Persuasion Success: Identifying Personality Differences

In their timeless book, Personal Styles & Effective Performance, David W. Merrill and Roger H. Reid explain that all people have a particular social style created by the conclusions others draw about them and based on what they do and say. The very definition of “behavior” is “what we say and do, and how we say and do it.”

Many behavioral preferences developed when we were young, in our desire to avoid tension and seek comfort. Thus, people don’t change their behavior as much they change their circumstances, just like a chameleon. When you can accurately assess another person’s behavioral preferences, you’re able to predict how he or she will respond in certain circumstances. For example, when your colleague receives a critique, does he redouble his efforts to prove the critic wrong? Or does he argue and rationalize his position? Chances are good that whatever the resulting behavior is, it’s typical of that person.

On the other hand, a person who behaves assertively can assist you in your persuasion efforts, a level-headed co-worker can help you sort through the clutter of your ask and the office peacemaker can negotiate differences and provide a supportive pep talk.

Merrill and Reid suggest that three measures of personality exist: assertiveness, responsiveness and versatility. Our concern here is assertiveness and responsiveness.

Assertiveness measures how forceful a person is in his approach: Does he ask or does he tell?

Responsiveness is the emotional dimension of personality: Does she express her feelings or are they contained?

Four Social Styles

Merrill and Reid developed four social styles based on assertiveness and responsiveness: Driving, Expressive, Amiable, and Analytical.

Driving Behavior

“Results.” “Action.” “Get it done now.” These terms describe people, ahem, driven by driving behavior. They are fast decision-makers and work best with those who respond in kind and move just as quickly. Driving personalities seek power and autonomy via facts and information. If these people encounter a roadblock, they will go through it and not around it.

Expressive Behavior

“Communicative” and “competitive” best describe expressive behavior. These individuals freely talk about their thoughts and emotions, and like to involve others. They don’t like to surround themselves with competitors, and they crave personal recognition. Like Drivers, Expressives act quickly. Their primary concern is the future, and they’ve been known to change direction midstream, demonstrating impatience. Expressives heavily weigh personal opinions — theirs and select others — when making decisions.

Amiable Behavior

Relationships and cooperation are important to Amiables. They are warm, likable and even prone to sentimentality. They have a tendency to take things personally, power doesn’t interest them and acceptance is paramount. Often slow movers, they will talk and consider decisions carefully with their confidants before saying “yes” or “no.” Amiables seek to minimize risk at all costs.

Analytical Behavior

Show me the logic. Show me the principles. Show me the data. Show me the objective third-party analysis. Analyticals want to know not only if something works, but how and why and who says. Others may see them as lacking energy or aloof, but don’t be fooled: They are using their energy for mental processing and consideration of all angles of a given topic. Analyticals don’t make friends easily or quickly, but once they do, relationships are important. Like Amiables, they avoid risk, because their desire to be right is almost all consuming.

Adapting Your Social Style for Agreement

How can you use the above information to hear “yes” more often? Cater to the other person’s preferences. Don’t treat others the way you would like to be treated; treat them the way they want to be treated.

  • Don’t small talk a Driver. Also: Share facts, not feelings, and use concision to get the decision.
  • Make the Expressive the star. Also: Resonate fun and high energy, and allow for digressions and stories.
  • Form bonds with Amiables. Also: Take a personal interest in them, and ask for their opinion.
  • Bring out your research arsenal for Analytics. Also: Use unqualified expert opinions, and leave no question unanswered.

The real challenge comes when your personality style matches that of your persuasion target. You’d think this would be a match made in heaven, but it isn’t.

A Driver working to persuade a Driver needs to not only move quickly but double-check the details.

An Expressive convincing an Expressive must be friendly and receptive while continuing to nudge the target toward the objective.

A pair of Amiables will require lots and lots of coffee.

And if you’re an Analytic attempting to persuade an Analytic, prepare for an exploration of the subatomic particles of your persuasion priority.

Identifying and catering to personality traits are key to when — and whether — you hear “yes.”