The People Puzzle
By Dr. Tony Alessandra
One of your most valuable skills in any business is the ability to "read" people.
The people you interact with each day send you signals on how to work with
them most effectively. If you learn what to look and listen for, each person will tell
you exactly how to treat him effectively.
So what is there to read? Dozens of signals--verbal, vocal and visual, tell you
when to speed up or slow down, when to focus on the details, or when to work
on building the relationship with the other person. But why does your technique
work sometimes and not at other times? Mostly because people are different.
Everyone experiences the same basic human needs, but with each person some
needs are more dominant than others. The four major groupings of needs are
results, recognition, regimentation, and relationships.
For example, one person may be the type who measures his success by results.
To him, the finished product is the most important thing, and he'll do whatever it
takes, within reason, to get the job done. His dominant need is for
Then there is the sensitive, warm, supportive type of person whose dominant
need is relationships. This appeal that would work well with a results-oriented
person might be totally inappropriate for the person interested in relationships.
A third type of person usually places high value on recognition and measures
success by the amount of acknowledgment and praise he receives.
Conversely, another person will be more concerned with the content than the
congratulations. The primary need appears to be for regimentation. In other
words, things must be put together in neat packages that can be clearly
You can quickly see that a different type of appeal is necessary for each of these
four "personalities." Recognizing this is very important because once you've
learned the needs of each major behavior pattern, you will know how to work
more effectively with each type of person.
Behavioral Style Characteristics
When people act and react in social situations, they exhibit clues that help to
define their behavioral styles. You can identify behavioral style by watching for
the observable aspects of people's behavior -those verbal, vocal and visual
actions that people display when others are present. Undirected, you could
observe and try to catalogue thousands of behaviors in any one person. That
would quickly become an exercise in futility. But identifying behavioral style is
possible by classifying a person's behavioral on two dimensions: openness and
directness. It is much like measuring a foot for a shoe; make it wide enough for
the widest part and long enough for the longest part, and the rest of the foot will
fit someplace in between.
Openness is the readiness and willingness with which a person outwardly shows
emotions or feelings and develops interpersonal relationships.
Others commonly describe open people as being relaxed, warm, responsive,
informal, and personable. They tend to be relationship-oriented. In conversations
with others, open individuals share their personal feelings and like to tell stories
and anecdotes. They tend to be flexible about time and base their ' decisions
more on intuition and opinion than on hard facts and data. They also are likely to
behave dramatically and to give you immediate nonverbal feedback in
Guarded individuals commonly are seen as formal and proper. They tend to be
more guarded and aloof in their interpersonal relationships. These people are
more likely to follow the letter of the law and try to base their decisions on cold,
hard facts. Guarded individuals are usually very task oriented and disciplined
about time. As opposed to open people, they hide their personal feelings in the
presence of others.
Now consider the second dimension--directness. This refers to the amount of
control and forcefulness that a person attempts to exercise over situations or
other people, their thoughts and their emotions.
Direct people tend to "come on strong," take the social initiative, and create a
powerful first impression. They are fast-paced people, making swift decisions
and taking risks. They easily become impatient with others who cannot keep up
with their fast pace. They are very active people who do a lot of talking and
appear confident and sometimes dominant. Direct people express their opinions
readily and make emphatic statements.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, indirect people give the impression of
being quiet, shy, and reserved. They seem to be supportive and easy-going.
They tend to be security-conscious-moving slowly, meditation on their decisions,
and avoiding risks. They frequently ask questions and listen more than they talk.
They reserve their opinions and make tentative statements when they must take
Openness and directness levels vary among individuals, and any one person
may be high in one, low in the other, or somewhere in between. In other words,
everyone has some usual level of openness and some level of directness.
When directness is combined with openness it forms four different, recognizable,
and habitual behavior patterns or behavioral styles: the socializer, the director,
the thinker, and the relater.
Each style represents unique combinations of openness and directness and is
linked to separate and unique ways of behaving with others. The name given to
each style reflects a very general characteristic rather than a full or accurate
description. As you better understand why people behave the way they do, your
knowledge can help you communicate with others effectively and openly to help
them feel more comfortable in their interactions with you.
Socializer: Open and Direct
The socializer is high in both directness and openness, readily exhibiting such
characteristics as animation, intuitiveness, and liveliness. He is an idea
person--a dreamer--but he also can be viewed as manipulative, impetuous, and
excitable when displaying behavior inappropriate to a particular situation. The
socializer is a fast-paced person with spontaneous actions and decisions. He is
not concerned about facts and details, and tries to avoid them as much as
possible. This disregard for details may prompt him at times to exaggerate and
generalize facts and figures.
The socializer is more comfortable with "best guesstimates" than with carefully
researched facts. He thrives on involvement with people and usually works
quickly and enthusiastically with others.
The socializer always seems to be chasing dreams, but he has the uncanny
ability to catch others up in his dreams because of his good persuasive skills. He
always seems to be seeking approval and pats on the back for his
accomplishments and achievements. The socializer is a very creative person
who has that dynamic ability to think quickly on his feet.
Director: Direct and Guarded
The director is very direct and at the same time guarded. He exhibits firmness in
his relationships with others, is oriented toward productivity and goals, and is
concerned with bottom-line results. Closely allied to these positive traits,
however, are the negative ones of stubbornness, impatience, toughness, and
A director tends to take control of other people and situations and is decisive in
both his actions and decisions. He likes to move at an extremely fast pace and is
very impatient with delays. When other people can't keep up with his speed, he
views them as incompetent. The director's motto might well be "I want it done
right and l want it done now."
The director is typically a high achiever who exhibits very good administrative
skills; he certainly gets things done and makes things happen. The director likes
to do many things at the same time. He may start by juggling three things at the
same time, and as soon as he feels comfortable with those he picks up a fourth.
He keeps adding on until the pressure builds to such a point that he turns his
back and lets everything drop. Then he turns right around and starts the whole
process over again.
Thinker: Indirect and Guarded
The person who has the thinker-style behavior is both indirect and guarded. He
seems to be very concerned with the process of thinking, and is a persistent,
systematic problem-solver. But he also can be seen as aloof, picky, and critical.
A thinker is very security conscious and has a strong need to be right. This leads
him to an over-reliance on data collection. In his quest for data he tends to ask
many questions about specific details. His actions and decisions tend to be
The thinker works slowly and precisely by himself and prefers an intellectual
work environment that is organized and structured. He tends to be skeptical and
likes to see things in writing.
Although he is a great problem-solver, the thinker is a poor decision-maker, he
may keep collecting data even beyond the time when a decision is due, justifying
his caution by saying, "When you are making vast decisions, you cannot do it on
Relater: Open and Indirect
The fourth and last style, the relater, is open and unassertive, warm, supportive,
and reliable. However, the relater sometimes is seen by others as compliant,
soft-hearted, and acquiescent. The relater seeks security and belongingness and
like the thinker, is slow at taking action and making decisions. This
procrastination stems from his desire to avoid risky and unknown situations.
Before he takes action or makes a decision, he has to know how other people
feel about it.
The relater is the most people-oriented of all four styles. Having close, friendly,
personal, and first-name relationships with others is one of the most important
objectives of the relater's style.
The relater dislikes interpersonal conflicts so much that he sometimes says what
he thinks other people want to hear rather than what is really on his mind. The
relater has tremendous counseling skills and is extremely supportive of other
people. He also is an incredibly active listener. You usually feel good just being
with a relater. Because a relater listens so well to other people, when it comes
his turn to talk, people usually listen. This gives him an excellent ability to gain
support from others.
You may have concluded that one or more of the behavioral styles is better than
others. This is not the case. There is no "best" behavioral style. Each style has
its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and successful people as well as
failures populate each style group.
By now you may have identified in yourself some characteristics of all four
behavior styles. That's natural. People possess traits from all four styles in
varying degrees. Depending upon circumstances, on any given day one style
may be more dominant than any of the others: however, most people do have a
single dominant behavioral style. Like a theme in a musical composition,
behavioral style is a recurring and predictable component. But like variations on
a theme, people also possess traits that vary from their dominant style traits. And
in selling situations, it is very important to be aware of the style that the other
person is exhibiting at each and every contact.
Behavioral flexibility is something you do to yourself, not to others. It occurs
when you step out of your own comfort zone-your own style preferences-to
meet another's needs. It occurs each time you slow down for a relater or thinker,
or when you move faster for a director or socializer. It occurs when a director or
thinker takes time to listen to a personal or family story from a relater or
Let's look at some specific guidelines for implementing behavioral flexibility as
you work with each of the four behavioral styles.
Be Agreeable with Socializers
The socializer likes to interact with other people, so try not to hurry the
discussion. Attempt to develop some mutually stimulating ideas together. Focus
your conversation on opinions, ideas and dreams; then try to support those.
If, during the conversation, you come to some point on which you are not in
agreement, try not to argue. You can't win an argument with a socializer.
Remember that the socializer deals in opinions and intuitions. Instead of arguing,
try to explore alternative solutions.
When you do reach an agreement with a socializer, iron out the specific details
concerning what, when, who, and how. Make absolutely sure that you both agree
on the specifics, and summarize in writing what you both have agreed upon even
though it may not appear necessary.
When prospects are Socializers:
o Be stimulating and show your interest in them. Allow them
time to talk.
o Meet them boldly; don't be shy. Introduce yourself first.
o Study their dreams and goals as well as their other needs.
o Propose your solution with stories or illustrations that relate to
them and their goals.
o Confirm the details in writing. Be clear and direct.
Talk Business with Directors
Directors are easy to deal with so long as you are precise, efficient,
time-disciplined, and well organized. Make sure you keep your relationship
businesslike; do not attempt to establish a personal relationship unless that is
one of the director's objectives. Focus your conversation around the director's
goals. Remember that the director is the most goal-oriented,
achievement-oriented, and task oriented of any of the four behavioral styles.
If, during the conversation, you must take issue with a director, argue the facts,
not personal feelings. Make sure you can back up your statements with solid,
tangible proof. You should provide the director with options; directors like to
make their own decisions. Above all else, make sure that you get right to the
point and do not waste time.
When working with Directors:
o Plan to be prepared, organized fast-paced, and to the point.
o Meet them in a professional and businesslike manner.
o Study their goals and objectives-what they want to do and how.
o Proposed solutions and clearly defined consequences and rewards
that relate specifically to the director's goals.
o Provide two or three options and let the director make the
Thinkers Want Accuracy
Try to be systematic, exact, organized, and prepared with the thinker. Try to
support the thinker's organized, thoughtful approach. Any contributions you can
make toward the thinker's objectives should be demonstrated through actions
rather than words whenever possible. Thinkers may request solid, tangible,
factual evidence that what you say is true and accurate.
List the advantages and disadvantages for anything you propose and have
viable alternatives for dealing effectively with the disadvantages. If you do not
bring up the obvious disadvantages, the thinker will certainly find them and
assume that you are hiding things. That will be the end of the relationship.
Try not to rush the decision-making process with thinkers; they need time to
verify your words and actions. Above all else, be accurate in your dealings with
thinkers; they demand it.
For best results with Thinkers:
o Plan to be well prepared to answer all their questions.
o Meet them cordially, but get down to business quickly.
o Study their situation in a practical, logical manner. Ask lots of questions and
make sure your questions show a clear direction.
o Propose logical solutions to their problems and offer documentation.
o Don't push; give them time to think.
Approach Relaters with Warmth
Try to support the relater's feelings, project the idea that you are interested in
him as a person. Move along in a slow, informal manner and constantly show the
relater that you are actively listening.
If you must disagree with the relater, do not debate facts and logic; discuss
personal opinions and feelings. If you quickly establish an objective and come to
a fast decision with a relater, try to explore any potential areas for
misunderstanding or dissatisfaction. The relater likes guarantees that any new
actions will involve a minimum risk. So, offer assurances of support. Try not to
rush the relater, but do provide guidance. Project genuine sincerity in your
Relaters will respond if you:
o Get to know them personally. Be likable and non-threatening, professional but
o Go at a slow pace. Develop trust, friendship, and credibility.
o Study their feelings and emotional needs as well as their practical needs. Take
time to get them to spell our what is really important to them.
o Don't push or rush. Offer personal assurances whenever you can.
o Be consistent and regular in your communications. Give them nurturing and
The Benefits to You
The ultimate reward for practicing flexibility is the establishment of trust, rapport,
and credibility with others. This can be accomplished only in open, honest,
tension-free relationships. When you treat other people inappropriately, it makes
them feel uncomfortable with you and raises their tension level. And that is
certainly counterproductive to any selling situation.
Accepting and understanding the fact that people are different and therefore
need to be treated differently is crucial if you want to effectively sell your services
to others. Go one step further and acquire competence in identifying these
critical differences in people. The practice of sales flexibility will lead to less
tension and higher levels of trust and credibility in all your sales relationships.
The bottom-line payoff is better rapport with all your prospects. These improved
relationships combined with greater sales productivity are powerful benefits for
simply learning how to be flexible in working with different types of people.