When it comes to ordering a juicy steak at a restaurant, most of us have very specific preferences about how we like our steak cooked. If it arrives overcooked or undercooked we either send it back, or eat it as it is and make a mental note to find a new restaurant. In other words, we want it how we like it…our way.
When it comes to relating to and communicating with people in our lives, most of us have specific preferences as well. Some of us like it short and sweet, some like lots of information, some like it in between.
While most of us know what it takes to serve up a great steak, only a few of us really understand what takes to serve up communication that meets the wants and needs of the people in our lives.
Why is that? I think it’s a mixture. Part of it is lack of knowing how to read people, and part of it is lack of effort. It takes extreme effort to treat people how THEY want to be treated, instead of treating them how we feel like treating them.
I can’t teach you all you need to know about reading people in this brief article, but I can share with you some great resources (below), and perhaps give you enough to whet your appetite. I can also promise you that if you take the initiative to learn to read people, you will be on the path to creating the most extraordinary relationships of your life.
Theorists use different terms to describe the 4 most common communication styles (sometimes referred to as personality or behavior styles). We all have (and use) all 4 styles, but most of us have one or two preferences that work best for us. This very short lesson uses language from the model coined by Gary Smalley (more below) in his personality assessment work. Here’s a brief overview of the 4 different styles:
The Lion Style - Lions are known as the king of the jungle. They roar and they send the females out to hunt.
How To Recognize Them: Fast paced, quick thinker, more formal, more serious, opinionated
How To Best Communicate With Them: Focus on facts and results, show respect for their time and authority, think bullet points and executive summary
The Otter Style – Otters are very social and playful. They’ll put on a show for you if you give them an audience.
How To Recognize Them: Fun, communicates easily, wears bright colors, like to talk about themselves
How To Best Communicate With Them: Be entertaining and fast moving, ask about and acknowledge them, explain how they will benefit
The Golden Retriever Style – Golden Retrievers are known for their loyalty and companionship. They’ll love you no matter what.
How To Recognize Them: Accommodating and helpful, casual/simple clothing, laugh quietly but often, great listeners
How To Best Communicate With Them: Support their feelings, emphasize mutual goals, be warm and sincere, avoid challenging and confronting
The Beaver Style – Beavers are loners and are known for their extreme focus and attention to detail. They work tirelessly to build intricate dens with extreme precision.
How To Recognize Them: Quiet and more reserved, conservative/functional clothing, takes copious notes, waits for you to initiate conversation
How To Best Communicate With Them: Be clear and factual, provide details, allow them time to think and respond, support their logic
- Think of your own personal preferences. Which of the style best describes you?
- Now make a list of the important people in your life. Include your family, your colleagues, and boss, and don’t forget your clients and customers.
- Next, see if you can choose a style or two that fits them best (based upon what you know).
- Compare your own style to the styles of the people on your list. Notice how they’re alike and how they’re different.
If you’re like most people, you’ve been communicating with the others based on what works best for you. What changes do you need to make to communicate with them so it best meets THEIR needs? What changes WILL you make?
Learning to use this little model can virtually transform your relationships. But…it won't happen overnight! It will take planning, practice, trial and error, more planning, and more practice. Honestly, this is stuff works! And, it's the most important skill I learned in my career!
Gary Smalley – His personality assessment is here (although he no longer uses lions, otters, beavers and golden retrievers as a model) it’s still worth checking out. You can interpret your results at his site here. (Note: Skip the add at the top of the page and scroll down to look at the interpretations)
Tony Alessandra – As the author of The Platinum Rule: Discover the Four Basic Business Personalities and How They Can Lead You to Success, Tony is one of the masters in the field when it comes to reading people. Browse the back issues of his newsletter and sign up if you find his articles useful.
Discovering What Makes People Tick – A good article from the people at the Levinson Institute
Communication Styles Table – An excellent little tool created by Dr. Brackman