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Classifying Client Personalities to Better Accommodate Their Legal Needs

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Many attorneys do not really understand what clients need. They may feel they understand their client's legal needs and are active in client trade and community groups. But personal relationship with each client may not progress as the attorney once had envisioned it might. For instance, attorneys can make a concerted effort to provide very detailed information with all their work so clients would understand the comprehensive nature of the services offered. For some clients this did not seem enough, while for others the detail was overwhelming. One client may actually become upset with a lengthy report, impatiently interrupting the attorney's explanation by demanding, "What's the bottom line?" Attorneys can have doubts that they will ever find a middle ground that satisfies all their clients. One solution is to learn the client's personality types and speak their individual "languages."

Classifying Client Personalities to Better Accommodate Their Legal Needs

Many attorneys do not really understand what clients need. They may feel they understand their client's legal needs and are active in client trade and community groups. But personal relationship with each client may not progress as the attorney once had envisioned it might. For instance, attorneys can make a concerted effort to provide very detailed information with all their work so clients would understand the comprehensive nature of the services offered. For some clients this did not seem enough, while for others the detail was overwhelming. One client may actually become upset with a lengthy report, impatiently interrupting the attorney's explanation by demanding, "What's the bottom line?" Attorneys can have doubts that they will ever find a middle ground that satisfies all their clients. One solution is to learn the client's personality types and speak their individual "languages."

CLASSIFYING CLIENT PERSONALITIES

Despite the similarity of most practice area work, client personalities can make similar tasks seem dramatically different. One client asks to be inundated with information. Another client wants concise counsel and depends on the attorney to keep supporting information on target.

A simple personality classification system can help sort through personal idiosyncrasies and ease diversity of the client base. Of course a doctorate degree in psychology might reasonably argue that this system goes beyond simple to simplistic. Yet many businesspeople and professionals
have made this system work for them.

Personality classification is based on a comprehensive system originated in the book, Non-Manipulative Selling by Tony Alessandra, Phil Wexler, and Rick Barrera. It is a method of intensely studying client behavior and then responding accordingly—attorney behavioral adaptation! The benefit to the client is that the attorney works and communicates in a way to which he or she can relate and feel comfortable. The benefit to the attorney is a better relationship with clients.

PERSONALITY CLASSIFICATION

The basis of this personality classification is that human (in this case client) behavior can be broken down into a two distinct personality characteristics: assertiveness and responsiveness. Assertiveness is proactive while responsiveness is reactive. Personalities exist in combinations of these two general
characteristics. Everyone is, to some degree, somewhat proactive and somewhat reactive. It is the degree of each as well as their combination that makes each person unique. Combinations of the two characteristics result in four personality combinations according to this methodology;
  • self-contained/indirect
  • self-contained/direct
  • open/indirect
  • open/direct
Each combination results in a personality type which can be identified and named: thinker, director, relator, and socializer.

Thinker (self-contained/indirect). As the name implies, this personality type tends to be motivated by detailed facts and task-oriented problems. Thinkers are generally slow moving, relatively low in self-esteem, and in need of detailed information to make a decision.

Director (direct/self-contained). This type is very assertive although not very responsive. Directors' concerns are with tasks to the extent that tasks and facts will contribute to goal attainment.

Relator (open/indirect). This type usually is more interested in relationships and much less in tasks. They tend to be susceptible to the suggestions of anyone on which they feel they can rely. It is difficult for them tomake decisions on their own.

Socializer (open/direct). This type is opinionated and a risk taker. They are highly relationship oriented and fast paced. They can make quickdecisions enthusiastically. Since they are gregarious, they are great referralsources if they are pleased.

Attorneys can ascertain their clients' personality types by observing their behavior and reaching conclusions regarding past behavior. A few generalizations about a particular client's business style will show a tendency toward one personality classification. After that, the attorney can watch for indications that the client's style is changing or has changed and can assign a new classification when appropriate.

Of course people do not always conform to one personality classification but generally have strong tendencies and "backup" styles which they will adopt when they perceive certain stimuli. What causes one to either raise or lower their assertiveness or responsiveness varies according to the individual. To make the classification system work, the attorney must be able to recognize changes and even their causes in order to produce appropriate responses. The attorney must develop a specific style of his or her own to deal with each personality situation.

Specific recommendations:

Thinkers. These clients will need lots of detail, almost to absurdity, and sometimes only remotely relevant. The attorney's strategy should be to inundate them with information and then guide them to a decision. This information must be well organized and offer tangible evidence of its worth. Analytics are more comfortable with written information and correspondence than personal or telephone conversations so the attorney should always follow each meeting with this client type with a summarization and written recommendation.

Directors. These clients are goal and results oriented. They require efficiency and organization without much emphasis on personal relationships. The attorney should allow this client type to discover things rather than be told. The attorney-client relationship should be businesslike without an attempt to move into a more casual, personal relationship (unless the client actively seeks it). Disagreements should be argued on the basis on facts, not personal feelings.

Relaters. These clients will value relationships, people, and relative values. They have difficulty making a strong stand on any given issue. The attorney should support their individual feelings and emotional inclinations to establish personal bonds. They should be treated like close friends. The attorney must be careful to seek out and understand what this client type really wants rather than what the client may think the attorney wants to hear. Debates with amiables should be based on feelings rather than on facts, and all communication should be slow, informal, and open.

Socializers. These clients will be risk takers with strong opinions. They have a great potential as referral sources for the attorney. While they value relationships, they like ideas to be their own and they like to argue points. The attorney should help these clients to talk about their opinions, ideas, and dreams and offer support for those things. These clients do not like to lose arguments, so the attorney should make sure all alternatives are explored with mutual enthusiasm. Expressives can be influenced by references and referrals from entrepreneurs and companies they admire, so the attorney should make these available when seeking new clients and serving established clients.

PUTTING THE INFORMATION TO WORK

So how did our attorney friend do after reading this information? After a few months, he began to react to client needs according to his increased understanding of their personality styles. He began to enjoy client relationships more and feel less agitated by personal reactions which he felt were beyond his control. His clients seemed to appreciate his professional services more as well.

He began using the classifications in business as well as social settings. He developed strategies for dealing with people as outlined in Non-Manipulative Selling. Particularly with clients, he found treating them the way they wanted and speaking their language was not only fun but gratifying as well. The more he used the system, the more he understood why he had difficulty dealing with certain people in the past.