4 Steps to Communicate More Effectively with Clients

Have you ever had a client whose decision-making process baffles you? How about a client who is on a completely different page or seems to process information differently than you? Do you wonder why some clients are just harder to relate to or connect with?

The answers to these questions may be better understood by exploring the concept of behavior style. Understanding your own behavior style and ascertaining your client’s will help you flex to better communicate with them, understand their needs, build rapport, strengthen your relationship and improve overall client experience. One reliable way to assess behavior style is by using the DISC theory.

DISC theory can be applied by following four steps:

Step 1: Examine pace and energy

Pay attention to your client’s energy level, body language, tone of voice and voice inflection. Is he or she active or reserved?

  • Active – Clients who are energetic with more inflection in their voice, loud and confident when speaking, more animated and assertive in their body language and maintain strong eye contact. These individuals tend to talk about the future and how things could be.
  • Reserved – Clients who use a calm and fairly quiet voice, are less animated in their body language and more hesitant with their eye contact. These individuals tend to talk about the past, present and how things are now.

Step 2: Determine focus

Notice what your client talks about, what concerns them and whether or not they display emotion. Is he or she focused on tasks and facts or people and feelings?

  • Tasks/Facts – Clients who are economical in their choice of words, do not show much emotion, may ask about things rather than people and prefer to stay on task.
    • People/Feelings – Clients who talk about family and friends or people you both know, show emotions easily through their facial expressions and with their words and can stray off task at times.
  • Step 3: Identify behavior style

    Using the answers you noted in steps 1 and 2, ascertain which of the four primary behavior styles best fits your client.

    • Active + Tasks/Facts = D Style (Dominance)
    • Associated with fast-paced individuals who make quick decisions and may appear aggressive, blunt or demanding. They often state their opinions as facts. People like Judge Judy and Simon Cowell may have a D behavior style.
  • Active + People/Feelings = I Style (Influence)
    • High-energy, talkative and animated individuals. They tend to talk about people they know or things they’ve done, although perhaps off topic. Think Ellen DeGeneres, Rachel Ray or Jim Carrey.
  • Reserved + People/Feelings = S Style (Steadiness)
    • Calm, laid-back and patient individuals. They are excellent listeners, interested in other people’s lives and feelings, and are team and family oriented. They take their time when making decisions. Picture Mr. Rogers, Tom Hanks or Julia Roberts.
  • Reserved + Tasks/Facts = C Style (Correctness)
    • These individuals are quiet, careful, logical and analytical. They are more formal, precise and exact. Imagine someone like Bill Gates, Albert Einstein or Clint Eastwood.
  • Step 4: Flex your communication style
  • D-Style clients – Prepare an agenda for the conversation, avoid small talk, do your homework ahead of time, be mindful of their time with yours, and focus on the big picture and their end goals. They already know where they’re going and just need you to help them get there.
  • I-Style clients – Allow time for socializing, ask for their opinion and feelings, and be enthusiastic, friendly and warm. Try to smile and be more animated. Give them recognition when possible.
  • S-Style clients – Build trust, allow time for discussion, draw out their opinions, show them how solutions will benefit their family, provide all the necessary information for decision making and work to secure their commitment throughout the discussion.
    • C-Style clients – Have data and facts ready to share, keep on task, focus on proven ideas, explain things carefully and leave personal issues out. Make sure you have examined all sides of an argument before presenting and allow time for thinking and deciding.

    Clients who share the same behavior style as you are the easiest to communicate with and require less energy and prep time. Communicating with other styles may take more effort, but this process can help you flex and communicate with them the way they are most comfortable.

    Michelle Fitzgerald, Practice Development Consultant with Waddell & Reed, Inc., is a certified trainer of Extended DISC® through Extended DISC North America, Inc.

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