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Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

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Articles: Organizational Effectiveness Archives

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Behavioral Styles And Dealing With Differing Views

Any organization composed of more than one person runs into the need for consensus building from time to time. At least once in a while, everyone you need to deal with doesn't see eye to eye. As law firm marketers and leaders, we need to build consensus and resolve conflicts frequently or our great ideas go nowhere. This takes sensitivity, skill and creativity - especially in the context of a partnership culture.


In learning how best to build rapport, get support and work with a wide range of people, it is useful to know their behavioral styles and preferences. There are several assessment tools to help us identify styles and preferences:

DiSC Personal Profile System

There are two popular and effective methods of identifying personality types among others.The DiSC Personal Profile System (the original DiSC instrument) identifies four styles: dominant or direct; influencing; steadiness or supportiveness; and conscientiousness (DiSC) and their combinations which comprise 15 classical styles. The DiSC system, with its many variations and situation-specific applications, focuses on behavioral styles rather than core personality. It is an easy instrument to use, and since behaviors can change situationally, is useful in building consensus. Knowing your own style and the characteristics, needs and fears of the others helps you adapt words and actions to relate best to the needs and agendas of clients, prospects and colleagues in the firm whose styles you can learn to “read.”

A new tool, DiSC Indra (In-Depth Relationshjip Assessment) applies the DiSC model to interpesonal style. It is especially useful for pairs, teams and groups for realizing the impact of personal behavior on others and how to improve working relationships.

Team Dimensions

This instrument is very useful in building teams and achieving innovation. There are five styles: Creator – Advancer – Refiner – Executor – Facilitator. Very often in organizational situations, managers are frustrated because they ask people to serve in roles that go against their natural tendencies, for example asking a “creator” type to execute the details, or a born “refiner”, one who takes another person's ideas and improves upon them, to come up with original, innovative ideas. Using the Team Dimensions tool, the members of a group or team have a self-assessment tool for understanding their and their colleagues' preferred styles and roles. Then appropriate roles can be delegated so that the tasks proceed most effectively and productively.

Identifying and working with these personality and behavior types is intended to foster understanding and sensitivity and adapting to situations, rather than fundamental change of style (which is virtually impossible anyway). When people are on the same wavelength, the chances of collaboration are increased.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Another well-known and respected instrument is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a tool for identifying 16 patterns which characterize personality preferences. They are combinations of the following:




Perceive/ Judge

The MBTI is a powerful tool for understanding not only personal development, but also for analyzing the developmental needs of an organization. Like the DiSC, it can help to understand a client representative's (officers, managers, etc.) motives and needs and the way he or she will perceive and deal with the information received.

The basic “attitudes” of personality are: introversion –energy goes inward; and extroversion – tends outward toward action and expression.

The basic preferences receiving information are sensation – focus on present time, here-and-now facts, attentive to details; and intuition – focus on future time, possibilities.

The basic preferences for processing information are functions of judgment: thinking – makes judgments that are logical, objective, impersonal and value fairness; and feeling – subjective and concerned with personal values, often deciding based on awareness of others' feelings.

Lastly is the basic preference for facing the world: the judging stance likes planning and control of events, order, structure and decisiveness; the perceiving stance prefers openness to what may come, spontaneity and gathering more information.


We will always have to deal at times with “difficult” people and those who see things differently from ourselves. Friction or conflict can occur. Remember that people resist giving ground because of fears of being bested, being embarrassed, losing face or losing control.

Active listening should be used to: find out what the primary intent of the consensus-busters is. What is the driver of the particular situation? Use it to build bridges. Assume there is a positive intention and identify it. Ask questions to get on the person's “train” and mirror his or her style and conversation tone and intensity. Equally important, mirror the body language. Then articulate your own positive intent – or what the firm is trying to do. It is important at this point not to challenge the intent, opinions or behavior. The mediator and the other side should be trying to understand, sympathize and reach common ground to begin to bring others over to their point of view or mission.The steps above are useful for dealing with difficult people.

Beyond that, remember that while you cannot change a person's personality, behaviors can be changed. You can influence behavior change by the way you approach, speak to and respond to a person's behavior tendencies. The way to begin is to assure that you maintain a positive mindset, no matter how difficult that is at times when faced with negative attitudes and actions from others. Here are some tactics that usually prove successful.

  • Don't be defensive. Don't take the negativism personally. Many, if not most, negative people, perhaps particularly lawyers, don't realize they are being negative – it's the natural way they think, reinforced by their training to look for all the reasons things can't work.
  • Get a dialogue going. Ask open-ended questions and listen showing your interest, that what they think and say matters to you.
  • Throw them the ball. Let them list all the reasons “why not” and then ask: what are the most important things to them? Focus on one or two items of most concern to them and ask for their suggestions to address those concerns. Keep asking for constructive, productive suggestions, and only continue the conversation as long as they are willing to be constructive.
  • Give them a role. Involve the people with negative or opposing attitudes by listening to their opinions, giving them options as to how to get done what is needed, empower them to make decisions – not just blame someone else for their inability to act.
  • Establish accountability. Communicate goals for performance and hold them accountable. Accountability is fostered by tracking behaviors, progress on actions, and giving constructive feedback on improvements.
  • Reinforce strengths. Point out their skills, accomplishments and strengths. Many negative people are insecure and lack self-confidence and self-esteem, no matter what professional accomplishments they have under their belts.
  • Create an environment of encouragement. The most effective ways to do this are to foster a culture of showing appreciation, giving positive feedback, treating everyone fairly, and articulating clear goals and expectations.
  • Focus on the present and the future. Don't dwell on past history and baggage. If necessary, talk it out and put it to rest, then concentrate on what is now and what needs to be done for mutual benefit.
  • Keep the focus on the big picture. Don't get derailed by the details to the detriment of where you want to go.
  • Call a time out. Set a time limit for immersion in a negative situation or with a difficult person. Move away from it for a while, and come back after time for reflection and re-energizing.
  • Reinforce positive behaviors. Follow up with praise for cooperation and resolution of differences. If there is no improvement after a reasonable amount of time, it may be necessary to point out consequences and revisit the action plan.

The internal dynamics within and organiation, particularly a partnership, can be frustrating and destructive of maximum productivity. Dealing successfully with the behaviors and personalities requires savvy use of interpersonal skills, awareness of the principles of influence, belief in one's self – and often, a good coach.


© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2003.

This article contains excerpts from Chapter 41 of THE RAINMAKING MACHINE: Marketing, Planning, Strategies, and Management for Law Firms (West Group, 2003). A version of it appeared in the New York Law Journal, June 13, 2000.

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