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Sharpen Your People Skills

Understanding the four habit patterns leads to better working relationships

Corporation builder John Rockefeller once stated that he would “pay more for the ability to deal with people than any other ability under the sun.”

Teddy Roosevelt said, “The most important single ingredient to the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”

A proverb in Ecclesiastes 10:10 says: “If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed. But skill will bring success.”

Whether you are a material handling manager, salesperson, customer service rep or the president/CEO, people skills are needed to succeed and get the job done. Yet the concept of “people skills” often is elusive. Perhaps it’s the complexity of human behavior that makes it so difficult. There are all types of people-people who act and behave differently or have different value systems.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if we had a model to help us make sense of complex people behavior, a simple method that would help us identify, adjust and respond to improve our relationships? In 1928, Dr. William Moulton Marston published a book, The Emotions of Normal People, in which he described the DISC theory. Dr. Marston believed that people tend to learn a self-concept that is basically in accord with one of four factors:


Using scientific observation, the behavior of people can be applied to four styles or habit patterns. With this information, a model can be created to help us understand and be more productive with all types of people. Of course, you can’t put people in a box. You can’t neatly divide people into four groups. However, the following model can help us simplify complex human beings and understand how to respect different styles and work together.

In the Habit Pattern Model, there are two continuums-the horizontal axis and the vertical axis. The horizontal axis describes how a person gets things done, directly or indirectly. Does the person take action or wait and move more slowly? The vertical axis describes how a person shows emotion. Are they closed or open emotionally?

Habit Patterns
By careful observation of people’s behavior (verbally, tonally and non-verbally), you can learn to scope out which quadrant or habit pattern describes the person. For example, if an individual is very patient, hesitant to speak, soft-voiced and less assertive, they are on the indirect side of the horizontal axis. If they are very unemotional and steady, they would be on the closed end of the vertical axis. This would make them indirect and closed, putting them in the Evaluator quadrant.

  • Habit pattern is indirect and closed.
  • Slow in making a decision.
  • Rates low as risk taker.
  • Likes detailed approach.
  • Wants to justify everything.
  • Stays away from confrontation by avoiding contact.
  • Doesn’t like to return telephone calls.
  • If a problem exists, would rather write a letter than tell you in person.
  • Must be informed that his or her opinion is wanted and respected.
  • Habit pattern is indirect and open.
  • Slow in decision making.
  • Low in risk taking.
  • Likes friendly approach.
  • Wants opinions accepted.
  • Very loyal to relationships.
  • Is more personal.
  • Avoids fights by giving in.
  • Will not tell you when dissatisfied-observe nonverbal signs.
  • Will deny having a problem but appreciates talking about it.
  • Habit pattern is direct and closed.
  • Makes decisions quickly.
  • Willing to take risks.
  • Interested in bottom line-“What’s in it for me?”
  • Dislikes laziness.
  • Wants results.
  • When under pressure, becomes autocratic.
  • Is a fighter.
  • Takes issue with how product or service failed to meet expectations.
  • Businesslike.
  • Practical.
  • Immediate.
  • Habit pattern is direct and open.
  • Makes decisions quickly.
  • High risk taker.
  • Intuitive.
  • Wants to be recognized.
  • Dislikes boredom.
  • Welcomes status.
  • Attacks under stress, and attack is personalized.
  • Will let you know something is wrong-blames the other person.
  • Capable of verbal abuse in front of audience.

Consider those four habit patterns. Where do you land? Can you place co-workers or employees in one of the habit patterns? How can you use this model in a practical way? Begin by taking a brutally honest look at your own behavior. Know your habit pattern and understand the way you are wired. Then become skillful at recognizing the behavior and corresponding habit patterns of others. Learn to respect these other styles and honor their value system and how they do business. Clearly, the habit pattern diagonal to yours is “diametrically different.” Typically, that style will conflict with yours.

Each habit pattern has strengths and weaknesses. No one style is good or bad. People skills require an understanding of your style and the other styles that are different than yours. Flexibility allows you to adjust to improve interactions and establish a more harmonious working relationship. When you adjust your behavior, you relate to people on a level that is acceptable and comfortable with them.

Remember the Golden Rule? “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Perhaps we missed the fullest meaning intended. Often in the material handling industry, we do to others as we want it done to us, when really it means to do to others the way they want it done to them!

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association

Don Buttrey Meet the Author
Don Buttrey is the president of Sales Professional Training Inc, located in Beavercreek, Ohio, and on the Web at www.salesprofessionaltraining.com.

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