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Communicating effectively with practice staff

Understanding the personality types of the people in your practice team can help you improve communication, avoid conflict and save time. Caroline Stagg explains the DISC system.

Individuals' personality type affects the way they communicate (Picture: iStock)
Individuals' personality type affects the way they communicate (Picture: iStock)

With practice workloads at an all-time high, the last thing anyone has time for is dealing with conflict and power struggles, communication problems, lack of motivation, woolly decision-making and stress.When working under pressure, people can rub each other up the wrong way without meaning to, or even being aware of it. 

For example, Sally finds Dave rude, demanding and difficult to work with; she thinks he charges around like a bull in a china shop, with no regard for anyone else. Dave finds Sally’s attitude to work boring and slow and thinks she can never just get on without asking five people what they think. Their work relies on them cooperating and it’s just not happening. They drain time and energy, narrowing the team’s perspective and can cause the practice to work ineffectively and be slow to innovate.

Learn to read people quickly

However, there is a simple tool that can help you get the most out of the people you work with, help them work together more effectively and make a real difference to improved performance and resilience in your team. It shows you show to ‘read’ people in minutes rather than taking months or years to work them out.

What I’m going to outline here is a simplified version of a system called DISC that I use with my clients to get great results. The system breaks down personality styles by whether the person is outgoing vs reserved; and whether they are more people focused vs task focused. 

Outgoing people tend to be fast-paced, energetic, optimistic, involved, positive and enthusiastic. Reserved people tend to be slower paced, cautious, conscientious, reflective, critical thinkers and creative.

Reserved people aren’t unenthusiastic – they just show it differently.Task-focused people are very comfortable with procedures, plans, projects and process. People-focused people are more relational, caring, sharing and emotional. 

The DISC system

So, the four DISC styles:

  • D is outgoing/task-focused
  • I is outgoing/people-focused 
  • S is reserved/people-focused
  • C is reserved task-focused 

It’s possible for anyone to do any job but they tend to do it to suit their personality style. Once you can understand how you tend to approach your work (or how others do it), it’s much easier to make sense of what people need from you and what you need to ask them for. There’s no good, bad, right or wrong about it – it’s just preferences.

Our preferences will be a blend of the four styles but one or two styles tend to dominate and form our ‘autopilot’. That’s the mode we work in unconsciously - our comfort zone. Read the brief summary of the four styles below and see if you can recognise anyone you know or can recognise yourself.

Personality styles

D style: focused on the bottom line, they like to get things done and want to be judged on their results, not their methods. They’re demanding of themselves and others and motivated by having power and authority. However, they can come across as uncaring and a bit aggressive. Success is important to them and they hate to fail.

I style: interested in people, they like to talk a lot and interact with others. They tend to be enthusiastic and optimistic; they’re not big on detail. They like praise and recognition, and having fun is important to them. Being popular is important to them too so they may not be the best person to deliver negative feedback. 

S style: big-hearted, supportive and diplomatic team players who are kind and caring, they like to please and want harmony. They’re dependable, like routine and aren’t great fans of change that they don’t see the point of. They don’t tend to be motivated by competition, preferring security and a slow, steady pace.

C style: consistent, on time, and reliable, they like tradition and routine. They appreciate accurate, precise answers and like value for money. Ds want it done, but Cs want it done properly. C styles tend to avoid conflict and can spend so much time planning that they almost forget to put their plans into action.

How to apply this in practice

Going back to Dave and Sally’s working relationship, if D-style Dave understands how he tends to behave and how he can come across, especially to someone like S-style Sally, he might remember to ask her opinion about things sometimes and ask her how her weekend went. S-style Sally would feel appreciated. If Dave realises how Sally actually pays attention to some important things that he tends to overlook, he might realise how Sally helps him sometimes, catches things he misses, and makes him look good.

In turn, Sally might understand how her slow pace sometimes really grinds Dave’s gears, when he’s one of the people in the practice who actually makes things happen. He doesn’t mean to be rude, he just wants progress. She could just keep her emails short, give him the bullet points quickly and let him know she has more detail if he wants it.

Some practices also have a practice ‘culture’ that promotes a certain style of behaviour; this can lead to a lack of diversity in teams or to some members not being able to perform to maximum efficiency. 

Understanding your autopilot can show you what your value is to the practice and the value of the other people you work with. Once you understand this you can also see how you can alter your own behaviour to work more effectively with colleagues, or to achieve different results, bringing more efficiency and harmony to a challenging environment.

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