Columns by Eric J. Adams
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Sizing up Your Clients
I've had lots of jobs in my life -- post-hole digger, New York cabbie, telemarketer (Lord forgive my sins, it was only one week), turnip picker, garbage collector. Somewhere along the way and further up the food chain, I landed a job as the marketing and business development guy at a human resources firm that specialized in creating psychological profiles of "ideal" job candidates. If the position in question were, say, electrical engineer, the firm would interview successful and long-term engineers as well as unsuccessful and short-term engineers. All the data was entered into some Ph.D.-driven statistical engine, and voila! out popped the "ideal" profile of the successful candidate.
Did it work? Beats me, but it got the firm lots of work. I was out in six months because, as it turned out, my psychological profile didn't match that of the ideal marketing and business development guy. That they hired me in the first place really makes you wonder.
But the experience wasn't a total loss. While on the job, I picked up some psychological tips that I find useful today when working with clients.
The tips center around something ominously called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). You may have heard of it: it's a personality assessment test used in everything from corporate training to marriage encounters. The assessment asks a ton of questions (for example, "Do you prefer an evening out at a cocktail party or an evening in reading a good book?"). Then, after processing your answers, it spits out your personality type. And while MBTI may not provide deep wisdom, it may help you organize your understanding of human beings.
Basically -- and taking great liberty with terminology -- the assessment suggests that there are eight personality traits, expressed as opposing pairs. To varying degrees, everyone can be classified as:
Extroverts are commonly known as "people people" because their chosen environment is the world of actors and action. Introverts need private space where they can focus on their internal processes.
Detailers see the fine print and are good at tasks requiring attention to particulars. Visionaries see the big picture and are most successful in jobs allowing them to use their imagination and intuition.
Thinkers react logically and analytically, while Feelers react with their hearts and love tasks in which they can feel strongly about the content of their work.
Organizers love to plan and implement strategies. Adapters excel by improvising, and prefer to be swept away by events rather than plan them.
Got all that? Obviously it takes a while to learn, and there's plenty more to be said about each trait and the unique mixtures they create (i.e. someone who is an "Introvert, Visionary, Feeler, Organizer" as opposed to an "Extrovert, Detailer, Thinker, Adapter").
But here's the payoff: Learning Myers-Briggs is like learning a new language, a language that can help you to communicate more effectively with clients.
The process is not scientific, so don't bet on MBTI alone, but once you get the hang of it, lots of things start happening.
You'll start "typing" your clients by the clues they give. Are they shy and awkward? Introvert. Do they talk about grand plans and schemes? Visionary. Do they use external, scientific data to validate arguments? Thinker. Do they pull out the date book faster than you can say, "pencil me in"? Organizer.
So what? Well, if the client is an Introvert, you choose your moments carefully. It's best not to bring up new ideas in meetings; instead, work one-on-one with the Introvert, in his own office or at his desk, when he's ready to talk. Just this tidbit of knowledge alone can help you improve customer relations. But there are plenty more cues you can take. If the client is a Feeler, feel free to make an impassioned presentation. If you're sitting across from an Adapter, go ahead, present several scenarios based on any number of contingencies.
I recently took a meeting with a potential client, the president of a Web start-up, about creating content for his site. He had stars in his eyes as he talked big picture, big picture, big picture ("I want it bold!" he enthused. "Jazzy! Unique!"). It was inspiring to see a Visionary at the helm, but I noticed he wasn't the only sailor on board. His right hand man was there as well, and he had the yellow pad out and jotted down notes at every turn -- a Detailer.
I understood that they spoke different languages, and I tried to speak to each in his own terms. For the president I painted a picture of what the Web pages might look like, complete with a few flashy headlines. For his right-hand man, I focused on the logistics of creating and delivering the text, as well as my qualifications for the job.
For better or worse, I got the contract, and now I deal primarily with the right hand man. Had I ignored his concerns in our initial meeting, I believe, I would not have been chosen. When I do speak with the president, I don't focus on detail, and neither does he. Rather, we talk style, strategy, and future plans. Myers-Briggs pulled through again. And it can pull through for you, particularly when you have a client who appears an enigma. A quick sizing up with MBTI can help you figure out who you're really dealing with. Yes, MBTI is fuzzy logic, but in the sometimes incomprehensible world of client relations, it may be the only logic you'll find.
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