This Simple Trick Will Help You Read People Better
They say there are two types of people in the world: those who think there are two types of people, and those who don’t.
It’s an old joke. But according to sales guru Dr. Tony Alessandra, dividing people up along two specific dimensions can be quite useful for something we could all get a little better at: reading people. Just as understanding where we fall on theskepticism–optimism scale can help us build our innovation muscles, properly assessing people’s communication style can help us figure out how to optimally interact in different situations, whether the context is business or the grocery checkout line.
Alessandra’s two human dimensions are openness and directness. “Openness is the readiness and willingness with which a person outwardly shows emotions or feelings and develops interpersonal relationships,” Alessandra explains. His definition of directness is a little more nuanced than the dictionary’s “trueness of course.” In reading people, Alessandra explains, directness is about “the amount of control and forcefulness that a person attempts to exercise over situations or other people.”
Like any business lesson, it seems, you can squeeze this one into a two-by-two matrix:
On each end of the openness spectrum you get open and guarded.
Open people tend to:
- Be described as “warm, responsive, informal, personable”
- Easily form relationships
- Be talkative
- Share personal feelings and stories
- Give nonverbal feedback in conversation
Guarded people tend to:
- Be described as “formal, proper, disciplined”
- Be more cautious about the relationships they form
- Be more likely to follow “letter of the law”
- Hide their personal feelings from those they’re not very close to
- Give less nonverbal feedback in conversation
The directness spectrum, of course, is simply direct to indirect.
Direct people tend to:
- Take initiative
- Create powerful (good or bad) first impressions
- Be swift to do things, make decisions
- Express strong opinions
- Speak emphatically
Indirect people tend to:
- Take their time on things, thinking or acting
- Avoid taking risks
- Ask questions and listen more than talk
- Make tentative statements
- Express opinions carefully
Everyone sits somewhere along the spectrum of both of these dimensions, Alessandra says, and paying attention to the combination of the two dimensions can help you read people better. He describes the four resulting categories as the following:
As the names imply, the best way to interact with, to win over, or to otherwise optimally connect with someone is to understand, if not appeal to, their corner of the matrix. E.g., socializers tend to respond well to directness and openness: enthusiasm, praise, big ideas and emotions, etc. The nice thing about Alessandra’s two dimensions it they are easy to spot.
We’ve been attempting to categorize and read people in some way like this since 400 B.C., when Hippocrates defined humans as sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. (I’m a relater, but if you feel like calling me “phlegm,” I suppose I can’t be offended.) Though he originally used these as medical diagnoses (which later were scientifically disproven), modern personality researchers often use them to refer to variations of the above four classes.
Whether nurture or nature is responsible for the quadrant in which we fall, our place is not permanent. A thinker can put on the right show of enthusiasm to appeal to a socializer if the moment calls for it. But it’s not necessary to become chameleons just because we know a little bit about reading people. Simply understanding what kind of a person someone else is—and that it’s okay to be in a different quadrant—helps us be less judgmental and have more empathy in conflict.
And who couldn’t use a little more of that?Image by KieferPix