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The science of personality: How to leverage it in your practice


How to alter your approach when dealing with different personality types

personality types, dopamine, serotonin, emotions

Ever notice how you seem to “click” with some people, but not so much with others? That communicating with some patients goes smoothly and with others it seems so difficult? Do some patients compliment you on your bedside manner? But others do not? Do you find that with some of your staff, they can easily anticipate how best to assist you and others need to be given very explicit instructions? A lot of this variability in interactions can be attributed to differences in personality. Of course we all know that there are differences in personalities – and science has something to say about that – but often we are a loss as to how to best communicate.

Brain science tells us that personality differences are, to a large degree, hard-wired – the “nature” factor - and are influenced by one’s upbringing and experiences – the “nurture” factor. Dr. Fischer’s groundbreaking work on personality has helped us to better understand the relationship between personality types, which her research finds is influenced by neurochemical pathways (dopamine, serotonin, estrogen and testosterone) in the brain. Specifically, she discovered that there are four broad personality “styles” that are expressed as preferences in thinking and behaving: people tend to have one or two dominant styles (using the NeuroColor personality assessment, people learn about their personality traits), although we all are a plaid (we have some of all the personality styles).

While the science of personality is interesting, the information we can learn from understanding people’s preferences can be very useful in optimizing interactions with people who are like us and those who are quite different from us. What follows is a brief explanation of the different personality types and strategies on how to best communicate with each type. As you read the descriptions, think about one or two people with whom you communicate very well and one or two with whom it is more challenging. See if you can identify what their dominant “color” might be and what makes it easy for you to communicate with the former and what strategies you can use to improve your interactions with the latter.



Personality Style/Focus


Communication Tips


Opportunity focused

·     Curious, energetic

·     Flexible, adaptive, embraces change

·     Spontaneous, lots of ideas, seeks novelty

·     Like to take risks

·     Provide variety & options

·     Don’t impose too much structure

·     Be upbeat and energetic

·     Don’t linger on one topic too long


Process/stability focused

·     Organized, like to plan

·     Cautious, measured, calm

·     Prefer the tried and true

·     Practical, concrete, rule-oriented

·     Introduce change slowly

·     Provide structure & specifics

·     Have a well-thought out plan

·     Don’t leave things open-ended

·     Address risks directly


Relationship focused

·     Empathetic, inclusive, caring

·     Reflective, insightful, intuitive

·     Notices connections

·     Likes having context

·     Ask for their thoughts & ideas

·     Be open and transparent

·     Take time to form a connection (be personable)

·     Don’t just focus on the “what”, provide the “why”


Results focused

·     Analytical, logical, assesses how parts fit together

·     Tough-minded, bold, competitive

·     Decisive, takes charge

·     Intrigued by systems, details

·     Be direct and to the point

·     Focus on results or intended outcomes

·     Don’t be too tentative or emotional

·     Focus on the facts






Examples of communication strategies

People described by the yellow system respond best to being given options or choices: for example, when interacting with patients who fit the yellow description, instead of giving them very specific instructions, be sure to provide choices that they can select from.  Be prepared that they might wander from topic to topic quite quickly, may have some creative ideas, and will be eager to take action. If you give them too much structure or rigid guidelines, they will get frustrated or annoyed

In contrast, when interacting with people best described by the blue style, it is helpful to give them some structure and guidelines. In contrast to the yellow style, if you don’t give them enough structure and certainty, they may feel stressed. Expect them to be risk-averse and hesitant to embrace change.

To best communicate with the green style, be sure to form a connection – inquire into what is important to them (especially in a conflict situation), show that you care, and give them context when providing instructions. Be sure to get their input and acknowledge what they say.

And finally when interacting with the red style, know that they tend to be direct (and sometimes overly blunt) – it is not necessarily an indication that they are angry or don’t like it – it’s just their personality style. So be direct with them and focus more on facts, information, and data, versus emotions. Give them an opportunity to feel a sense of control over their decisions and/or actions.

It is important to keep in mind that efforts to communicate more effectively is NOT about changing personality (who you are), it’s about changing behavior. It is all about how to connect best with others so you improve communication and leverage people’s strengths.

Catherine Hambley, PhD, is CEO of Brain-Based Strategies Consulting, where she specializes in executive coaching, leadership and team development and organizational transformation. Catherine has an extensive background in healthcare, where she works with physicians, nurses and hospital executives to create cultures of learning, collaboration and engagement. Check out her website at www.brainbasedstrategies.com

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