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Understanding Personality Types to Guide Behaviour

Understanding the type of personality someone has - the way they interact with and respond to people and information - can help you to refine your communications approach, to get the best outcome from every interaction with them. You can apply this understanding to provide focused attention that will get results in conversations and pitches, or as a check to ensure you have accounted for the variety of people you will encounter when presenting to a whole auditorium.

Of course, you won’t necessarily remember all this information in detail. But the principles that I explore here will stick. When you're working to affect positive change, it's important to be aware of what will really get people to act; to look for characteristics and then adapt your approach. It’s tempting to think that everyone else is just like you, that they perceive things as you do and act on things according to the same stimuli as you. They do not. You need to get to know the person in front of you, if you are to make a valuable connection.

The Four Tendencies

There are many ways people have divided up personality types but one I find the simplest to incorporate is Gretchen Rubin’s ‘Four Tendencies’. She distinguishes how people tend to respond to expectations: outer expectations (a deadline, a request) and inner expectations (write a novel in your free time, keep a New Year’s resolution). Our response to expectations determines our ‘Tendency’ - and these four types are Upholder, Questioner, Obliger or Rebel. Check out the diagram for their behaviours and how to service these.

Understanding Tendencies can help reduce conflict, create deeper connections and make significant, lasting change. As Rubin says, ‘When we understand ourselves and how our Tendency shapes our perspective on the world, we can adapt our circumstances to suit our own nature - and when we understand how other people’s Tendencies shape their perspective, we can engage with them more effectively.’

Most people are Questioners or Obligers. Rebel is the smallest category, then Upholder. I am an Upholder (Oh, if only you could see the beautiful array of post-its plotting things above my computer). It can sometimes be obvious what type someone is but, if not, get to know someone at the start of a conversation - forming that connection. Then you can understand how best to communicate the idea for change with them, how to work with them. I encourage you to take the quiz now at to discover your own Tendency and learn more about how to respond to others.

Jung’s Psychological Types

Alternatively, you may have heard of Jung’s eight types. Carl Jung said people experience the world in four ways (sensation, intuition, thinking and feeling) and with two temperaments (introversion and extraversion) and when you add up all the combinations of those you find eight personality cocktails. Understanding these personalities provides avenues into how someone will analyse the information you present them with and what they will do with it - i.e. if they will act according to how you hope they will.

In the excellent book ‘Pitching Ideas’, Jeroen van Geel outlines what characteristics you’ll spot in each type and how to adapt what you say for them. Here are some simple takeaways (but check out pitching for more):

Perceiving information:

  • Sensation: Interpreting things literally, asking questions, seeking pragmatic and practical solutions.

  • Intuition: Exploring and thinking creatively, seeing connections and patterns and thinking ‘why not?’

Processing information:

  • Thinking: Making decisions based on facts, preferring logic over emotion. Honest and direct.

  • Feeling: Socially sensitive, making decisions that have an emotional and values-based connection.

Of course, there are no clear lines between these functions, as Jung’s own model below shows. It’s good to keep this map in your mind and loosely place the person in front of you in some quadrant of the wheel. As Van Geel says, ‘It’s no use pitching a faraway abstract dream when someone is primarily an empirical thinker, as they naturally want things to be more concrete and measurable.’

Within all this, extroverts are more likely to ‘go for it’ but they are also more easily distracted. Introverts tend to be more focused but want to have observed and understood to their satisfaction before they can commit.

Of course, we all move around this wheel - our personalities are not static but shift according to context. But this does provide a good steer to our default - or dominant - settings, our most comfortable and receptive state generally.

So here you have two approaches to help you better understand the people you will be dealing with. You can go into a lot more detail if you’d like. But my advice: don’t make things too complicated - considering personality types should be a facilitator to better connections, not a science test that slows or prevents dynamic communication.


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