Many people have an automatic tendency to treat everyone in much the same way when they communicate. However, if you contemplate the differing natures of the people you meet, you will see that there are strong advantages of addressing them in a way that appeals to each individual.
The basic information you give will be the same for each but your way of getting it across and persuading each personality will need to be different.
There are many methods and systems for classifying humans. And if you can determine the kind of personality type you’re dealing with, you can increase your chances of persuading them.
A pioneer in this area is the psychologist Tony Alessandra. He insightfully classifies people into four broad behavioural types and recommends dealing with each of them in different ways.
These are extrovert, task-orientated people often found in positions of power. Picture those hirers and firers from the business world on the television show The Apprentice – Alan Sugar in the UK and Donald Trump in the US version – who relish grilling contestants and then removing those they see as underperformers.
The most important thing for the Director personality is getting the job done and hitting the right bottom line. This person tends to be direct, competitive and can appear impatient. Directors like to dominate and be in control. They’re attracted to specific, measurable results.
Tony Alessandra makes the point that Directors don’t tend to be naturally good listeners. Nonetheless, Directors tend to ask a lot of questions, and when they do so they want straight-to-the-point answers.
These are task-orientated introverts. However, be aware that if they do get to or close to the top they can sometimes portray themselves as less introverted because their own analysis suggests they need to appear more outgoing in a leadership role.
Accuracy and detail are important to Thinkers. They are more concerned with getting the job done properly the first time round than with anything else. They tend to focus more on the task itself than the people involved in it.
Thinkers don’t want to be rushed into making decisions. They like time to reflect while making use of their analytical skills.
When answering a Thinker’s questions, be aware that they want very specific, detailed information, and a methodical approach with evidence and proof.
These are extroverts with a strong relationship orientation. They are highly expressive. They like people. They enjoy talking about themselves and about you. Socialisers tend to be strongly motivated and thrive on achievement gained through people. They enjoy having a sense of influence.
Socialisers like to organise teams to accomplish tasks. They can be highly imaginative, energetic and conceptual.
In communication terms, the Socialiser can be most influenced by testimonials and stories that show the results of other people’s experiences. So, picking the right fascinating examples is especially important when you’re answering questions from a Socialiser.
These are people-orientated introverts. They are slow-paced, quiet types who are most concerned about being liked by others and getting along as part of a team.
Relaters do not want to be rushed and will become uneasy if you talk too quickly or insist on rapid decisions. The Relater values the opinions of others and gaining their approval.
In answering their questions Relaters want you to be patient, warm and friendly, to slowly emphasise important points and to highlight any positives for those working with them.
A key thing to remember with Relaters is that they very much care about the impact they have on others. So when it comes to answering their questions, if you can hit the ‘What’s In It For Those Around Them’ factor, you will increase your chances of getting the response you want.
Giving the right stuff to the right person
Now of course everybody you will ever be answering questions from is a unique individual – so they won’t all fit precisely into one of these four categories. Some will contain a mix of characteristics.
Whether your questioner fits easily into a single category, or is harder to define, what’s important is the fundamental underlying point that in one-to-one conversations it is helpful to shape your answers to best appeal to that particular questioner.
So, finding out more about your questioners in advance and selecting the most appropriate elements from your material for them is worth factoring into your preparations and performance.
By Michael Dodd
This is an edited extract from Great Answers to Tough Questions at Work by Michael Dodd (published by Capstone, June 2016).