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S ometimes someone’s personality style is easy to recognize. Think of these four people, all of whom are on Gallup’s list of people that Americans most widely admired in the twentieth cen -

tury 1 : Margaret Thatcher, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, and Albert Einstein. Margaret Thatcher’s nickname, the Iron Lady, sug - gests her Direct style. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech epitomizes the Spirited outlook. Mother Teresa’s compassion re - veals her Considerate style, and Albert Einstein’s tenacious problem- solving ability is a sign of his Systematic style. These familiar figures have defining characteristics that make their personality styles easy to identify. But simply recognizing the personality styles of famous people is rather meaningless—what counts is identifying the styles of the people you interact with every day. And to actually benefit from ap - plying the information, you need to recognize an individual’s per - sonality style accurately. That’s why it’s important to examine a wide range of signs, indicators, and clues. Here’s an example:

Allison works for Justin. She learned about personality styles and guessed that Justin was a Systematic, based on the fact that he seemed to be like her—independent and not very emotional. So she prepared a detailed analysis of a recent single-market product launch. She collected extensive data and spent many hours organizing and evaluating the results. To her,


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it was obvious that the product launch was a failure. When she presented her conclusion to Justin, he glanced at it and said, “I’ve already decided that we’re going to launch the product in all of our markets.” Allison was stunned. “Don’t you need to review the data? I think you might reach a different conclu- sion,” she said. Justin replied, “Nope. I know what we need to do to make this profitable, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Allison’s misreading of Justin’s personality style hampered her effort to help him make a rational, logical decision about the product launch. When she was decoding his personality style, she saw only what she wanted to see, and, as a result, she made a miscalculation that negatively affected the outcome of the decision, in her opinion. There are several ways to recognize another person’s person- ality style. The first is to observe—look at his workspace, his body language, even how he learns. The second is to listen—you will hear clues in both his language and his tone of voice. The last way to de - termine another person’s personality style, and perhaps the most re - vealing, is to interact with him—you will see clues in how this person participates (or not) as a team member, how he manages or super - vises others (if he has that role), and how he manages his time. You may have a question at this point—what if I can’t observe or interact with people face to face? For example, you may work from home, or you may work with colleagues who are located in another geographic region. You may interact with others primarily through phone and e-mail. At the end of this chapter, you’ll find some tips for recogniz - ing personality styles in a virtual or remote world where there is little or no face-to-face contact.

Observe Personality Style Clues

You may be able to identify other people’s personality styles simply by observing them and their environments.


First, take the “desk test”—try it out on yourself first, and then ap - ply it to other people. Take a look at your own workspace. Read the


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Ways to Learn at Work

On-the-job Job rotation or cross-training Coaching and mentoring Shadowing or observation Problem-solving or brainstorming groups Simulation activities Workshops and classroom training Conferences and seminars E-learning Independent research User groups Formal continuing education classes

following descriptions and choose the one that most closely reflects your workspace.

  • 1. Your desk is messy ! Papers are strewn everywhere, along with magazines, receipts, forms, books, and other things. The walls are covered with a variety of posters, inspirational say - ings, notes and reminders, and so on. If you have space, there is a seating area where two people can sit next to each other.

  • 2. Your desk is covered with paperwork, but it’s organized in piles. On the wall, a large planning calendar hangs alongside your diplomas and awards. Family or personal photos are lo - cated discreetly in the corner. Your chair is substantial, and guest/visitor seating is located across from the desk.

  • 3. Your desk is cluttered, but you know where everything is. Family photos are prominently displayed on your desk, along with mementos from events that are important to you. The walls are covered with serene landscapes, group photos, and other personal items. If there is a seating area, you have a comfy couch where you can talk with others side by side.


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4. Your desk is tidy and clear of papers, except what you’re cur - rently working on. You clean off your desk every night, and your work files are extremely organized. Job-related information— charts, graphs, calendars, and other such material—is neatly displayed on the walls. You like to use the latest technology to work more efficiently whenever possible.

The first choice describes a Spirited work area, the second de - scribes a Direct, the third describes a Considerate style, and the fourth choice describes a Systematic style. Examining someone’s workspace provides a quick clue to her personality style.

How People Learn

Another way to determine an individual’s personality style is to ob - serve how he likes to learn. There are four basic learning styles:

whether the person prefers to learn by doing or learn by thinking, and whether he prefers to learn in a group or on his own (see Figure 3.1). 2

Direct Style Learning. People with the Direct style prefer to learn in - dependently and by doing, rather than by thinking and reflecting. They want to take charge of their own learning, and they don’t want




Figure 3.1 How People Learn


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to waste time. So, if you notice that a coworker seems extremely bored or impatient in a training class, that is a clue that the person may have a Direct style. And if that person seems to learn by trial and error, that’s another sign of a Direct style.

Spirited Style Learning. People with the Spirited style prefer to learn by doing, but with others. They are likely to enjoy being mentored, and they love attending conferences and workshops with people from outside the organization. If you notice someone who resists completing an online self-study program, that is a clue that the indi- vidual has a Spirited style.

Considerate Style Learning. People with the Considerate style prefer to learn by thinking and reflecting, but in a group. Considerate individ- uals usually enjoy traditional classroom training and team-building activities, as opposed to self-study programs or just jumping in and taking on a new project. If you are a manager and one of your employ- ees requires a lot of hand-holding when you assign her a new project, that is a clue that the employee may have a Considerate style.

Systematic Style Learning. People with the Systematic style prefer to learn by independent thinking. Because of that, if you notice some - one in a classroom training setting who is reluctant to participate, that person may have a Systematic style. These people generally pre - fer self-study options and often seek out web-based training or simi- lar opportunities. They learn better with a structured approach than with an informal approach.

Body Language

Observing people’s body language provides huge clues to their per - sonality style. See if you can identify each person’s personality style using the following scenario:

You have just been hired, and your new boss is introducing you to the other members of your team.

Clark gives you a short handshake, briefly makes eye contact, says “Hello,” and waits for you to respond.


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Christopher gives you a gentle handshake, makes eye contact briefly, then stands close to you and says, “Hi, how are you?”

Melissa looks you directly in the eye, gives you a firm handshake, says “Nice to meet you,” and then turns away.

Tracy gives you a warm handshake and makes frequent eye contact. She stands close to you and says, “Hello; we’re so glad to have you join us as part of our team.”

Direct Style Body Language. People with a Direct style generally will make sustained eye contact with you. They have a firm handshake, and they tend to use strong and pronounced gestures to empha - size their points. They move quickly and maintain a larger personal space—the distance between you and them. In the example, Melissa displayed a Direct style.

Spirited Style Body Language. People with a Spirited style generally will make frequent eye contact with you. They have an enthusiastic handshake, and they use lots of gestures (“talk with their hands”) when talking. They move quickly and maintain a close personal space—the distance between you and them. In the example, Tracy demonstrated a Spirited style.

Considerate Style Body Language. People with a Considerate style

generally will make regular but not constant eye contact with you. They have a gentle handshake and are the most likely of all styles to touch an arm or a shoulder. They move more slowly and use smaller gestures when communicating. In the example, Christopher demon - strated a Considerate style.

Systematic Style Body Language. People with a Systematic style gen- erally will make limited eye contact with you. They have a brief hand- shake and avoid touching otherwise. They move deliberately and use very few gestures when communicating. In our example, Clark dis - played a Systematic style.


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Listen for Personality Style Clues

Another way to identify another person’s personality style is to listen carefully. People give you clues through their words and tone of voice. Listen in on these conversations:

Derek is Sally’s manager, and Sally supervises Michelle and Don.

Derek (cordially): “Sally, can I share an idea that I think will make you an even better manager? I’ve noticed that you spend a lot of time in your office with the door closed. I know you’re trying to concentrate, but you’re giving the impression that you’re unavailable to the people on your staff. They don’t feel like they can talk to you. I know this because they have come to me instead. And you know me; I’m willing to talk to them. But really, you need to find out what’s going on with them and give them the support they need.” sally (stiffly): “OK, but I’m not going to be all buddy-buddy with them.” Derek (laughing): “You don’t have to be—although it couldn’t hurt. Just focus on any problems they’re encountering, and how you can help resolve them. You’re good at that.”

Later, Sally calls Michelle into her office.

sally: “You received my e-mail about establishing regular meeting times with each of my employees. Did you make a list of issues and obstacles you would like to discuss?” Michelle (concerned): “Is there a problem? I’m not sure why you’re asking me for this information all of a sudden.” sally: “I’m trying to keep everyone’s projects organized and on track.” Michelle: “Do you have too much to do? You seem like you’re under a lot of pressure. Is there something I can do to help?” sally: “No. I have a lot going on, but it’s not more than I can handle.”


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Michelle: “Well, OK. But if you need help, just let me know.” Finally, Sally calls Don into her office. sally: “You received my e-mail about—” Don (curt): “Let me stop you right there. Yes, I received it, and I can tell you everything is under control.”

Direct Style Verbal Communication. People with a Direct style gen-

erally use direct language. They say things like, “ You must,” “ You should,” or “I want you to.” They don’t use any hedge phrases, such as “sort of,” “kind of,” “maybe,” or “a little bit.” They often jump imme - diately into the heart of the conversation without making small talk, and they frequently interrupt others. In fact, one of their shortcom- ings is that they tend to be poor listeners. They express their opin- ions readily, and they may state their opinions as facts. They speak quickly, and their volume is usually loud. If you find yourself being talked to, rather than engaged in a two-way dialogue, you are proba- bly talking to a Direct individual.

Spirited Style Verbal Communication. People with a Spirited style like

to talk. They use enthusiastic and persuasive language, often making sweeping statements and generalizations, and possibly even exag - gerations, but you are not likely to hear many details. They like to add exclamations, such as “ Wow!,” “Fabulous!,” “ Wonderful!,” or “Fan - tastic!” They express their opinions easily and want you to agree with them. Their conversations tend to go off on tangents and to share a mixture of both personal and work information. If you find yourself listening to a great story, you are probably talking to a Spirited indi- vidual.

Considerate Style Verbal Communication. The first thing to notice

about people with a Considerate style is that they often listen before

they speak. They hesitate to offer their opinions, especially if they be - lieve that doing so will cause conflict or discord. They generally use

inclusive language, such as, “ What if we


. . .

,” or “ What do you think

. . . ?” They tend to speak more slowly, using a softer voice than

people with other styles and pausing more during their conversa- tion. If you find yourself in a conversation where the other person is


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Table 3.1 Verbal Communication Differences






Type of

Uses direct


Uses inclusive

Uses precise







such as

and persuasive

“you must” or “you should”



Speaks quickly

Tendency to

Speaks slowly

Speaks with


and loudly


and softly

little emotion

Opinions vs.

May state


Reluctant to

Shares facts


opinions as


offer opinions

and data more



than opinions

Talking style

Tendency to

Talks a lot

Listens before

Has focused





Small talk

Little small talk

Lots of small

Lots of small

Limited small




deferring to your opinion or point of view, you are probably talking to a Considerate person.

Systematic Style Verbal Communication. People with a Systematic

style use precise language. They prefer to discuss facts and data rather than opinions and feelings. When they do share their opin- ions, these will be based on logic and methodical analysis. They tend to speak in a monotone without much vocal variety, and their volume is not too loud or too soft. They don’t engage in much small talk or social conversation; their conversations tend to stay focused on the subject at hand. If you find yourself in a conversation that is focused on details and devoid of emotion, you are probably talking to a Sys - tematic individual. Table 3.1 summarizes the differences among the different com- munication styles.

Copyrighted Material recognizing Personality styles Table 3.1 Verbal Communication Differences Direct Spirited Considerate Systematic Type of

Exercise: Identifying Personality Styles

Let’s revisit Derek, Sally, Michelle, and Don. What insights did you gain from reading about each style? Which personality style would you assign to each person?