HAVE you ever had a colleague or client who rubbed you the wrong way? Someone whose personality style clashed with your own?

Many workplace conflicts are the result of these differences rather than substantive disagreements.

Perhaps you are a big-picture, bottom-line type who likes to cut to the chase. You don’t have the time or patience for people who communicate in a very detailed, step-by-step manner.

Or you might like to build a steady relationship based on trust, and are uncomfortable with people who are hard-driving and focused only on getting things done quickly.

These birds of a different feather will not change to suit you. But it is possible for you to adapt to them.

There are four basic categories of people based on two dimensions of personality. One dimension is level of assertiveness. The second dimension is people orientation or task focus.

Four types of birds

I like to look at the four categories as birds. They can be summarised like this:


These are low-assertive, low people-orientation types who are analytical, detailed, methodical problem-solvers.

They are judgmental, thorough and are often perfectionists. They are left-brained and do not show much emotion, and they may not pick up on the emotional cues of others.

Because they are risk-averse, they often speak slowly and choose their words carefully. Example: American investor Warren Buffett.


People in this category have a high-assertive, low people-orientation. They are decisive, opinionated, tenacious and competitive.

They know what they want and can be relentless. Because these high-fliers are so task-focused, they may be insensitive towards others. Example: American business magnate Donald Trump.


With a high-assertive, high people-orientation, “parrots” are energetic, enthusiastic, talkative, animated and sociable. They are colourful and like being the centre of attention.

They like fun and adventurous, and are often creative and unconventional.

Parrots may also be hot-tempered, obstinate and lack follow-through as they move on to the next thing that captures their interest. Example: British business magnate and founder of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson.


These people have a low-assertive, high people-orientation, and are friendly, supportive, diplomatic, consensus-driven team players.

They are steady, easy-going and work behind the scenes. Doves are eager to please and easy to work with. However, they shy away from conflict and confrontation, and may be indecisive. Example: United States president Barack Obama.

Smoothing ruffled feathers

Dividing people into one of these four social styles is surprisingly useful. Most people can differentiate the four types rather easily, and with practice, can adapt their own behaviour to enjoy a smoother interaction with a particular individual.

Once you have identified the type of bird you are dealing with, modify your behaviour accordingly. Choose the amount and type of information, structure and language to suit their style.

For example, if your boss is an eagle who likes clear-cut choices, present him with two or three options. Be prepared to give your reasons if he asks. Do not launch into a systematic analysis right off the bat simply because it may be your preferred style.

When writing a report for multiple readers, include something for everyone. Prepare a good executive summary for the eagles, but include detailed appendices for the owls.

Use personal language and a human touch for the doves, while providing colour and excitement for the parrots. Take a similar approach when giving a presentation to a group.

By understanding the type of birds you are working with, you can smooth their feathers and your relationships with them.

Article by David Goldwich, “the Persuasion Doctor”. He conducts workshops on persuasive business presentations, negotiation, and storytelling for leaders and sales professionals. Learn more at www.davidgoldwich.com.