How to Communicate Effectively with Difficult and Challenging Personalities

In an ideal world, employees, colleagues, and bosses would coexist with the most difficult and challenging personalities. However, we know that the ideal world can elude the most well intended among us. Knowledge gained from having tested the communications styles of more than 2,000 professionals in seven countries, is intended to provide helpful hints when communicating face-to-face with challenging personalities – inside or outside of the work environment. Knowing how to adjust your communications style will improve your ability to communicate effectively with difficult people.

Researchers, articulating the importance of personality and its influence on how people communicate, stress that every individual develops a primacy in one of four major behavioral functions: Controller, Analyzer, Supporter, or Promoter. Individuals tend to get along better with those whose communication style is similar to their own. Conversely, we have the most difficult time communicating and relating with someone who is in the exact opposite quadrant as ours. If you know your own communication style and the style of the other person, you are much better equipped to communicate in a manner that seems more open and trustworthy to the other person. As communication barriers start to fall, your ability to relate is enhanced because you are more in-sync with each other.

The study of the four personality types is not an attempt to “pigeon hole” anyone into a specific quadrant, but rather to provide information that will assist a person to align his or her communication with the communication style of the other person. The goal, then, is to assist us to be on the same “wave length” as the other person. The following will help you recognize each of these communications styles and assist you to present your message so that it will be acceptable to the other person.

Controller – The controller is a doer and often the driving force within an organization. This person leads others. He is characterized by emphasis on action and results. This person thrives on getting things done here and now. Just as the alpha dog must lead the pack, the controller must be first and must lead. Because he places high standards on himself and others, he is likely to be seen as constructively impatient and tireless.

When communicating or when working with the typical controller, be prepared to move fast and to be tested. Expect the controller to argue, interrupt, disagree, raise his voice, and challenge your thoughts. Keep in mind that this behavior is not an attack on you. The controller’s communications is not personal; it is just the way he or she is.

Analyzer – He is characterized by analysis, details, logic, and systematic inquiry, and being a bit stiff. This person functions in a steady, tenacious manner, finding great satisfaction in identifying a problem, weighing options carefully, and testing them to determine the best possible solution. The analyzer is of great value as a logical thinker who provides objectivity to a complex problem. Don’t expect him to be the life of the party, but he will show up on time!

When communicating with or when working with analyzers, be well organized, have details lined up, and plan each meeting carefully. Speak slowly as he processes information more carefully than most. Pause as you speak and ask questions to make sure you are both on the same page of your topic of discussion. One of the surest means for creating a communication barrier with the analyzer is to generalize. Remember: think specifics when communicating with the analyzer.

Supporter – A concern for people dominates the thinking and behavior of the supporter style. He is often sought out for his ability to empathize and for his patience with others during a time of crisis. An understanding listener, he can identify change in ways that reduce conflicting forces and increase the likelihood of cooperation and teamwork. A weakness among supporters is their tendency to become emotional, which may be viewed as a substitution for taking action. Of the four personality types, the supporter is the most likely to flinch – to back away – in a time of conflict.

Effective communication with the supporter is best achieved through an informal, open and personalized approach. Maintain ample physical space between yourself and the supporter type. While you can be enthusiastic, even somewhat aggressive when communicating with the controller, the supporter will balk at signs of aggressive communications.

Promoter – The big picture person has just arrived. The promoter style is characterized by heavy

emphasis on ideas, innovation, concepts, and long-range thinking. The promoter will challenge you – not because she is hostile – but because she has learned the value of constant probing to uncover new ideas.

A fast and deep thinker, she questions herself and others. She is not inclined to take things for granted. The promoter is seen as a leader and a visionary capable of seeing new possibilities that others do not sense. This is a person with a strong ego who can come across as “superior” and can be condescending in her communications. Quick thinking and a quick wit are characteristics of the promoter.

When communicating with the promoter, probe for her ideas and concepts. Ask questions of this person. Because so much of this individual’s ego is invested in what she does and how she does it, communicate your awareness of her ideas, plans, and most of all, her vision. Promoters love to talk about their plans. Let them have at it. Sit back and absorb.

Do you know your style and the styles of those with whom you are trying to communicate? Engage them knowing communications styles and when you do – your relationship with the challenging personality will change for the better.