A constant stream of emails into our inbox seems to be a growing problem of the 21st century. Have you heard your colleagues complaining that they have had a day off and come back to 200 plus emails? you have probably made the same complaint yourself and wondered why you bothered taking the day off in the first place. My personal inbox is no better and I have made things worse by signing up for endless newsletters but sometimes it pays off to skim through these promotional emails. Along with being a Virtual Assistant, I also run a small vintage business called Olive Road, so when I received an email from Do it Digital, the team behind Small Business Saturday on how to improve sales, it caught my eye. The Entrepreneurs Godmother, Alison Edgar was giving this particular talk about helping small businesses identify their customer’s personality types and how adapt their style to help seal the deal. Alison is a bold, confident woman who strikes me as being honest, likable and I can see why she was always winning awards when she was a sales manager. Alison starts by saying ‘sometimes we meet people but don’t like them, in sales we have to get on with everyone’.

Alison’s statement got me thinking about the role of the Executive PA as we certainly come across people we like more than others but in order to work effectively we have to get on with everyone.  Alison explains that if we understand different personality types, we can adapt our style so that we can ‘get the sale’ or in terms of an Executive PA, influence that person so we can get the job done. I went to the presentation thinking I was going to be able to sell more vintage stock but I came away realising I could use this tool to make my emails more effective, get along better with people I find difficult and therefore be better at my job.

Alison’s secret is based on William Moulton Marsden’s psychological research on normal emotions, the behaviours that we use to survive. The programme has been devised by Ensize and is known as Puzzle Disc as individuals are assigned a behavioural colour depending on their tendencies. It is a popular programme used by Human Resources departments so some of you may already know which group you belong to but Alison simplifies the programme for the purpose of the presentation and I found it a useful introduction. People are categorised into four colours depending on whether they are task or relations focused, introverted or extroverted as demonstrated on the diagram below.

Alison describes ‘Red’ people as goal focused, they are independent problem solvers who like change, challenges and competition. They like to get to the result as soon as possible, so when dealing with a person who shows these signs it is important to get to the point quickly, cut out the niceties such as ‘how was your weekend’ and be direct. Be aware of their impatience and propose options clearly.

Those who are categorised as ‘yellow’ are more people focused, they like to build relationships and tend to be upbeat, smiley and expressive. They are talkers and often talk about themselves, perhaps a long story about their weekend. When dealing with this type it is important to ask open questions and allow them to talk. Don’t give them too much detail and focus on future benefits.

Then we have the ‘Greens’ and these are the caring types. They like to be asked something personal, so starting with an email asking them about their weekend. A thank you to them means more than a pay rise. They like to work in a calm place and as part of a team. They work slower and it is important not to push them but show genuine care for their needs.

Back to the top of the diagram we arrive at the ‘Blues’ and when dealing with people who fall into this group it is important to slow down, be formal and structured. They take copious notes, are highly logical and like to stick to the rules. They are likely to be the Finance Director of your company. Alison explains that most people are a mix of all colours but usually one colour is dominant.

It is all very well learning how to adapt your style to these personality types but how do you identify them? Alison shows us a quick trick using people’s LinkedIn profile photos.  Red personality types will have a close up shot, wear something bright and have very little background in the photo. They are the focus and quite serious.  Where as a yellow person’s photo will look more like a Facebook picture, probably a selfie with a drink in their hand. The photo is close up like the reds but more casual and they are probably pouting. The Green’s might be difficult to spot as you can’t always make them out in the photo. They don’t want to be the main subject and the background is the focus. They hide their eyes or wear sunglasses and are probably with another person in the photo. Blues are the people that chose a professionally taken photograph, they have thought about the background and everything is in proportion, they are most likely to be wearing formal dress.

This is a very brief introduction to the Ensize personality profiling but I think it could be a useful tool especially when writing emails. Alison’s final advice is it is important to be genuine and not to change yourself but only to adapt your style to suit the person you are dealing with.  In 2015 a company called Neuro Colour identified a different personality assessment based on our brain chemistry, categorising people into four neurological systems. One of the co-founders, Helen Fisher interviewed in the Harvard Business Review states ‘if you understand how to size up those around you, you can reach anyone – your clients, bosses, subordinates – far more effectively’.  She goes on to say ‘we can act out of character but its tiring’ so at Neurocolor they test people twice, how they are at home and how they are at work as ‘a measure of authenticity: where are you most yourself?’

There are many other personality test systems around, Myers Briggs being the first one I encountered at work. I’ve always felt uncomfortable with categorising people into either four or sixteen personality types when we are all complex individuals. However, I can see the benefit in using the Ensize Puzzle Disc system as a quick way to identify someone’s common tendencies and adapting my communication style to suit them. It is not in my nature to be direct but in some situations it is the best way to achieve what you want, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.

I’m afraid using this tool isn’t going to reduce the amount of emails currently filling up your inbox but it does mean that by tailoring your outgoing emails accordingly, the person at the receiving end won’t groan when they see your name pop up.  They might even open your email first as they know it is something they can respond to quickly and there be something in it for them.  As a tip, it is worth skim reading your ‘sales’ emails, add them to a folder as they come in to avoid clogging up your inbox and read them once a week, maybe on a Friday afternoon. You can unsubscribe from any that are not useful but in a similar case to me being invited to this Do it Digital event, one email might pop into your inbox at the right time that is exactly what you are looking for.