Personality types, communication styles and how to use them

Most personality tests, including the best-known, the Myers-Briggs Typology Inventory, are based on the work of psychologist, Carl Jung 1875-1961. Jung categorised personalities into ‘types’, and psychologists and management theorists quickly spotted their potential for improving the way we understand and get along with family, friends and colleagues.

You may well have taken a Myers-Briggs test at some point in your career, or heard other colleagues talking about their test result, which (in shorthand) is expressed as four letters, such as: ENTJ or INFP. Myers-Briggs is perhaps the best known of the typology tests, but what do the results mean, and how do you use this tool at work?

The letters stand for different personality traits or attitudes. When translated into the working world, they can denote how a person likes to be communicated with, and what strengths they bring to a team or a project. They can help to shed light on office clashes, tensions, misunderstandings and relationship difficulties. Often, discord is less to do with what is being presented than how it is being presented.

In office environments where Myers-Briggs has become part of the culture, a person’s typology may be included in recruitment processes and team design, with people freely comparing notes on their personality types.

By understanding the types, and subtly adapting your behavior to increase the comfort level of the other person, you can increase rapport, relieve discomfort, improve understanding and bridge relationships between colleagues.

A simple way of personality typing

All of this is only useful if you can easily establish the personality type of both yourself and the other people involved, and often it’s not appropriate to ask. Luckily, Industrial psychologist David Merrill came up with a handy alternative back in 1921, when he realised we could usually ‘type’ people by watching their behaviour. Merrill called his types, ‘communication styles’, and named them:

  • Analytical
  • Amiable
  • Expressive
  • Driver

The characteristics of his personality types share commonalities with the types identified by most of the popular typologies:

Analyticals like a lot of data in order to make decisions – information is their comfort zone. For this reason, decisions can take a long time, because Analyticals need to be sure. They are not good with blue-sky thinking or with taking fuzzy orders, especially if they have to hurry or approximate anything. They like detailed reports and well-worked arguments. They will talk through points at length, often frustrating Driver and Expressive personality types. They are less tuned in to abstract concepts and inferences than other types. They are often happiest working alone.

Amiable personality types are the faithful labradors of the personality set. Without them, no work would get done. They are the grafters, the planners, the cheerful completers. They can do anything, and if they can’t, they know a man who can. They are the conscience of any project, making sure everyone who needs to be told or consulted about something is told or consulted. They are tolerant, and will be the quickest to forgive the extremes of the other styles. They will work until the job is done. They love to be asked for their opinion or for help, and can take a lot of responsibility, but they dislike uncertainty, so have your broad plan or direction, and your desired outcomes, worked out before roping them in.

Expressive personality types are the cheerful advocates of the profile set. They are sociable and happy, the loudest voices in the office, along with Amiables the best networked, and the ones most likely to drag everyone off to the pub. An Expressive will finish your sentence. They are imaginative and creative, and will take your idea and build it into something you never dreamed it could be. Expressives are approximate, fast-moving, broad-brush and blue-sky. They don’t do detail, and they hate slowing down. They tend not to deal with conflict well, because they want everyone to be happy and comfortable.

Drivers are the managing director personality types. They are natural leaders, making decisions quickly and delegating naturally. They are fast-moving and results-driven; often frustrated by others’ preference for caution and detail. They can be prone to aggression, and to leaving people behind as they punch through barriers, but they will deliver the job on time, under budget, and with all measures exceeded, albeit with a few casualties along the way. They have and set clear vision, and are generally good motivators of others.

It is useful to picture the personalities on a wheel, so that their interplay can be more easily seen. Drivers are opposite personality types to Amiables, and Analyticals are opposite Expressives.

A similar ‘shorthand’ for personality types has been adopted by the Insights organisation ( Insights use colour-coded the types, so that (as a rough correlation), Analyticals are blue, Amiables are green, Expressives are yellow and Drivers are red. Insights also allow for the personality types which sit between the predominant four, so, on a wheel, a person might be a red-blue or a red-yellow or a green-blue.

What do I need to know about personality types?

If you are getting used to working with a new boss or team, it can sometimes feel as though nothing you say is having the right effect! If you understand a little about each person’s likely personality type, it can help you to converse in a way that makes them feel comfortable. For instance, if you are a bit of a Driver, Amiables who work for you might feel rather thrown off balance by your go-ahead attitude. You might have more success if you let them lead the conversation and tell you how the department works. If you are a data-loving Analytical, and work with an Expressive boss, he or she might think you slow, unsure and pondering. Simply speeding up your sentences and choosing when not to add detail can improve rapport considerably.

Where can I find more information about personality types and take a test?

Human Metrics is a web site which has all kinds of personal tests and inventories, most of them for free. They include a free version of the Myers-Briggs Typology Inventory online. Although very much cut down from the full version, it is still surprisingly accurate.

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