How to Read People

Learning to read people isn’t difficult, but it’s a huge professional advantage and requires only three things: identification, observation, and practice.

As a human behavior consultant and career coach, it’s common for me to have conversations with my clients where I end up coaching them on some interpersonal conflict–it’s often the driver for clients seeking my services.

Learning to read and manage different personalities has been instrumental in virtually eliminating my own conflict with others.

There are a number of models to describe personality, yet the DISC personality profile is one of the most well-known. I’ll use this model to cover three key points:

  • The characteristics of the four personality styles
  • How to identify a person’s personality style
  • Simple techniques to improve communication with each style

The Four Personality Characteristics

It’s important to note 85% of people have a blend of two personality styles, while 15% of the population have only one. A person’s secondary personality trait influences their overall personality.

Dominance (D)
Dominance-driven people have strong personalities. They are task-oriented, decisive, big picture, results-focused, fast-paced, multi-tasking, verbal, take charge people. Two-thirds of leaders in the corporate environment have dominance as a primary or secondary personality style, because they like to take charge. Steve Jobs was Dominance-driven, as is Donald Trump.

Influence (I)
Influencers are similar to D personalities since they are also big picture, fast-paced, multi-tasking, and verbal people. The core difference is that I’s arerelationship-oriented, not task-oriented. Additionally, they are enthusiastic, energetic, inspirational, want to be liked, and enjoy recognition. I’s often gravitate toward fields working with people, such as Sales. Robin Williams was an I, as is Jay Leno.

Steadiness (S)
Steadfast people are similar to I’s in their relationship-orientation. Where they differ from I’s is they are more calm and less verbal. Steadfast personalities are completely opposite to Dominance-driven personalities. S’s work at a slow pace, are good listeners, project warmth and friendliness, are loyal, methodical, detail-oriented, and do not tend to multi-task. Steady people often seek work helping others, such as jobs in the non-profit sector, teaching, and counseling. Mother Teresa and Mr. Rogers were both S types.

Cautious/Conscientious (C)
Cautious people are similar to Steady personality types because they are detail-oriented (versus big picture), reserved, process oriented, and seek stability. However, C’s differ from S’s because they are task-oriented, not relationship-oriented. Bill Gates and Albert Einstein were C’s.

To summarize: D’s and C’s are task-oriented, I’s and S’s are relationship-oriented. D’s and I’s are fast-paced, big picture thinkers. C’s and S’s are detail-oriented and work at a moderate pace.

How to Identify Personality Style

There are three main cues for identifying personality: facial expression, hand gestures, and verbal cues.

Facial Expression
When talking to someone, how much do they smile?

  • Lots of smiles = I or S
  • Only socially required smiles = D or C (e.g. when being introduced)

Hand Gestures
How animated are the person’s hand gestures and body movement?

  • Slow and close to body = C or S
  • Fast and away from body = D or I

Verbal Cues
How fast does the person speak, and do they interrupt?

  • Speaks more slowly and will stop speaking when interrupted = S or C
  • Fast-paced speaker that doesn’t stop when interrupted = D or I

How much small talk?

  • Makes small talk (e.g. talks about personal life) = I or S
  • Sticks to task and work topics = D or C

Q: How can you tell if a person that smiles a lot is I or S?
A: Look at the hand gestures! Slow/close to body is an S. Fast and away from body is an I.

Q: How can you tell if a person that talks fast and interrupts is D or I?
A: If they are usually engaging in “small-talk” and smiling, they are an I. If they stick to task-related topics and are not smiling profusely, they are a D.

Simple Techniques to Improve Communication

People reading, and behavioral modification to adapt to the person you’re communicating with, can lead to improved interpersonal success in so many ways.

Another good application of people reading is a job interview. Using the personality identification tips should help you better connect and communicate with different styles and enhance rapport with interviewers.

What “do these” and “limit these” tips would you add based on your personality?

All the best to you!

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