This Is How You Can Get Better at Reading People

UPDATED: October 6, 2022
PUBLISHED: October 5, 2022
This Is How You Can Get Better at Reading People

Sometimes, try as we might, we just can’t understand why people act the way they do or say the things they say, which can cause a huge communication pileup. It seems that whatever we do or say, we’re not getting through or getting the results we want.

Because people filter the world through their own personality styles, understanding why they do what they do is of utmost importance. Your odds of success increase dramatically when you understand the personality style of the person you are interacting with. That includes everyone, whether it’s an audience, a colleague, your spouse, your kids or a customer. It also includes every way you communicate, whether it’s in person, by phone, by email, by text or on social media.

Because my work puts me in front of so many people, I’ve always been fascinated by personality styles and the way people interact with each other. Several years ago, I had an opportunity to co-author a book with my friend and client Robert Rohm, Ph.D., a well-known author and speaker, called Presenting with Style. The book describes the four basic personality styles and how to interact with each type. We wrote the book because we wanted people to understand two primary communication concepts:

  1. Each personality style wants to receive a different level of communication detail.
  2. Each personality style wants to receive information (communication) at a different speed.

There are several different types of personality profiles. Since we liked profiles that are easy to use, we chose the DISC model of human behavior, which is based on the 1928 theories William Moulton Marston first proposed in his book, Emotions of Normal People. This model describes the four basic patterns of behavior:

Dominant (extroverted, task-oriented)

The high “D” person (dominant, direct, demanding, decisive, determined and a doer) usually wants information fast and without much detail. According to a 2019 DISC® Assessment validation study, 9% of the population is in this quadrant.

Inspiring (extroverted, people-oriented)

The high “I” person (inspiring, influential, impressionable, interested in people, interactive and impressive) often seeks information very quickly, with more detail and in a very friendly manner. According to the 2019 DISC® Assessment validation study, about 28% of the population falls in this quadrant.

Supportive (introverted, people-oriented)

Someone high in the “S” quadrant (supportive, stable, steady, sweet, status quo and shy) will likely want details given step-by-step in a steady manner. They are very people-oriented. According to the 2019 DISC® Assessment validation study, about 32% of the population is in the “S” quadrant.

Cautious (introverted, task-oriented)

If someone is a high “C” (cautious, calculating, competent, conscientious, contemplative and careful), they probably want a lot of detail but prefer to receive it very slowly to digest it and analyze it properly. According to the 2019 DISC® Assessment validation study, about 30% of the population identifies with this quadrant.

Better family relationships

The idea is not to become a personality style expert, but rather to understand those you interact with, which could range anywhere from only a few people to hundreds of people each day. Understanding each personality style can have a tremendous impact on your effectiveness, especially when communicating with your family and those you are closest to.

I am so grateful that I learned this distinction early on and could apply it in my family life. It’s so helpful to be able to understand and respond to my wife, Tammy, (who is a very high “C” personality) and kids in a way that benefits all of us.

For a long time, my oldest daughter had a tendency to be a “D” with a secondary “I,” and she wanted to make her choices autonomously. Tammy and I learned that it worked well if we gave her two satisfactory options for something and allowed her to choose one. She would win, and we would get what we wanted. Everyone was happy. But if we hadn’t understood that our child was a “D” personality and had demanded she do things instead of giving her the ability to have some control, we could have set ourselves up for a lot of frustration, stress and rebellion.

Do you want to have a really great marriage? Learn each other’s personalities and respond to each other accordingly. I’m very extroverted and outgoing, while my wife is the exact opposite—she’s very introverted and more cautious, calculating and task-oriented. We’ve had to understand and accept each other’s personality styles. She gives me the flexibility to travel the world as needed and to go out and meet people, but she doesn’t necessarily want to go to all of the events I attend. She’s OK with my going, and I don’t insist she join me every time, because we’ve figured out each other’s models for viewing the world. It produces a win for both of us and makes for a great relationship.

Rohm’s website offers many great tools, including personality tests for your whole family—even for children as young as 4. Most of the tests are a series of simple questions (some tests with as few as 12) that can help you understand how to best respond to your family members. I suggest you explore his website and select the tools that will be most advantageous for you and your family.

Better work relationships

As you study the personality types I’ve described, you will be able to identify the styles of people you interact with professionally. Understanding the personality of your difficult teammate, for example, might help you relate to that person in such a way that you see a marked improvement in how you work together. And understanding the different personalities in any audience will enable you to customize your presentation to connect with everyone.

I think you’ll see a dramatic increase in your results once you begin to understand the personalities of the people in your world.

This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of SUCCESS magazine and has been updated. Photo by gonzagon/Shutterstock

Tony Jeary

Tony Jeary is an author, executive coach and presentation strategist. Jeary has published more than three dozen books about making presentations and strategic effectiveness. He coaches the world's top executives from companies such as Wal-Mart, Ford, New York Life and Texaco.