How different would your social interactions be if you could predict how the conversations would go?
We all present ourselves in this world anchored to our personalities, tendencies, histories, culture, outlook and all the other subtle things that shape who we are. These things influence how we think of ourselves, how we view others, and how we present ourselves in social settings. In most cases, we are not even aware of these traits as they are so ingrained in our personas.
The Study of Our Personalities
While we are distinct in our makeup, it has been determined through years of scientific study that when we (all) are grouped together in the aggregate, certain behavioral patterns emerge. Psychologists starting with Carl Jung have concluded that we predictably fall into certain defined groups based on our most pronounced traits.
These tendencies influence how we think and feel, process information, and interact with others. They give a concise yet not entirely conclusive snapshot of our fundamental personalities.
From this research was born the prevalence of the personality test. Two of the most popular are Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the DISC profile. And most recently, scientists have published a new study based on a large data set processed through sophisticated algorithms to conclude we all have four distinct personality types: Reserved, Role Models, Average and Self-centered.
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Using Science to Better Understand People
These tools used alone or in combination can be valuable for deepening our own self-awareness. They can also help us better understand the people in our lives whether we have known them for years or have just met them. When we learn more about the myriad personality classifications and keep them top of mind, we begin to see people in a whole new light. Armed with this perspective, we are able to better relate to others in a way they (i.e. our conversation partners) may find most comfortable.
Like a cheat sheet of sorts, quickly assessing an individual’s tendency helps you determine how best to approach the conversation. By knowing someone’s strongest personality preferences you can adapt your communication style (if you choose) to more quickly get into synch with them. It’s a universal truth that people are drawn to people who are like themselves. By adapting to be more like them you unconsciously put them at ease, build stronger rapport, and establish trust.
Imitation is the Highest Form of Flattery
One may argue that this is both disingenuous and manipulative. It is not intended to be. It is not meant to forsake your fundamental personality nor sham your conversation partner. Instead, it is utilizing the communication technique known as Mirroring. Mirroring is the behavior in which one person subtly or even unconsciously imitates the mannerisms, speech patterns, or attitude of another.
It is mostly an unconscious experience but it can be powerful because it positively affects the other individual’s perception about the one exhibiting the mirroring behaviors. Someone who is on the receiving end of mirroring witnesses mannerisms, speech patterns, and language that closely resembles their own. This is instinctively reassuring and attractive even if it’s not consciously processed.
This can be important and powerful when first impressions matter most. Like on the first date, the new client meeting, meeting the in-laws for the first time, or the final job interview.
When you are interacting with new people, it’s helpful to take some time to simply observe them. This gives you an opportunity to make an initial assessment. If you are in a two-person dialogue, buy some time by asking some broad open-ended questions to get them talking. Observe their mannerisms, their speech speed and tone, their eye contact, and their overall body language. Plus take note of the kind of words they use.
Be a Personality Detective
It’s kind of like doing field research. You will use this time to size them up just to get an initial sense of what they will most likely respond to.
Are they high energy or contemplative?
Do they like to talk or are they shy?
Is their outlook more analytical or theoretical?
Are they relaxed and aloof or highly competitive?
When I meet new people I sometimes think of dog breeds to help me gauge someone’s personality.
Mellow like a Bulldog
Hyper like a Jack Russell Terrier
Vain like a French Poodle
Playful like a Golden Retriever
Serious like a Doberman Pinscher
This is how I would adapt to each kind:
Mellow like a Bulldog - I would slow down my speech, probably be quieter, respect their privacy by not asking too many questions, give them more physical space, and expect more lulls in the conversation.
Hyper like a Jack Russell Terrier - I would speak faster with a higher pitch, maintain longer eye contact, express more enthusiasm for what they are sharing (I know….right?!!!), and share my own similar experiences with enthusiasm.
Vain like a French Poodle - I would compliment them on their appearance, perhaps a distinctive piece of jewelry. I would use more descriptive language giving a nod to the virtues of good taste and aesthetics. I would minimize my own stories and instead encourage them to talk more about themselves which they would likely enjoy.
Playful like a Golden Retriever - I would let loose a little, inject more humor, maybe be a little irreverent. I would use more action words and keep my tempo quick. I would encourage them to talk about things that they find fun and exciting like a memorable vacation experiences or sports.
Serious like a Doberman Pinscher - I would be more formal and guarded. I would minimize my facial expressions, the range of my voice, and hand gestures. I would attempt to be articulate in my speech and discuss things that are objective and factual as opposed to stories with a range of emotions.
This assessment is not meant to be taken too seriously but can be used as a fun exercise. I use it to help me feel more prepared and less nervous when starting conversations with new people.
Adapting to Personalities in the Workplace
This can also be helpful in the workplace especially when interacting with roles you need to influence.
I once had a boss who was very analytical and by no means a people person. He got excited about building complicated spreadsheets not about having difficult conversations or even idle chit-chat. When we interacted, I never made small talk and I never felt rude about it. Instead, I got straight to the point and spoke in the language of measurement, precision, and achievement. This was in contrast to other colleagues who thought it was only proper to make small talk and over-discuss issues. This, in turn, drove him crazy.
Conversely, I had another boss who was very sensitive, a hyper-perfectionist and strategic thinker. I would speak with her about the feelings of success we’d enjoy when we would accomplish our business objectives. I would play to her need for control and perfection by suggesting she do some of the more high profile parts of the work so she could feel ownership and take the credit. I played to her need to accentuate her image of competence and her need to control outcomes.
Experiment and Have Fun
So in any of your conversations regardless of the setting try to adapt your style in whatever way possible. It can draw you and your conversation partner together more quickly and it can create a joint feeling of being on the same page. Your efforts (if you practice this over time) will reward you with confidence and comfort in your conversations, especially new ones. And without realizing it, those you speak with will come to like you even though they can’t quite tell you why.
Try practicing mirroring in a casual conversation like with a new colleague, a new neighbor, or a stranger at a networking event. Adapt to your conversation partner in tone, speed, energy, vocabulary and body language. Be subtle about it and observe how they respond.
Where in your life do you see the concept of mirroring and adaptive communication style being most beneficial? I’d love to hear your thoughts.