Working with different styles

Working with different styles
People have very different ways of seeing and relating to the world around them. We all know people who we feel are “on our wavelength” and similarly those we feel are “on another planet”.

If you can work out which ways a person is seeing and relating to the world you can:

  • appreciate their perspective better
  • create rapport with them and build your relationship through “borrowing” their way of experiencing the world
  • use their preferences to help you persuade them of your ideas
  • understand why there might sometimes be friction between you

There are many reasons why people differ from each other. Here are some of the main ones and a diagnostic tool to help you.

Reader /listener

Some people find information easier to assimilate if they hear it and can ask questions and some find it easier if they can read and study it first. So if your client is a reader it will make sense to send them an email first then follow it up with a conversation (if you feel it is necessary) and vice versa if your client is a listener. A listener will only be frustrated by loads of long documents and emails whereas a reader will feel exposed if asked to talk about things without having an opportunity to read and consider first.

High/low involvement

Some people like a high level of involvement in problems or decisions whilst others prefer to come in at the end when the answer has already been found (or almost). So some clients will need much updating, consultation and involvement at all stages of your work, whilst others will be happy for you to get on with it and find constant questioning and consultation irritating.


Some people take a structured approach to their life and work and others are much less formal. A formal person will prefer diarised meetings (with you and others) with clear agendas – probably sent out beforehand. Informal people are likely to prefer more spontaneity – you are wasting your time drawing up an agenda for them as they are likely to ignore it.


Some people make decisions by analysis and others more by gut feeling. Feelers are particularly tuned in to the effect any decision will have on people. Feelers will judge if a decision is fair whereas thinkers will be more concerned whether it is right. So if your client is a thinker they will need logical explanation, probably step by step. A feeler client will be more convinced by your degree of conviction, especially if you have covered the people aspects. You will be wasting your time if you put together a detailed, step by step rationale for a feeler.


Some like to think things through first before talking about them and others prefer to talk things through to help them think. So a thinker will appreciate time to formulate his/her ideas and will probably therefore like information well in advance. A talker will need less “up front” so if time is at a premium, focus on getting information early to those who really appreciate and need it.


Some enjoy choice and developing alternatives, preferring to stay open to possibilities whilst others are great at following steps and laid down processes. The procedures oriented person will be keen to know about the “how” whereas the options oriented person will be more interested in the “what”. Friction can occur between a procedures oriented adviser who believes there is a right way and the options oriented client who prefers to explore the many possible options to approach the problem and vice versa!

Big picture/detail

Some people like to deal with the bigger picture and are most comfortable working with large chunks of information. Others like the fine details and build from small to large. Although great results can be got from a working relationship which has both types in it, this can also be a recipe for friction with the big picture person getting frustrated by the preciseness of the detailed person and the detailed person totally failing to see the ideas of the bigger picture person.

Internal/external reference

Some people need other people’s views and opinions to validate theirs whilst others are more independent in their thoughts. So an internally referenced person may be described as decisive but will also tend not to consult, whilst an externally referenced person will be much more inclusive in their decision making, although they may be accused of indecision.

An externally referenced person will also really appreciate feedback – whilst an internally referenced person may shrug feedback off as unnecessary or even find it presumptive.

Past, present or future

Different people focus and get a buzz from considering different time orientations. The past oriented client will enjoy a trip down memory lane to the days before email or women wearing trousers at work whilst the present oriented client will be more interested in what is happening now on the IT or fashion front. The future oriented client will be more keen to know what Apple are thinking about for next year (and beyond) or what shape those same trousers will need to be next season.


Some people tend to look for similarity with what they already know whilst others tend to find/want difference. Knowing which orientation you client leans towards can be crucial in how you present ideas – is the meeting venue you are suggesting they use “just like the one they used last time – same company running it and same standards of service” or is it better described as “a chance to try somewhere new – different location and feel”?

Match oriented clients will tend to be peacemakers/placaters and may struggle to give you feedback on areas you could improve – whilst mismatch oriented clients will relish the opportunity to show you what you have done different or “wrong”.

Style difference diagnosis

Click hereto use our style difference diagnosis tool on page 4 ›