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The People Styles Model for Gaining Self-Awareness as a Leader

Executive Summary

Self-awareness is key to healthy relationships and communication, whether you’re an intern or the head of a large enterprise. Understanding the various people styles that work around you is the first step to seeing those relationships thrive.

  • With four different people styles, there is anything but one “normal” way to behave. Three out of four people process, feel, and even communicate differently.

  • In order to be an effective leader, you must first have a high degree of self-awareness. Otherwise, the way you see yourself and the way your employees perceive you may differ disastrously.

  • Being self-aware can help you make the most of your strengths while simultaneously helping you avoid the pitfalls that likely come with your limitations.

With so many people styles, it’s no wonder that everyone has people problems. Psychological researchers discovered that 75 percent of the population is significantly different from each of us. Three of four people important to your success and happiness:

  • Think differently
  • Decide differently
  • Use time differently
  • Handle emotions differently
  • Manage stress differently
  • Communicate differently
  • Deal with conflict differently

Not necessarily worse. Not necessarily better. But different. Behaviorally speaking, you are in a minority. Everyone is.


A people style is a cluster of habitual assertive and responsive behaviors that have a pervasive and enduring influence on one’s actions. The population in our culture is evenly divided between four people styles.

There’s no linkage between one’s style and success or failure. The people styles model fosters increased self-awareness and self-acceptance, as well as a greater understanding and acceptance of others.



‘‘Who am I and what, if anything, can I do about it?’’

After reviewing the history of philosophy, Aldous Huxley concluded that this is the most important question one can ask. The more accurate a person’s self-perception, the more likely she will make the most of her strengths and avoid being brought low by her limitations. Moreover, a high degree of self-awareness contributes to establishing and maintaining good relationships with others.

A high degree of self-awareness is also a requirement for effective leadership. As the sixteenth-century philosopher Machiavelli noted in his treatise on leadership, ‘‘To lead or attempt to lead without first having a knowledge of self is foolhardy and is sure to bring disaster and defeat.’’ Most people find that understanding their people style—how other people perceive them—adds an important dimension to their self-awareness.

Your people style is based on other people’s perceptions of you—not on how you see yourself.

There are no good or bad styles; there are only differences among people. Success or failure is unrelated to any style.



In the people styles model, a person’s level of assertiveness is the degree to which his behavior is typically seen by others as being forceful or directive.

People whose characteristic behavior is more assertive than half of the population are sometimes referred to as ‘‘right-of-the-line’’ because that’s where they’re located on the continuum. People whose behavior places them in the less assertive half of the continuum get their needs met by using a less forceful and less directive manner than half of the population. We sometimes speak of them as ‘‘left-of-the-line.’’

People Styles Assertieness


Responsiveness is the other dimension of behavior in the people styles model. A person’s level of responsiveness is the degree to which she is seen by others as showing her own emotions and demonstrating awareness of the feelings of others. Individuals who tend to be emotionally reserved are said to be ‘‘above the line.’’ Those who are more emotionally disclosing and more aware of the feelings of others are referred to as ‘‘below the line.’’

People Styles Responsiveness


The assertiveness continuum and the responsiveness continuum form the axes of the people styles grid, as shown in Figure 4-3. The four quadrants represent the four people styles. No style is inherently better or worse than any other. Each style has potential strengths and potential limitations. Some people of each style are successful and some are not. Each style has its good and bad examples.

 he People Styles Grid_Analytical_Driver_Expressive_Amiable

  1. Analytical: Analytical is the name given to the style in the upper-left portion of the people styles grid. Analyticals combine greater-than-average emotional restraint with lower-than-average assertiveness.
  2. Driving: The Driving style is found in the upper-right section of the grid. Drivers combine greater-than-average emotional restraint with a higher-than-average level of assertiveness.
  3. Amiable: The Amiable style is located in the lower-left quadrant. Amiables integrate higher-than-average emotional responsiveness with less assertiveness than half of the population.
  4. Expressives: Expressives are positioned in the lower-right area of the grid. They blend a higher-than-average level of assertiveness with a higher-than-average level of emotional expressiveness.


The people styles model assumes that, like everyone else, you have a dominant style. That is, you usually prefer to relate and work in ways that are characteristic of one of the four styles. Early in life, one style emerged as your favorite, and you now rely primarily on that style. Because that style has become habitual, it’s easiest for you to function with those patterns of behavior. This is your ‘‘comfort zone.’’


Robert Bolton | Dorothy Grover Bolton

ROBERT BOLTON, PH.D., is known for his expertise in training trainers. He is a cofounder of Ridge Associates, a training and consulting firm that serves many Fortune 500 companies, and the author of several books.

DOROTHY GROVER BOLTON, ED.M., are known for their expertise in training trainers. They are cofounders of Ridge Associates, a training and consulting firm that serves many Fortune 500 companies, and the authors of several books including the perennially popular People Styles at Work . . . And Beyond.


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