People Styles

In my short time at Georgia State, I have learned one thing about our students regarding collaboration—they aren’t very good at it. But I have also learned something about myself—I’m not very good at teaching it. In fact, teaching collaboration is tough to do. In the mentoring packet Elizabeth and I put together, we lean on project management as a way to ensure effective work teams, and we believe in the importance and usefulness of project management. But that set of tactics still doesn’t address the fact that poor collaboration is often due to poor interpersonal skills. Our students don’t know each other very well, they often don’t (heck, they can’t) take the time to get to know each other. This document is an attempt to give you some strategies for exploring these interpersonal issues with your students inorder to facilitate more effective collaboration.

I must admit something at this point: I’m not a particular fan of personality inventories or other, similar tools. So I’m skeptical of what I’m suggesting here but not cynical. I’m going to try this, and I suggest you try it as well. But be sure to collect feedback from your students about anything you do related to this and perhaps we can come up with some techniques that would allow our students to get to know each other more quickly and work together more effectively.

All material in this document is taken from People Styles at Work: Making Bad Relationships Good and Good Relationships Better by Robert Bolton and Dorothy Grover Bolton (1996, American Management Association). Our library has the book.

the book

One premise of the book is that we have problems working with others because we are different—we think, work, communicate, play, fight, emote differently and that all these factors play into how we work together. Another premise of the book is that behavior is predictable and flexible, and that if we spend the time to understand our styles and the styles of those with whom we work, we can manage to work together effectively (I feel a weekend retreat coming every time I write something like this, but then again, that is likely a function of my style ;-)

There are four basic styles in this system:

    • Analyticals
    • Drivers
    • Expressives
    • Amiables

In actuality—and this is something I like about the book—each of us is composed of multiple styles; we just have dominant styles that make us predictable. In addition, each style is actually a number of styles and tendencies, and therefore the authors present a fairly complex picture of personality styles. I wish I could capture that complexity in this document.

In order to assess one’s style, students must take an inventory. On the next page I reproduce the inventory from their book. You can photocopy this page and use it with your students if you would like. You can also get an electronic copy from me (Jeff). In subsequent pages, I will tell you how to score it and suggest ways to use it in class.


behavioral inventory

This inventory is used to assess your personality style. As you take this, remember that your style is not based on how you see yourself but on how others see you. As you take the inventory, you must choose the statement that most closely reflects how you think others see you.

Select one statement from each pair. Place an "X" in the appropriate box.

1. r r More likely to lean backward when stating opinions
More likely to be erect or lean forward when stating opinions
2. r r Less use of hands when talking
More use of hands when talking
3. r r Demonstrates less energy
Demonstrates more energy
4. r r More controlled by body movement
More flowing body movement
5. r r Less forceful gestures
More forceful gestures
6. r r Less facial expressiveness
More facial expressiveness
7. r r Softer-spoken
Louder voice
8. r r Appears more serious
Appears more fun-loving
9. r r More likely to ask questions
Less likely to ask make statements
10. r r Less inflection in voice
More inflection in voice
11. r r Less apt to exert pressure for action
More apt to exert pressure for action
12. r r Less apt to show feelings
More apt to show feelings
13. r r More tentative when expressing opinions
Less tentative when expressing opinions
14. r r More task-oriented conversations
More people-oriented conversations
15. r r Slower to resolve problem situations
Quicker to resolve problem situations
16. r r More oriented toward facts and logic
More oriented toward feelings and opinion
17. r r Slower-paced
18. r r Less likely to use small talk or tell stories
More likely to use small talk or tell stories
Total numbers for each column



scoring the inventory

The inventory is based on the following grid:

The first two columns of the inventory deal with assertiveness. Column 1 is the "less assertive" score; column 2 is the "more assertive" score. The last two columns deal with responsiveness. Column 3 is the "less responsive" score; column 4 is the "more responsive" score. To score the instrument, one merely plots one’s position on the grid, and when that is done, each person should be positioned in one of four quadrants:

To try to make sense of this, let me begin with a list of characteristics for the two continua that form the grid before I gloss the four personality styles:

more assertive

  • More energy and movement
  • Speaks louder and more often
  • Decides and address problems more quickly
  • More direct, emphatic, and confrontational

less assertive

  • Less energy and movement
  • Speaks less rapidly and more softly
  • Less direct and confrontational
  • More easygoing

more responsive

  • More expressive (feelings, expression, voice)
  • Shares more "human" concerns and small talk
  • Prefers working with people
  • Less structured

less responsive

  • More reserved
  • Relies more on "facts" and "logic"
  • More task-oriented
  • Prefers working alone

The authors of People Styles take these characteristics and construct the four basic styles I’ve listed above. In the book, they spend an entire chapter discussing the tendencies of teach style, and these tendencies amount to strengths and potential weaknesses. Here is my gloss of that chapter. You may find it useful to share this information with students in class either verbally or on a handout.


  • Emotionally more restrained and less assertive
  • Critical and perfectionistic (especially on themselves)
  • Systematic and well-organized
  • Need "data" and "facts"
  • Conservative risk-takers
  • Tend to work alone (or at least prefer working alone)
  • Low-key and quiet
  • Indirect
  • Task-oriented at work and with interpersonal relations (i.e., little small talk)


  • Less assertive but more responsive
  • Team players—enjoy working with others
  • Skilled at encouraging others and seeing value in others’ contributions
  • Generous and quietly friendly (but can also be side-tracked)
  • Need stable and structured work situations
  • People-oriented
  • Indirect
  • Avoid conflict, almost to a fault (can let poor work and bad decisions stand in order to please)


  • Highly assertive, energetic, and emotionally responsive
  • Flamboyant, dramatic, bold, drawn to the limelight
  • Active with shorter attention spans (always "away from the desk")
  • Prefer to work with others
  • Dreamers, visionaries—but bad with the nitty-gritty necessary for realizing dreams and plans
  • Poor time-managers
  • Talkative (think out loud), often making statements instead of asking questions


  • Highly assertive yet less responsive
  • Results-focused and highly practical (yet sometimes misses the big picture with focus on immediate problems)
  • High expectations (for self and others)
  • Decisive (yet open to having their minds changed by others)
  • Good time-managers
  • Fast-paced and direct with others
  • Little small-talk and storytelling

It is important to stress with your students that each personality style is a good one. In other words, each quadrant of the graph is "a good place to be." It is also important to note that one’s dominant style is a tendency. Each of us exhibits aspects of each style, and few of us exhibit all the tendencies of our dominant style. The style we adopt is also situated—who we are at work, for example, is not necessarily who we are at home (I hope).



OK, so where does all this lead? What is the point of knowing one’s personal style, and in the case of your students, knowing the styles of others in the class? The point, as you probably guessed, is finding a way to change behavior in the workplace so that folks can work together more effectively. As with most books like People Styles, the last few chapters of the text are devoted to this issue. The Bolton’s call their ways of changing workplace behavior "flexing." We call it audience analysis.

"Style flex" is a temporary adjustment that one makes in one’s own behavior; this is an important point to make with your students. When planning how they will work together (an issue of project management we will cover later in the semester), have your students plan individually and collectively how they think they may need to adjust their preferred style or preferred way of working in order to mesh with their group. And certainly when conflict arises, they will need to consider how to adjust in order to work through the conflict. What won’t work but what we often want to do is to change others.

Key aspects of style flexing:

    1. Style flex is changing your behavior
    2. Style flex is adjusting a few behaviors (not your whole "being")
    3. Style flex is situated—flex only at key times

When the Boltons get to the chapter that discusses "flexing in action," the anecdotes and cases they use to illustrate flexing all show people utilizing fairly standard audience analysis techniques—know your audience and adjust your behavior/communication to meet your audience needs. Simple. But of course, not so simple.


in the classroom

I am open to suggestions for how to use a tool like the personality styles inventory in the classroom. I intend to give the inventory to students and have them assess their style. Then I plan to discuss the characteristics and tendencies of each style. And as I suggested above, during project management discussions and writing later in the semester (the organizational communications project), I will incorporate the results. But each of these tactics amounts to an "awareness" activity, and ultimately, the hope of such an activity is that if students are aware of their working style tendencies and those of others, they can and will adjust accordingly to make for better working relationships.

Please share any ideas you have for how to move from hope to reliable practice.