Improving Communication Within a Team

Minneapolis—“We’ve got to make a change in our support personnel,” John explained with a rather painful expression. “My personal assistant just isn’t capable of communicating clearly with the other players on the team.”

Ouch! We’ve all been there. You’re trying to discuss something with a partner or one of your support personnel, and you walk away saying, “I don’t think I got my point across as to the importance of this issue.” Or after a mild disagreement over who said what, you thought to yourself, “If only I wasn’t so impatient whenever I’m talking with…”

Over 70 years ago, John Marston wrote The Emotions of Normal People, which discussed his research on the differences among personality types, how personality impacted behavior and communication, and the existence of four distinct personality types. An entire cottage industry evolved using language such as driver-high D, expressive-high I, controller-high C, and steady-high S. All of this became a training popularized by Carlson Learning over 30 years ago.

Most advisors have been exposed to some version of these behavioral styleassessment tools, but as I explained to John, few advisors use the insights they gather about fellow team members to improve communication. In John’s case, they had done something similar a few years ago at a workshop and he had found it interesting, but he never made any attempt to put it to use. Alas, the insight he gained regarding the behavioral style of his teammates to improve communication went nowhere.

After listening to him bemoan how his working relationship with this assistant has deteriorated, it was obvious that his situation was beyond repair. However, I did make it clear that my advice needed to be applied to his new assistant. Apparently he had already offered the job to someone, so my advice was once this person was officially on board, he needed to take his entire team through another round of behavioral style assessments. Except this time he needed to discuss how to apply the findings with a coach who is an expert in behavioral styles, but focus on one area—internal communication within the team.

Let me outline a brief overview of these four behavioral styles. Don’t concern yourself with the labeling (I’m going to use letters); what’s important is to be aware of your style, recognize the style of your other team members, their personality traits, and work toward adjusting your communication to meet their style. I’ve put parentheses around the negative traits.

D: This is someone who is fast-paced and gets to the point quickly. Other characteristics:

· Assertive (pushy)
· Hard-charging (impatient)
· Decisive (domineering)
· Strong-willed (tough)
· Competitive (aggressive)
· Efficient (abrupt)

I: This person is extremely outgoing and gregarious. Other characteristics:

· Enthusiastic (easily excited)
· Optimistic (unrealistic)
· Persuasive (manipulative)
· Talkative (poor listener)
· Emotional (reactive)
· People oriented (undisciplined)

C: This is the analytical player on your team. Other characteristics:

· Cautious (slow in making decisions)
· Perfectionist (fear of criticism)
· Serious (unfriendly)
· Sensitive (hates criticism)
· Slow paced (low energy)
· Accurate (picky)

S: This person is steady as she goes. Other characteristics:

· Dependable (conforming)
· Supportive (conforming)
· Slow to change (unsure)
· Amiable (insecure)
· Content (possessive)
· Reserved (socially awkward)

As I explained to John, no one personality type is better than another. You can find American presidents in every style: Ds such as George Washington and Andrew Jackson; Is such as Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton; Cs such as Thomas Jefferson and Jimmy Carter; Ss such as Dwight Eisenhower and Gerald Ford. It’s important to remember that success comes in all behavioral styles.

The secret with improving communication within the close quarters of a team is a three-part process: 1) Being aware of your natural behavioral style (how you communicate and prefer being communicated to); 2) Understanding the behavioral style of each individual on your team; 3) Adjusting your communication accordingly. This requires understanding the underlying personality traits associated with each of the four behavioral styles.

For instance, John considers himself a high D and he thinks his new assistant is a solid C, therefore he needs to shift gears and slow down his speaking pace whenever communicating with her. Why? Because he needs to remember that she’s probably a perfectionist who suffers from a “fear of making mistakes,” will want more information, and is likely to be extremely sensitive to overly direct instructions.

Once armed with this level of understanding, John will find himself less likely to get annoyed when his new assistant asks for more information after he’s explained an assignment in what he considers great detail. Equally important for team dynamics, John’s new assistant needs to understand that John is a driver (D) who is fast-paced, very direct, and gets to the point quickly. She needs to learn how to speed-up her communication and not take it personally when John comes across as harsh—which he will.

None of this is complex, but open and healthy communication within a team is essential for a team built to last. Invest the time and resources to have every full-time member of your team assessed and then work to help everyone use this information so they recognize their personal style, the style of each team member, and understand how they need to adjust their communication pattern specific to each individual. All of which adds up to improved personal interactions.

Elite teams are always working to improve internal communication.

If you would like a free copy of one of our latest research reports, Best Practices of Today’s Rainmakers,click here.

Also, if you haven’t already, join The Oechsli Institute’s Group on LinkedIn!

Once again, we want to thank all of you who have e-mailed comments and questions to us. We will continue to do our best to answer each one.

If you would like to learn more, please visit

If you have any topic suggestions or special requests, please contact Rich Santos, publisher of Registered Rep. and Trusts & Estates magazines, at [email protected]

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.