Adapting to Their Style

WE COMMONLY HEAR the phrase “just be yourself”, but following that advice is not necessarily the best thing do to if you want to increase your chances of influencing someone else. In fact, in many situations you are likely to have much greater success if you deliberately modify your own behaviour and personal style of communication to accommodate the person you are dealing with. 

When you think about it, all of us do that anyway. No one will talk to their CEO in the same way they speak to a colleague who sits at the next desk. Similarly, everyone knows how to address “the guy from IT”, and that is markedly different from the method used to talk to the managing director’s secretary.

We instinctively recognise that everyone is different, but we do not always take the next logical step to enhance our ability to influence by minimising differences and being more like the other person.

That is not to suggest trying to change your basic personality, but most of us can certainly benefit from being more flexible when interacting with different people and coping with new situations.

The first step is to be comfortable with yourself, while appreciating others on the individual level. By doing this, you can build stronger relationships and improve the level of rapport with managers, colleagues or employees. In the end, you will find it far easier to influence someone with whom you have established good rapport.

One model for learning how to read people and adapt your own style is based on observing others in a business environment. It identifies four main personality types: expressive, amiable, analytical and driver.

Someone defined as expressive is spontaneous, enthusiastic and imaginative. They will be proud of their achievements, tend to avoid facts and details, and will prefer to focus on the big picture. They will thrive on competition, make decisions on gut instinct and allow their egos into the boardroom. Expressive people are also often well suited for frontline positions as part of the sales and marketing teams.

The second character type is amiable. Such people are warm, supportive, easy-going and friendly. They will put the team first and give others the time and attention they need. Generally, they are people oriented and very proud of their relationships. If you visit their office, you are likely to see photos of family, social gatherings, and even their pets. 

They tend to make decisions only when they are sure of what others think and feel. In the business world, the amiable types often take on roles in human resources, training and development, and support functions.

Next is the analytical person. They are extremely logical, process-oriented and think in a structured way. Their style is to pay attention to facts, figures and details, and to ignore unsubstantiated claims. They are rational and will make decisions after gathering and analysing all the necessary information. Typically, they enjoy technical challenges and work as qualified accountants, engineers or lawyers.

Finally, there is the driver, and the chances are you are working for one. You can expect this person to be direct, aggressive and determined. They will want to see action and results and to hear no excuses. As CEOs, country managers or department heads, these people have responsibility for delivering the bottom line, and focus on achieving targets. Their behaviour may well seem controlling and dominant.

When considering these four types, most of us will immediately think of a colleague or client who fits each of the profiles. However, a person need not necessarily fall into just one category. People can exhibit different modes of behaviour, depending on the situation. For example, a CEO who is now a driver may have a background in finance and be keen to check every detail. Or, an amiable character can become confrontational when a ruling will have a negative impact. 

If the first step is to understand the person you are trying to influence, the next is to start adapting your style. Being flexible is the key because there is no magic formula which determines how to behave when dealing with the different character types. However, there are certain guidelines which may help.

With an expressive person, present the general or overall concept before going into detail. Give your recommendation upfront; do not build towards it. Also, focus squarely on what is new. Try to engage the other person's emotions including pride, ego and status, not the rational elements such as price, timing and quality. The rational things are still important, but emotions will guide the decision. Focus on how your recommendation will affect the other person and, if appropriate, offer a compliment or a few words of praise about their accomplishments. 

Use an alternative strategy with someone whose style is amiable. Begin with small talk to establish rapport and emphasise your personal commitment. Then, during discussions, refer to “we” and “us”, do not push too hard and be sure to avoid arguments. 

If your counterpart feels uncomfortable, they will tend to clam up and become resistant to your ideas. Remember, it is all about their team. A CEO will not care if the team has to work all weekend to complete a report, but the amiable person will.

Someone who is analytical needs to hear the details first. Therefore, walk them through the process or proposal and include comments which clearly indicate time frames. 

Before deciding anything, they will probably want to see facts, figures, graphs and charts. Your approach should focus on the rational, be relatively low key, and allow sufficient time to mull things over.

For a driver, get straight to the most important and relevant information. If you are presenting a new business plan, show the financial projections before the market research. Concentrate on the results and the bottom line; Act with confidence and conviction. Make each point once, say it clearly and then move on quickly to the next.

Adapting to others is an important part of the influencing process. You must recognise your own style and the style of the other person order to figure out what you may need to change. In business, people prefer to communicate and obtain information in a way that suits their personal style. 

The easier you make it for them to understand your ideas, the better the chance of influencing any outcome.


The principle of social proof
The third principle of influence mentioned by social psychologist Robert Cialdini is that we follow people who are similar to us. We are more willing to accept recommendations if we see others like us taking the same course. This is the principle of Social Proof and it recommends we should use peer power whenever possible. For years, businesses have used this in the sales process with their testimonials from satisfied customers and “refer a friend” marketing campaigns. The same principle can help a manager who needs to influence a team. If trying to launch an initiative which you know will meet resistance, focus your initial efforts on one person, rather than trying to convince everyone at once. If you can get support from an individual who is respected, you can use that person as an example for the rest of the group.

Understanding business styles
How do you figure out the style of the person you are trying to influence? It comes down to the powers of observation, but there are clues everywhere. The industry, company and their role in the organisation with give you plenty of insights. For example, an analytical person is more likely to be working for an IT company than an advertising agency. By reputation, few accountants are highly expressive. Another way is to review any previous correspondence. If the message ends with their “warmest regards”, the personal is probably amiable, perhaps even expressive. Someone who sends very brief emails, possibly from their mobile, may well be a driver. The same concept applies to listening for the clues in any voice messages or preliminary conversations. You have to pay attention to words, gestures, bearing, and the way people dress and behave. Based on a job title, you may start out thinking you are dealing with a driver, but keep looking for signs. The person may turn out to be more analytical, so be ready to adjust your message and manner accordingly.

Physical mirroring
Adapting to someone’s business style is not just about presenting information. The level of detail given, or the time spent on building rapport.  It is also about physical mirroring.  That means matching the voice speed, volume, tone, eye contact, posture, gestures and movement of the person you are trying to influence. Essentially, this is a combination of matching their energy level and mirroring their general physical presence.  If you are a naturally expressive marketing manager trying to influence an analytical financial controller, you may need to tone things down a bit.