How to adaptively communicate

We all want to be heard and understood, but not many of us pay attention to how we communicate. The key is to find out how the other person naturally receives information. One way to find that out is to look at how that person naturally gives information to others — more on that later.

How we are wired to think

First, let's talk about four different ways that people are wired to think. If you're like me, you've likely been exposed to all sorts of personality tests that tell you what type of person you are based on you answers to a few test questions. The answers are usually very complicated and you have to memorize a color code or some sort of alphanumeric system. While it might be very accurate, I've felt that the implementation is a bit too cumbersome for everyday use. There's only one system that I've been exposed to that actually stuck with me. It's easy to use and easy to explain to others briefly.There are four general categories that a person can fall into:

  • Analytical
  • Driver
  • Amiable
  • Expressive

Keep in mind, that an individual can have strengths and weaknesses from each category, but every person has one dominant category. Here's a clear writeup I ran into on these personality types.

The dream team

Leonardo (blue) is Amiable, Donatello (purple) is Analytical, Raphael (red) is a Driver, and Michelangelo (orange) is Expressive.

Let's define the roles that each would play in a team environment so that you can see how they would work outside of these written definitions. Let's take building a shed in the backyard for example. The Driver would just start building the shed and figure it out as they went. The Analytical would make blueprints, take measurements, get a permit, get all the materials, get a budget, and then start building. The Amiable would make sure that everyone understood their role and that nobody felt left out. The Expressive would make the project fun and entertaining for everyone else.

These traits make for a very interesting team. There have been many movies and television shows where each personality trait is represented. The Ninja Turtles are a great example (pictured). When they work together well, they're unstoppable. When they let their differences divide them — well, you get the idea.

Working well with others

The first thing to do, is to figure out which one your dominant personality trait. I am Analytical — which is why I'm breaking this all down to you in such detail. It's my natural way of communicating. If someone tells me that I have a job to do, I struggle to do it until I know the details. I have to know how it fits into the big picture, who it is for, when it needs to be done, what tools I'll need to get it done, and so on. I can't do my best work otherwise. If I don't get that info, then I will usually screw it up. I will make mistakes that were so obvious to others, but I couldn't see because I didn't have the details. However, when I have all the details, I can do an incredible job.

When a Driver gives me a task to do, and they think that I'm "overthinking it" or get impatient with me because they want their end results yesterday, they're not speeding up the project, they're prolonging it. This leaves both of us frustrated, with me feeling misunderstood and undervalued.

Inversely, if I give a Driver a task to do and I start bombarding them with all of the details, it will distract them from the main goal, confuse the outcome, and result in frustration from both parties.

Dialing it in

Once you know what your dominant personality trait is, you then know the default way that you deliver information to others — and why some people have been hard for you to work with in the past. The key is to figure out what their dominant personality trait is, then start delivering information to them accordingly.

For example, If I were to give a driver a task to do. I would package up all of the info that they needed for the task in a folder — but only the essential info that they need in order to accomplish the task. Then I would tell them directly what result I needed from them and then hand them the folder and tell them that all of the info they need is in the folder. Then they can get to work. If they get stuck, they can refer to the folder and find their solution. I can be confident that they will knock that project out quickly and efficiently — even if they never refer to the contents of the folder.


This can be applied to any of the personality traits. If the person is Analytical, give them the details first and give them time to make a plan. If they are a Driver, tell them the results that you want from them and let them go to work. If they are an Amiable, keep them feeling appreciated, be considerate, and don't overwhelm them. Help them feel like you have their back when they take risks and they'll be more confident in their decisions. If they are Expressive, keep the project fun, stay engaged with them, and show genuine excitement for their progress.

I first learned how to mirror someone's personality type when I served as a full-time missionary. I realized that it was all too easy to overwhelm someone with information. This applied to the missionary that was my assigned companion as well as the people that we were teaching. Then, when I started coaching wakeboarding full-time, I started overwhelming people with information again. I recognized that it was happening again, kept these personality traits in mind, and then everything started working smoothly again.

I bring that up because it is hard. It is not human nature to translate information into a foreign style and deliver it to someone else. You can, however, make it a habit to learn what each person's dominant personality trait is when starting a project, and then deliver information in that way to each person. It works wonders and they thank you for it. Many times, they will even start delivering information back to you in the way that you like it best.

When a team communicates clearly and effectively in light of their differences and not despite them, they become unstoppable.


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