Managing people better by relating to their personal styles

Managing people better by relating to their personal styles

Managing people in the modern globalised workplace is like herding cats. Managers need to effectively relate to people's unique personal styles and to different cultural, educational and generational backgrounds. That's easier said than done. But what if there were a tool to help managers better understand the individual styles of their team members?

TIPS, the innovation people profiling method I've created for Thinkergy, makes management easier by showing how to recognise these unique styles. TIPS is based on the theory that people tend to orient themselves to one or more of four basic dimensions: Theories and knowledge; Ideas; People; or Systems and processes. Today, let's understand how people differ in the way they think, work, interact and live their lives, and how you can get the best out of them.

Thinking style: Figure vs Fantasy: Figure people are left brain-directed, analytical thinkers who like working with numbers, statistics and spreadsheets. They think sequentially, step by step in scientific style.

How to manage Figure thinkers? Appeal to and make good use of their analytical minds. Assign them quantitative roles and projects. Know that they document everything (including your HR discussions, so keep a record of important conversations, too).

In contrast, Fantasy thinkers are right brain-directed, indicating they enjoy creativity, ideas, indulging in fantasies and envisioning a compelling future. They follow a more "radiant" thinking style and may jump back and forth while working on an issue.

How to manage Fantasy thinkers? Stimulate and harness their creativity in qualitative roles and projects requiring ideas and imagination. Ask for their ideas whenever appropriate, and create solutions together with them (including their personal issues, such as career paths). But ensure they keep files, as they don't enjoy shuffling paper.

Work style: Brain vs Brawn: Brain workers are strategic, big-picture thinkers who prefer abstract, conceptual projects. They focus on ambitious goals and have a medium- to long-term time horizon. "Brainiacs" dislike having to "sweat the small stuff" associated with managerial roles. They work in leaps and bounds, alternating periods of intense cognitive work with relaxation and recreation.

How to get the best out of them? Brainiacs are motivated by challenging projects. Agree on goals you want them to achieve in the medium term. Then trust they will figure out how to achieve them and contact you if they need help. Don't micro-manage them.

Brawn-workers are practical doers who prefer concrete, tangible tasks. They move forward task by task and get satisfaction from ticking off the boxes on their daily to-do lists.

Because "Brawniacs" focus more on achieving short-term goals, they prefer short-term control loops where you give them feedback on how they're doing. Hence, they don't mind being micro-managed (and practise it themselves on subordinates if they're the boss).

Interaction style: Fact vs Feeling: Fact interactors are all about evidence-based communication and decision-making. They make their case based on data and can be very blunt and argumentative. They have low tolerance for nonsense as they care first and foremost about truth and intellectual honesty.

How to best interact with such people? Do your homework and look up the facts involved in a project, task or case. Build up your arguments based on the evidence at hand to gain respect -- and to avoid the embarrassment of being put on the spot if your argument isn't sound.

On the other hand, dealing with Feeling interactors is a piece of cake. They are friendly, caring and empathic. They consider other people's feelings and points of view, including yours. They are very good at observing emotional cues that reveal others' true thoughts and feelings. They prefer making decisions in a team or using their gut.

How to manage them? "Feelers" care for appreciation, understanding and emotional bonding. Practise an interpersonal management style. Show sincere concern for their work and life challenges. Listen to their empathic perspectives. Involve them in decisions whenever possible to reach a consensus or at least seek their understanding and agreement.

Lifestyle: Form vs Flow: Form people relish the status quo. They prefer a stable world where traditions and rituals are honoured and everything has its formal order. They are dependable, punctual and set. As they enjoy optimising projects and realising efficiencies, they dislike others rocking the boat and fixing things that ain't broken.

How to best manage them? Show them you value their reliability and commitment and welcome their contributions. If your company goes through a transformation, know that form-oriented people tend to resist change, so help them adjust.

In contrast, Flow people are flexible, agile and progressive. They love variety, progress and change. In fact, they drive change and create the truly new. They relish taking a bold risk they consider worthwhile. They express their individuality and opinions, and are less concerned with punctuality and etiquette.

How to manage Flow people? Give them freedom to roam in space and time. Don't lock them into a cubicle-prison. Tolerate their quirks and informal ways, knowing that geniuses are highly individualised. Offer them a chance to dedicate some of their work time to innovative projects that interest them -- and also help your firm. They may thank you by coming up with the Next Big Thing.

Dr Detlef Reis is the founding director and chief ideator of Thinkergy Limited (, the ideation and innovation company in Asia. He is also an adjunct associate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University. He can be reached at

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