March 27, 2003
By Phil Stella
This is Part 2 of our series about Communication Styles by Phil Stella. Part 1 described how you can determine your own communication style. Part 2 explains how you can detect other people’s style.
Look for Clues
Start becoming more aware of the signals other people send you about their basic communication style. Look for clues in how they sound on the phone or in person, as well as how they dress or what their workspace may look like.
While this process is quite subjective and you won’t guess right all the time, enough clues can generally point you in the right direction. Remember, we all have a component of each style, with some more pronounced than others. And, we can change based on situations or circumstances. Bottom line, if a person sounds like a Driver, acts like a Driver and looks like a Driver, treat him or her like a Driver, even if he or she is really an Enthusiast wearing the Driver hat that day.
Clues on the Phone
- Drivers and Enthusiasts sound similar, because they’re both extroverted personalities. They both talk louder, faster and more animated than Amiables or Perfectionists. But, Drivers use more power words and are more terse and Expressives use more feeling words and are more wordy.
- Amiables and Perfectionists also sound similar, because they’re both introverted personalities. They both talk softer, slower and less animated than Drivers or Enthusiasts. Amiables talk more about feelings for others or the group while Perfectionists focus more on facts and numbers. Perfectionists tend to pause longer, especially when they think about the response to a question or need to process information they’ve just heard.
Clues from Appearance
Let’s presume four people are all at the same organizational level with the same job function and it’s casual day at work.
- The Driver is likely to wear neat, clean, conservative and expensive looking casual clothes. Often, he or she will wear a shirt with a logo signifying accomplishment or status, such as an exclusive country club, expensive resort or elite group like the “President’s Club”.
- The Enthusiast is likely to wear more casual or less impressive clothing that is fun or creative. Look for humorous imprinted shirts, silly or artistic ties or scarves, funky jewelry or colorful combinations.
- The Amiable is likely to wear comfortable clothes, often representing loyalty to a team – pro, college or school-related. Look for company logo items as Amiables are very loyal to their organization.
- The Perfectionist is less likely to be concerned about appearance than the other types – often wearing old, wrinkled or mismatched clothes. Dressing to impress or entertain is not very important to Perfectionists.
Clues from Workspace
Even someone’s space can suggest style characteristics. Let’s visit the same four people again, each with the same size and outfitted office.
- The Driver’s space is typically neat and orderly – no clutter. Driver’s like to display symbols of achievement – diplomas, awards, picture with the company president, etc. An expensive-looking family picture will likely have the Driver in the center.
- The Enthusiast’s space is busy and cluttered. They like motivating or entertaining posters on the walls and and lots of toys or memorabilia. They’ll have lots of family pictures, including snapshots.
- The Amiable’s space is comfortable – extra chairs, a coffee pot or candy jar. They like company posters or slogans on the walls. They’ll have lots of family and team pictures from work and their personal lives.
- The Perfectionist’s space has lots of stuff, especially spreadsheets, but it’s orderly. They like white boards, charts or graphs on the walls. They’ll have very few pictures, but they are likely to have the most powerful computer with a printer.
Adapting to Others’ Styles
So, you’ve determined the probable style of someone you interact with – a manager, a peer, a customer. Now what do you do? Just practice the “Platinum Rule” and interact with that person the way he or she wants you to.
For Drivers – be brief, focused and specific. Don’t waste their time, especially with small talk. Do your homework. Ask good questions, but not too many. Present choices, but let them make the decisions. Praise their accomplishments and drive. Mirror their brevity, speaking style and language.
For Enthusiasts – engage them more in conversation, but subtly try to keep the conversation on track. Don’t overdo the detail or numbers. Focus on the big picture. Value their creativity and talent. Give them opportunities to shine. Mirror their enthusiasm, speaking style and language.
For Amiables – value their opinions and input. Praise their teamwork and loyalty. Allow them the time to speak up or react to change. Assure them the needs of the team or organization will be considered and risks will be minimized and controlled. Mirror their concern, speaking style and language.
For Perfectionists – minimize the small talk. Give them the details they need to make logical decisions – often up front and in writing. Slow down and give them enough time to digest the data and analyze alternatives. But, help them to avoid “paralysis by analysis.” Mirror their dedication to accuracy, speaking style and language.
As you can see, “The Platinum Rule of Communicating” takes much more work than “The Golden Rule,” but allows you to deal with other people as individuals. You won’t always guess correctly or make the right adaptation decision. But anything is better than treating everyone the same and the same as you. Modifying your basic style slightly will increase their comfort, decrease their frustration and maximize the success of each interaction.
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Phil Stella is a resource for business people who want to communicate with more power and success, and runs Effective Training & Communication, Inc. (440-449-0356). A founding member of MCA-I/Cleveland, he has been active nationally for over 10 years and received the Board of Directors award for distinguished service. As a professional trainer and speaker, he has delivered popular workshops at many national conferences and chapter events around the country.