Leveraging Social Styles for hockey stick growth

Nik Nicholas
5 min readDec 30, 2021

“If you were asked to think about clients and buyers that are generally difficult to work with or sell to; how easily and readily can you adapt your approach to improve your relationship with these people?”

When dealing with people—particularly those you want convert into clients—on a daily basis, its important to know how to deal with patterns in their behaviour and differentiate Social Styles from personality based programmes like Myers-Briggs; the key differentiator being the focus on aforementioned behavioural patterns rather than character traits. In essence identifying understanding and adapting to how people Think, Act and React. A key benefit to leveraging Social Styles is when we come to understand ourselves through the eyes of others, learning to modify our actions to better match others needs, and observe again and again how relationships, communication, and influence with others improves.

The Social Styles

In short, everyone can fall into one of four Social Style quadrants:

Driving, Expressive, Amicable or Analytical and it’s pretty easy to figure out which quadrant you, or anyone else, falls into by asking the following questions:

  • Is the person more people oriented or more task oriented?
  • Does the person tend to ask more questions or tell others what to do?

Answering these questions, and charting the answers on the graph below, is how you identify a persons Social Style.

Fig 1. Social Style Matrix © Nik Nicholas 2021

Heres a quick definition of each Social Style:

  • Driving: strong willed and more emotionally controlled
  • Expressive: outgoing and more dramatic
  • Amiable: easy going and more supportive
  • Analytical: serious and more exacting

If you were to look across the typical business most managers and decision makers would be Drivers; Creatives and marketeers tend to be Expressives; operations and support functions like HR, Amiables; finance, engineering and the like, Analytical.

However, if you were asked to think about clients and buyers that are generally difficult to work with or sell to; how easily and readily can you adapt your approach to improve your relationship with these people? The chart below details each Social Styles strengths and weaknesses, whats important to them, how to play to their style and what to avoid.

Fig 2. Style Preferences © Nik Nicholas 2021

Controlling the agenda

To improve a relationship and swing the balance of power in negotiations in your favour using Social Styles, you need to do two things: recognise the other persons Social Style and then adapt your own in a way that enables reaching a mutual goal efficiently.

Recognising someone else’s Social Style is quite easy with the matrix above. However if you’re in the middle of selling to someone and haven’t pinpointed their Social Style yet, keep an eye out for whats called a Back-up Behaviour. People typically exhibit their Back-up Behaviour when they feel attacked or hard done by. Drivers will take over conversation; Analytical people will avoid any confrontations; Amiable people will concede and give in; Expressive people either attack or get defensive. If you notice any of these behaviours, thats your signal to adapt your own behaviour in return and regain the strong negotiating position.

Figure 2 above is a key to use when adapting your own behaviour. Find the column for the Social Style of the prospect you’re engaging with and refer to the corresponding ‘Make Effort To Be’ and ‘Support Their’ rows. This gives an indication of how you should consider adapt your behaviour.

For instance, say you’re working on a deal with me (a Driver) and you thought I was being unreasonable in my demands and not being realistic when it comes to the commercials of our deal.

One thing you’d want to avoid is asking your typical open-ended sales questions and rolling off boiler plate objection handling responses that require me to think any longer than i have to before I answer. I don’t care. I’d likely drop a few subtle hints about my disinterest in this type of conversation until you catch my drift and leave. Now we’re both angered by the interaction, our relationship hasn’t improved and we’ve both wasted time with no positive results.

But, by being aware of my Driver Social Style, you’d realise there’s a better way to engage me — end this conversation swiftly—as to not do any more damage—with some follow-up actions on your part, and request a further brief and pointed meeting. Be clear to outline exactly what you want to discuss; support my position, conclusions and actions so far; in an effort to get the deal project back on track, provide options for alternative ways we could proceed and note the commercial profiles & outcomes of each. In essence, cater to my Social Style, persuade me to see things your way by making your argument in a way that I can most easily and readily digest.

Say you were an Amiable person, a real people person, someone who likes rally their troops and get everyone on side — taking such a cold, direct approach to a negotiation might feel a little out of character. But by adapting your Social Style, our interaction would be more likely to have a positive outcome.


Understanding the Social Styles model is relatively easy, learning it even easier still, but applying it in real world situations under pressure, against the clock and with so much at stake; can be difficult. It’s something you have to actively work on incorporating it into your daily communication style. It’s not intuitive to recognise someones Social Style and immediately know how to cater to it. But there are things you can do to make implementation of the model easier.

An easy way to approach this with your prospects is to list and plot their Social Styles, identifying those that are generally more difficult to engage with. From here it’s important to be cognisant of your own misgivings around potentially not recognising their Social Styles and the impact this was contributing to the difficulties in your negotiations.

This exercise in itself can highlight the fact that as sales people we can be as much to blame for our troubled working relationships as our prospects are. Now, when we engage with these people in the future, we already know where they’re coming from — what their motivations are, what assurances they need, how to make them feel valuable, because we’ve already done the prep work — and can focus on seamlessly adapting our behaviour in a way that promotes a more powerful negotiating position, enables us to control the agenda and as a result, win more deals.