Flexing Your Communication Style to Build High Performing Teams

Good business communication

Q: What type of person is the easiest to work with?

A: Someone with a personality just like your own.

Yet we have to work with all sorts of people. Some we naturally get along with, others are neutral, and then there are some who – for reasons we often can’t fully explain – just rub us up the wrong way. Yet to build a high performing team, we need to find ways to engage effectively with all kinds of people, including those who seem to see the world quite differently to the way we do.

Personality type can be a powerful lens through which to understand the dynamics at play, and can help us understand how we can change our communication style in order to work more productively with colleagues who have different personality types to our own. While there are many respected models of personality, most of these are not particularly useful for executives to apply in day-to-day situations. Some, like the OCEAN model are primarily designed with an academic audience in mind. Others, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are too complex to be practical for layperson use.

The DISC model, on the other hand, is simple, valid and highly practical in helping leaders be more effective in day-to-day situations. DISC divides people into four basic personality ‘types’: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness. Yes, people are complex and no one fits perfectly into a ‘box’, but there are certain patterns of behaviour that are typical to each type. An understanding of DISC equips you to flex your own preferred behavioural styles to communicate more effectively with those around you.

DISC model
Source: http://www.actioncoach.com/derekmair/promo/DISCelite

The north-south axis divides between people who are broadly more extraverted and outgoing (northern hemisphere) versus those who are more naturally introverted and reserved (southern hemisphere). The east-west axis divides between people who prefer to focus on task over people (western hemisphere) versus those who prefer to put people ahead of task (eastern hemisphere). Tensions between the types are often greatest on the diagonal:

  • Conscientiousness types vs Influence types; and
  • Dominance types vs Steadiness types.

To be clear, these are natural preferences, and the model does not suggest that people can’t use their non-preferred modes of behaviour. In fact, the entire point of the model is that by understanding our own and others’ natural preferences better, we’re able to make more conscious choices around our behaviour. Let’s look at each type individually.

Dominance Type


Those with Dominance as their primary personality type like to be in control. They care about getting results, now! They enjoy challenging themselves (witness the CEO who runs ultra-marathons on weekends) and challenging others. Winning and power really matter to them and, often, their deepest fear is losing control. They come across as intense and don’t suffer fools gladly. Not surprisingly then, they can come across as impatient. Steadiness types in particular can find Dominance personalities to be intimidating, uncaring and even rude.

Influence Type

CEO talks to one of her staff members

People whose key trait is Influence care about people, relationships and how they are perceived. They tend to be up-beat, sparky and charming. They love to talk and get to know others, and often have finely-tuned social awareness (which is why they’re often excellent in sales and marketing roles). They are action oriented and enjoy connecting people and helping them to collaborate. They often have lots of friends and have an active social life. They can be a little disorganised, starting projects with a rush of enthusiasm and but don’t always follow through. Their deep fear is social rejection, losing Influence or being ignored.

Steadiness Type

Thoughtful and introverted businessman

People who are primarily Steadiness types tend to be introverted and quiet. They are very supportive, like to be part of the team, but tend to be less comfortable with a lot of change. They are wonderful customers, because although they take time and patience to win over, they tend to be very loyal. They likely have a few very close friends and are patient, kind and are not driven by ego. They care deeply about people and have a deep need for harmony. Their greatest fear is change or loss, and they especially do not like to offend others.

Conscientiousness Type

Biz geek

People who are primarily Conscientiousness types are driven by a need for accuracy. They love data and delving deep into problems. They are often found in technical roles or areas where deep subject matter expertise is needed. If you need some important analysis done, and you want it done right, give it to a Conscientiousness type and then leave them to it. They tend to be calm, methodical and go where the data takes them. They enjoy challenging factual assumptions, and they have a deep fear of being proven wrong on the facts. If are presenting to a Conscientiousness type, you need to be prepared to answer questions in detail, and better have your facts straight. They come across a quiet, calm and sceptical, and are prone to perfectionism and overanalysing issues. They would be well-served to remember General George Patton’s maxim: “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week”.

Business leader

How to communicate with a Dominance type if you are primarily an:

… Influencing type

Get to the point, fast. Tell them why you’re there, and what you want from the conversation. Consider preparing for the meeting in advance, so you can be crisp. Minimse chit-chat. In Australia, a certain amount of social conversation is expected at the start of meetings, and these niceties are part of our rituals of communication (something that expat leaders often find bewildering), so do not dispense with them entirely. But do be very conscious that the amount of time a Dominance type will want to spend on this is likely significantly less than your own.

… Steadiness type

Don’t get offended. Dominance types are direct. If they have an issue with something, they’ll call it out. Their focus is on getting stuff done, fast. In their mind, when they give direct feedback they’re simply trying to make the plan better in order to achieve better results. Don’t take this personally. In their mind, they’re trying to help. They also tend to have pretty thick skins themselves, so if you have an issue with a proposal of theirs, don’t be afraid to (respectfully) raise this with them. They will appreciate the direct feedback and will most likely respect you for providing it.

… Conscientiousness type

Don’t get bogged down in detail. Ask yourself, “What is the key information they’d need to know in order to make a decision?” Share this. Keep the supporting data in your back-pocket in case they want more detail. They are less interested in analysing things in depth than you are, so if you feel you might not be sharing quite enough information, you’re probably sharing the right amount. If they want more data, don’t worry, they’ll ask for it!

Business meeting

How to communicate with an Influencing type if you are primarily a:

… Dominance type

Spend time getting to know them. Ask what they did on the weekend, and then let them hold forth. Yes, you may feel frustrated that the conversation isn’t turning to the ‘real work’ faster, but this stuff is important to them (and is actually important to all high performing teams). Be conscious that they have a thinner skin than you, so even if they haven’t necessarily fully thought through an idea, moderate your feedback and be tactful. When you criticise their idea (because you want to improve it), they may be hearing “She/he thinks I’m stupid/incompetent.”). Influence types can probably give you useful feedback on the human impact of actions you’re thinking of taking, and can cover your potential blind spot in this area.

… Conscientiousness type

Don’t drown them in detail. Stay high level. They are big picture people. Remember that things that may be obvious to you (like why a certain set of tasks has to happen in a certain sequence) may not be immediately obvious to them. On the other hand, they will likely have a significantly better innate ability to read people and situations than you do. So, if you’re trying to ‘pitch’ an idea to the executive team or customer, it might be a good idea for you to run it by an Influencing type first, to check for blind spots. Above all, be conscious of their ego. Be diplomatic when giving feedback. Accept that they most likely aren’t as strong as you with detail.

… Steadiness type

Pick up your energy levels. If you feel you’re being a bit ‘over the top’ in your communication style, you’re probably pitching at around the right level for them. Accept that they process their thinking externally by talking things through, whereas you probably prefer to reflect quietly on your own. Be a bit more open in sharing about your personal life, and reciprocate by asking them about theirs. Remember, you both care deeply about people and relationships, it’s just that you’re a bit more private about it than they are. Remember that they enjoy change and new experiences far more than you do, so don’t be surprised if their conversation tends to go a bit all over the place.

Freelancer in a client meeting

How to communicate with a Steadiness type if you are primarily a:

… Dominance type

The dynamic between Dominance types and Steadiness types can be fraught. As a Dominance oriented person, you may well intimidate them … and while a part of you may quite like this(!), it does not make for a productive relationship. Slow down. Your energy levels and driving need to win and get things done can make them very uncomfortable. If you want a view from a Steadiness type, try to ask them for it in advance, so they have time to reflect and prepare. Do not be frustrated that the Steadiness type is not as forthcoming as you are in giving you feedback (remember their deep fear of offending people). You might explain to them that when you give feedback, you never intend to upset the other person, and you won’t be offended (in fact, you would deeply appreciate it) if they would give you their unfiltered opinions, because that way they’d be helping you to do a better job. Above all, if you are a Dominance type working with a Steadiness type, try to be the nicest and most patient version of yourself that you can. There is much you can learn from your Steadiness colleagues, and those around you – including your partner and kids! – will probably appreciate it if you do.

… Influencing type

Slow down. Take a breath. Tone down your natural energy. Remember, Steadiness types like to take time to reflect, and your go-go-go style is disconcerting to them. Do take the time to get to know them as people, and express your appreciation to them. Do not get upset or feel slighted if they are not as effusive as you’d like them to be in praising your ideas: remember, they are naturally more low-key than you are.

… Conscientiousness type

Don’t just focus on the facts: make the effort to focus on them as a person as well. You are both somewhat introverted, so you have that in common. Remember, your quiet appreciation of facts and data is matched by their quiet appreciation of people. They can give you powerful insights in how a new policy or change is likely to ‘land’ with the rest of the team.

A business couple starting up a business abroad

How to communicate with a Conscientiousness type if you are primarily a:

… Dominance type

They will want to get down into the detail, so set clear expectations up front around the information you are looking for. Conscientiousness types love a good, clear brief! Give them time: Conscientiousness types are terrified of getting the facts wrong, and so are uncomfortable with being asked for an analysis without being given sufficient time to examine the data. If you find that they are giving you too much data, take the time to quietly take them aside and give them feedback on how you would like the information presented in future.

… Steadiness type

Recognise that they are motivated by data more than by interpersonal relationships. So, if you are pitching an idea to them, be sure to include the relevant analysis. You will likely both share a preference for introversion, and will connect well in terms of energy levels.

… Influencing type

As with all relationships across the diagonal (like Dominance/Stability), Influencing types can find Conscientiousness types particularly frustrating (and vice versa). If you’re an Influencing type going to pitch an idea to a Conscientiousness type, you need to provide data. Conscientiousness don’t trust anything unless it is supported by facts. Tone down your energy levels. The harder you try to ‘sell’ a Conscientiousness type, the less effective you’ll be. Instead, be calm, measured and factual. If you can, give them the information in advance so they can review and reflect on it beforehand (you’ll need to be organised to do this!). If you are briefing them to do some analysis, be clear about the level of detail you expect, otherwise you may find that they spend far more time than you wanted them to on the analysis. Above all, try not to get frustrated. Yes, Conscientiousness types can be overly fastidious, but they are the yin to your yang: appreciate the gifts they bring and learn from them.

Businessmen talk during airport layover


We are all tempted to say, from time to time, “I’m just going to be myself.” That is fine, but only up to a point: effective leaders are able to flex their personal styles to better connect with colleagues who have different personalities to their own. There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ personalities (assuming the other person is not suffering from a personality disorder). Understanding how other people see the world, and what their strengths and fears are, helps us to be more effective communicators and leaders, and ultimately, more rounded people.

A final note: this article writes about people’s dominant personality type. In reality, most of us have a dominant preferred style, but also have a secondary preference for another of the styles. So, you might be a Dominant type with a secondary preference for Influencing. Having your DISC profile completed and debriefed is the best way to get a deeper understanding of your own preferences and how these show up to others.