People literacy is knowing how to read and understand the behavioral style differences of others.

Every Manager has experienced the frustration of not understanding why one management approach that works beautifully with one employee is ineffective with another. That’s because what we think would be motivating isn’t always motivating to someone else.

The same principle applies to client and co-worker relationships. We “click” or connect with some individuals and understand each other. But we also work with individuals who approach things differently. Research shows there are four different behavioral style dimensions. Understanding their characteristics can help us become more effective in our interactions with each other.

Four Dimensions

The Personal Profile System® is an instrument that helps identify how we tend to behave. It identifies four different behavioral dimensions: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness. Although we behave with all four dimensions, we tend to use one or two most often.


People who demonstrate the Dominant (“D”) behavioral style are usually fast-paced and task-oriented people. They thrive on the challenge of solving problems. Those with the “D” behavioral tendencies are quick decision makers. They don’t wait to be given authority; they take it. Don’t bog these people down with fluff or details—only results interest them. “Ds” are most comfortable when they can control their environment. They work best when they are free from controls and supervision. They overcome opposition to get the job done.

Those with the “D” behavioral tendencies tend to get immediate results, cause action, accept challenges, make quick decisions, question the status quo, take authority, manage trouble, and solve problems. They seek an environment that includes power, authority, prestige, challenge, opportunity, scope, freedom, and variety. But they need others who weigh pros and cons, calculate risks, use caution, structure a more predictable environment, research facts, deliberate before deciding, and recognize the needs of others. In fact, to be more effective, those with the “D” behavioral style need to understand that they need people, identification with a group, an awareness of existing sanctions, and to pace self and relax more.


Individuals with the Influence, or “I” behavioral tendency are also fast-paced, but they are more people-oriented. These are the “people people.” They prefer to be around others and are enthusiastic and entertaining. Popularity is important to them. They get their job done by making allies with others. They enjoy contacting people, making a favorable impression, speaking articulately, creating a motivational environment, generating enthusiasm, entertaining people, and participating in groups. They seek an environment that includes popularity, social recognition, freedom of expression, group activities, democratic relationships, freedom from control and detail, opportunity to verbalize proposals, coaching and counseling skills, and favorable working conditions. They need others who concentrate on the task, seek facts, speak directly, respect sincerity, develop systematic approaches, prefer dealing with people, take a logical approach, and demonstrate individual follow-through. To be more effective, individuals with the “I” behavioral style need control of time, objectivity in decision-making, participatory management, more realistic appraisals of others, priorities and deadlines, and to be more firm with others.


Like those with the Influencing style, individuals who demonstrate the Steadiness or “S” behavioral tendency are people-oriented but at a much slower pace. The “S” style doesn’t like to make quick decisions, but value consistency instead. The “S” style is patient and loyal. They also are very good at listening to people and calming others when they get upset. Individuals with the “S” behavioral style focus on cooperating with others to accomplish their tasks.

Individuals with the Steadiness pattern tend to perform in a consistent, predictable manner. They desire to help others, demonstrate patience, develop specialized skills, concentrate on the task, show loyalty, be good listeners, and calm excited people. They seek an environment that includes security, predictability, minimal work infringement on home life, credit for work done well, sincere appreciation, identification with a group, and minimal conflict. They need others who react quickly to unexpected change, stretch toward the challenges of an accepted task, become involved in more than one thing, are self-promoting, apply pressure on others, work comfortably in an unpredictable environment, prioritize work, are flexible in work procedures, and contribute value to the work. To be more effective, individuals with the Steadiness style need conditioning prior to change, validation of self-worth, information on how best to contribute, work associates of similar competence, guidelines, encouragement, and confidence in the ability of others.


Individuals who demonstrate the Conscientious or “C” behavioral tendency are slower paced and task-oriented. The “Cs” are concerned about doing the job right and will pay inordinate amounts of attention making sure it is. Unless quality will be improved, the “C” does not like sudden or abrupt changes. They get their job done by working with the existing circumstances to promote quality.

These people attend to key directives and standards, concentrate on key details, use a systematic approach to situations, are diplomatic with people, check for accuracy, think critically, and use subtle or indirect approaches to conflict. They seek an environment that includes security, standards, protection, reassurance, stability, and collegiality. They need others who delegate important tasks, make quick decisions, open doors, use policies only as guidelines, compromise with the opposition, state unpopular positions, initiate and facilitate discussion and encourage teamwork. To be more effective, individuals with the “C” behavioral tendency need precision work, opportunity for careful planning, exact job descriptions, scheduled performance appraisals, respect for their personal worth, and tolerance for conflict.

Adapting to Another’s Dimension

Different behavioral dimensions are not a liability. They are an asset because one person’s limitation is another’s strength. If you understand and respect another’s individuality, you can give the other person what they need to feel good and you can build on their limitations. For example, if you are managing “Ds” you must understand and respect their need to control the environment. Don’t try to force your behavioral dimension on them. If you do, they will balk. Let them set their schedule and work however is best for them. Those with the “I” style want to be sure they will have plenty of interaction with other people when they do their job. They think of projects in terms of how much fun they will be. The “S” style employee wants to know you are dependable. They need to be confident they can count on you and that you are available for follow-up.

The “C” dimension employee can get so wrapped up in perfection, it can take a long time to finish a project. “Cs” pay much attention to key details because they want to make sure they dot every “i” and cross every “t.”

The only way you can learn to identify other people’s behavioral dimension is to practice, practice, and practice picking up the cues and signals. Then you need to practice adapting yourself to their dimension. As we become more technologically advanced, we tend to ignore the human side of productivity. This is a mistake. We can’t neglect the people who run the machines and the computers. For you to be most effective in dealing with others, you must understand what motivates them and give them what they need. This simple skill of reading another’s behavioral dimension, and being flexible enough to adapt yours, can go a long way toward a more productive work or business relationship.

Author's Bio: 

Susan Cullen is President of Quantum Learning Solutions, Inc., based in Pennsylvania. She speaks on the topic of "People Literacy" and is a distributor for Inscape Publishing, publishers of the Personal Profile System®. She has over 18 years experience in Organizational Development and is considered an expert in the use of blended learning methodologies for lasting organizational change. For more information go to or you can reach us at (800) 683-0681.