Communicating With Style

By Deborah McMurray
Published in Law Marketing Exchange

Three attorneys recently returned from a client development meeting. The first stated, “As prepared as I was, I just didn’t seem to have the right information to satisfy the general counsel. “ The second chimed in, “The CFO continually focused on budgeting for the transaction, staffing and how expenses are charged back. He seemed more concerned about he fax charges that getting the deal done.” And lawyer number three groaned, “The CEO kept looking at her watch. I felt like we were wasting her time.”

The profile of this meeting, with several attorneys and several company representatives, is one of the most challenging sales settings. It appears as if there is a common goal, but everyone seems to have a different agenda, or at the very least, a unique list of requirements for hiring outside counsel. In this instance, each of the observations made by the attorneys was accurate. Why didn’t this meeting work?

There may be several reasons, including a lack of general preparation. Assume, however, that the lawyers had adequately researched the company. Something was still missing. The lawyers were not able to “read” the personality styles of the corporate executives.

People are fundamentally different, even when corporate goals force them to share common ground. The aims, values, purposes, needs and urges are different for each individual. They believe differently as well. They think, conceptualize perceive, understand and comprehend differently. How they act is governed by what they personally want and believe. Layer on top of this three distinct presentations or selling styles of the lawyers. With no one in the room quietly assessing and acknowledging these differences, it’s no wonder it didn’t work.

As happened in this particular circumstance, with the lawyers complaining about what the CEO, CFO and general counsel did or didn’t do, it’s not uncommon to account for variations in the behavior or personality of the others in terms of flaws or afflictions. Our tendency is to walk in and try to “correct” these flaws—make them more like us. Then we would get along so much better. Over 25 centuries ago, Hippocrates analyzed four temperaments or personality styles in human: choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic and sanguine. Since then, physicians and behaviorists have developed variations on this theme of four distinct styles, with German psychologist Carl Jung being perhaps the best known. In the 1950’s, the Myers-Briggs Indicator was developed as a tool for identifying 16 different patterns of behavior, all of which fit neatly into the original four Hippocrates.

A very simple, yet remarkably accurate method of determining the four primary personality styles exists today. The TIMS Personality Profile Analysis identifies the four types as dominant, influencing, steadiness and competency (DISC).

Every attorney with whom I have worked who has completed this simple analysis of his or her own personality has said this was the most valuable part of client development training. This greater understanding of self is useful in any interaction—with clients, peers, employees, family members and in a sales meeting like the one described earlier.

One attorney said, “The reason to know my style and to learn about the characteristics and needs of the other three styles is critical to success in client development: It enables me to adapt my actions to match the style and needs of those to whom I am selling.”

The four CISC styles might be characterized as follows:

Dominant: Direct, competitive and confident; driven; power and ego are important; impatient and aggressive. Primary fear is people taking advantage of them. Well-known dominants include Lee Iacocca, Teddy Roosevelt, Ross Perot, Barbara Walters, General George S. Patton and Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka.

Influencing: Friendly, emotional and outgoing; recognition is important; expressive; energetic and enthusiastic. Primary orientation is people. Primary fear is loss of approval. Famous influencing types include Ronald Eagan, Bill Cosby, Jay Leno, Oprah Winfrey, and “Today Show” host Katie Couric.

Steady: Sincere, loyal and good listeners; supportive; contemplative and shy; want to be included; the glue of an organization. Primary fear is loss of security. Famous steadiness types include George Bush, Tonto, Mary Richards from the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” and Johnny Carson.

Competent: Concise, analytical and by the book; technical and factual; logical and structured; compliant, yet cautious; controls emotion, circumstances and so forth. Primary orientation is quality and accuracy. Primary orientation is quality and accuracy. Primary fear is criticism of their work. Well-known competency types include Mr.Spock (“Star Trek,” not Benjamin), Calvin Coolidge, Jimmy Carter and former Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry.

There is no right or wrong style, and there aren’t styles that make more successful rainmakers than others. There may people who initially feel more comfortable with the sales process, but this does not ensure success. Each style has its leaders in politics, business, sports and on television. All styles have strengths and weaknesses. A weakness may be defined as an “overextension” of its strength.

Dominant: Strengths are problem solving, decision making and goal achieving. Weaknesses are that they find faults, lack caution and overrun other people. Needs are control, authority and prestige.

Influencing: Strengths are communicating, participating and finding good. Weaknesses are time control, follow through and lack of objectivity. Needs are recognition, acceptance and to talk.

Steady: Strengths are loyalty, listening and patience. Weaknesses are possessiveness, risk and conflict avoidance. Needs are appreciation, security and time.

Competent: Strengths are analysis, accuracy, and high standards. Weaknesses are rigidity, procrastination and being overly critical. Needs are precision work, time and facts.

Looking at the CEO, CFO and general counsel with the benefit of this information, the CEO is probably a dominant, the CFO is likely to be a competent and the general counsel is also likely to be a competent.

If the enthusiastic lead attorney walked into the sales meeting talking about the baseball game, the weather or his week in Cozumel, Mexico, as ice breakers, it isn’t surprising that the reception was cool. The CEO wanted to hear about the bottom line, results, not how the deal would be completed, just that it would be, by her standards and in her time frame. The others wanted proof, facts and figures, testimonials by others clients, a detailed budgets analysis, a guarantee of quality and accuracy.

In this sales situation, the lead attorney, an influencing type, needed to be more direct, concise and to the point, answer “what” when speaking to the CEO and others. He needed to be well prepared and structured in the presentation, address any disadvantages early and listen more than he talked.

Learning about the differences of others and the environment they require for achieving results and harmony at work is invaluable in successful client development. The attorneys are not asked to fundamentally change, merely to adapt stylistically for short periods of time. This increased sensitivity to behavioral differences should result in more satisfying and successful interaction with clients and prospects.


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