Find Their Comfort Zone

Adapt your style for better communication

Red: “Time is money”. “No excuses, just get on with it”.

Blue: “Show me the big picture”. “Let’s do it. Where we are going will be incredible”.

Green: “Let’s have a cup of tea and get to know each other”. “How will everyone feel about this?”

Black: “Where’s the independent proof”. “I want to see the numbers validated”. “Who says so besides you?”.

Actually, at different times we are all of these colours or personality styles but, generally speaking, we have a preferred style. The usual outcome is that we operate in our preferred style with everyone, which is a one-size-fits-all approach.

We know that, in most areas of business, this approach is not where we want to be. Nevertheless, in one of the most important areas in business—our interaction with others—this is our normal default position. Uh oh!

As a result, there are a multitude of lost opportunities floating around. Our preferred style works pretty well with about one quarter of the population—those most like us—and so we often struggle with the rest of our clients or colleagues.

But it doesn’t have to be like that; we could get on well with all styles of people, if we only knew how.

Here is the how—you just have to make two decisions:

First, visualise a horizontal scale. On the left, locate people who are very low in terms of assertiveness. On the right, imagine highly assertive individuals. So when you meet someone, guess where this person is located on the scale—assertive or non-assertive.

Usually, it is not that difficult to place people. Those with strong opinions, who want to organise things and direct outcomes tend to be high in assertiveness. They direct the conversation. The opposite type of individual is probably a bit more reserved. They observe and are not likely to lecture or lead you, cut you off mid-sentence, or challenge your views. Instead, they often will look for points of agreement.

Now lets create a vertical scale in your mind’s eye. At the top of the scale, locate someone who is very people oriented. They enjoy the company of others, they are concerned about how people feel, and they think about outcomes in terms of the people involved.

Their opposite number, at the bottom of the scale, is concerned with tasks and results. For them, the outcome is critical: the end justifies the means; the objective must be achieved, etc. They will, no doubt, talk in terms of numbers, targets, outcomes or results. You can quickly plot where they are on the scale.

With two simple decisions you can plot four quadrants—this should take you about 10 to 20 seconds. So, to match the colours, the blue zone would be top right, and include people who are assertive but highly people oriented, such as salespeople, actors, PR people, lobbyists and trainers.

The red zone, bottom right, would be occupied by the chief executive, the “my way or the highway” boss.

In the green zone, top left, would be the carer, team player and white-collar employee.

Meanwhile the black zone, bottom left, would often be the accountant, scientist, lawyer and engineer.

When we meet people, the point is to know not just that we are entering a certain zone, but also that we are operating there effectively.

Don’t waste people’s time with small talk in the red zone—get straight down to business. Speak quickly, have a fast tempo, and be dynamic. “We should do this and do it now. Here are the three reasons that this is the best course of action”.

In the green zone, slow down the speed at which you speak and drop the power in your voice to make it soft and non-threatening. Over tea, calmly say: “This idea will really be good for motivating the team and for how the people here feel”.

In the blue zone, you are focused on winning as a team, and will say: “This new idea will take us to number one; we are going to go all the way to the top, and then we will party, party, party”.

In the black zone, you had better talk about the finer details and back up your assertions with proof: “Five separate totally reputable market research studies—carried out since 1985, at five-year intervals and in all 15 key markets—have consistently indicated a 12.35% average take up by the top 9.29% of wealthy consumers who earn an average of $892,525 per annum”.

Learn to be in the zone that people prefer by switching gears, as well as being flexible and sensitive to style. You will remain yourself, but will adapt your communication style so as to be more effective. Being on the same wave length with four out of four clients will beat the one out of four that your competitors will be struggling to manage.