- Showing no interest in building up a relationship
- Rejecting their visions and ideas
- Too much detail
- Being boring
… the steady type:
- Building up and nurturing personal relationships
- Displaying an honest interest in their life and work
- Being friendly, calm and taking enough time for them
- Conveying new information slowly and step by step
- Focusing on long term planning and security
- Skipping the development of the relationship
- Being direct and brisk
- Being too demanding or pushy
- Skipping the details
- Not being transparent
- Jumping from one thought or topic to another
… the conscientious type:
- Being technical and detail-oriented
- Focusing on data and facts and being precise
- Preparing well for discussions
- Explaining contexts and causes
- Giving time to think
- Being emotional
- Being too fast
- Being too loud or personal
- Leaving out the details
Mixed Personality Types
Naturally, personality types exist on a spectrum. There are all kinds of combinations. For illustration purposes, we’ll look at a few typical mixed personality types:
Dominant and influencing people
These are visionaries. They are full of great ideas and get things going. They inspire and motivate. However, for them, concrete implementation plans, and details are something to worry about later. In their perception, they are usually right. And they are ready to convince others of that, too. Usually in a charming yet assertive way. As such, they can be unpleasant employees and team members. Many entrepreneurs share this personality type.
Dominant and conscientious people
They are characterized by their solution-oriented approach and determination. They like to work alone, solve complex problems, and implement ideas independently and practically. They are highly effective. For them, effectiveness tends to be the most important attribute for people.
Influencing and steady people
They value friendly and harmonious teamwork. They crave acceptance, loyalty, trust, and security. They try to avoid conflict. They mediate and build bridges between people. When it comes to making a decision, they integrate others into the processes.
Influencing and conscientious people
These people are great at improvisers as they are known to be flexible yet competent in their field. However, they also plan thoroughly considering different eventualities, which gives them confidence. They like to involve other people and form teams, choosing team members strategically and carefully.
Steady and conscientious people
For them, high quality in everything they do comes first. They try to find the best solution for all parties involved and like to work in stable and harmonious groups where they feel safe to open up and contribute.
Influencing, steady and conscientious people
This well-balanced personality type is known to value harmonious relationships and personal recognition. They are great at organizing and planning. They understand and consider other people’s needs. Thus, they prove to be very helpful, and ready to find compromises. Building up trustworthy relationships is one of their key activities.
It is important to note, that for every person 3 different personality types exist:
- External: The personality type that they think is expected of them i.e. what they want to display to others.
- Internal: Their true personality.
- The personality that results from combining the external and internal personality. This is usually what summarizes best a person’s observable demeanor.
Considering the many benefits of tailoring your communication, I recommend taking one of these personality tests. If you work in a team, get everyone to participate. Share your results and talk about them. Ideally, you do this in new teams where people are still getting to know each other. A Project kick-off meeting or an extended retrospective of an agile team can be used for that.
When looking for a personality test, you will find that there are professional yet expansive tests that provide you with extensive personality analysis.
There are also a few websites that offer the test for free. These results are more superficial but a good way to get a first understanding of yourself and others around you.