If you were running a focus group for a new product and you knew a few members of the group were very introverted, would you try soliciting feedback from any of those people by calling on them to speak in front of the group?
If you knew most of your executive stakeholders were data-driven and suspicious of intuition without evidence, would you try to persuade them to greenlight your product roadmap by telling them you knew in your gut it would work?
Product managers typically don’t have direct authority over any of the people involved in their product’s development—not the engineers, not the QA teams, not the customer service reps, and not the sales and marketing people. But they still need to work closely with them to build a successful product. That means communication and the ability to persuade are often the most important skills a PM can develop.
You’ll have much more difficulty communicating effectively and persuading people if you don’t understand what motivates them, how they think, and how they prefer to interact with others.
This brings us to our suggestions for dealing effectively with anyone—from your stakeholders to the members of your cross-functional team, to your users. The first step is to learn how different types of people perceive the world.
1. Learn The 16 Different Myers-Briggs Personality Types
The most well-known and respected guide to personality types is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This tool, which has been used for more than 70 years in everything from parenting to corporate leadership, teaches us that although we’re all unique, most people fall broadly into one of 16 personality types.
The MBTI is built on four dichotomies of our personalities:
- Whether we’re extroverted (E) or introverted (I)
- Whether we simply sense basic information around us (S) or interpret that information using our intuition (N)
- Whether we’re primarily logic-centered and thinking (T) or people-centered and feeling (F)
- And whether we’re more geared toward judging (J) or perceiving (P)
Based on your test results, you will be categorized as one of the 16 different personality types—ISFJ, for example, or ENTP—where your letters indicate how central each trait is to your personality.
Learning your personality type can help you understand your strengths, weaknesses, and even your biases as a communicator.
Learning these MBTI types will also make you more skilled at identifying clues to other people’s personality types, which can help you tailor your communication to fit how each type prefers to take in information.
“Successful product managers understand how to identify and communicate with different personality types.”
2. Suggest Your Colleagues Take the Myers Briggs Test As Well
There are lots of advantages to making MBTI testing a team or even a company-wide exercise.
It can serve as a helpful reminder to everyone that some people process and perceive information differently from others, and therefore that not every disagreement is personal.
It can also help everyone on your team better understand both themselves and each other, which can improve communication and workflows across the whole company.
And it’s a lot of fun, which can be great for team bonding.
3. Get Your Team to Take the StrengthsFinder Assessment
Once you and your team discover how helpful and fun it can be to learn the details of your personality types and how those different types typically interact together, you’ll want to keep learning more.
Another great assessment tool is the Clifton StrengthsFinder from the polling company Gallup.
This tool is great for teams because it gives each member a clearer picture of how they prefer to work and where their strengths and talents are.
Like Myers-Briggs, this assessment breaks skills and talents primarily into four categories: strategic thinking, executing, influencing, and relationship building. But from there it further drills down into a person’s preferences, skills, and natural abilities.
So if you discover that Colette is an analytical type (part of the “strategic thinking” category), she could become your team’s go-to person for taking a big-picture view of your plan and thinking of all the things that could affect it.
And if you learn that Jeremy is an achiever (part of the “executing” category), you’ll know he’d prefer to take on lots of tasks and stay busy than to try focusing on broad, strategic plans.
The Clifton StrengthsFinder can help a team learn how to work much more efficiently together.
4. Keep the Learning Going, and Discover the Four Tendencies
This self-discovery stuff is fun, isn’t it? One more great assessment tool is The Four Tendencies, by Gretchen Rubin.
Like Myers-Briggs and the StrengthsFinder, this framework puts us all into one of four categories, but it takes a slightly different angle so it offers some unique insights. Rubin’s four categories are the obliger, the upholder, the questioner, and the rebel. Here’s how understanding this framework can help you work more productively with your team.
Let’s say you find that your developers often fall behind in the schedule you agree on at the beginning of a development cycle or sprint. After you’ve learned about these four tendencies, you might replay some of those conversations you had with them and realize that your lead developer or scrum master simply agrees to every deadline you suggest.
What might be going on is that this person is an obliger, someone who strives to meet everyone’s expectations and hates letting anyone down. And now that you understand you’re dealing with an obliger, you might want to reframe those development kickoff meetings and instead of suggesting the timeframes yourself, allow the development team’s leader to suggest them. That way you’ll be much more likely to arrive at a deadline they can actually meet.
Similarly, if you routinely get lots of pushback from your stakeholders when you present your product roadmap, you might learn after studying the four tendencies that these contentious meetings don’t necessarily mean there’s anything wrong with you or your product’s strategic plan. It might simply be the case that these executives are questioners or rebels—they challenge and resist information and expectations as a way of processing.
For these executives, you might have more success by simply presenting your roadmap, asking them along the way if things make sense and sound reasonable, and not using language that pushes them to make a quick decision.
Cool framework, isn’t it?
5. Try Adding Personality Types to Your Buyer and User Personas
This one will be a challenge because you can’t spend time individually with every one of your prospects or customers the way you can with your own team. But if you really know your target personas, you can probably get some broad insights into which of the above categories they’re likely to fall into, and understanding this can help you communicate your product’s value to them more effectively.
For example, if you learn in your market research that your typical buyer persona is likely to be a questioner or rebel, you’ll probably have more success if you can create several options for your products—tiered pricing plans, more than one way to actually buy the product, etc. Trying to push these people into a one-size-fits-all solution will likely turn them off, even if the product itself is right for them.
Or let’s say your research indicates your target customer is likely to be an ENFP in the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator. Called “Champions,” these types are extroverted, intuitive, feeling, and perceiving, and they like to create their own unique methods and approaches. For such buyers, you will probably want to emphasize your product’s customizability or the features that allow users to express themselves as individuals.
We could go on and on, but you get the idea. Studying the various personality types described here can pay huge dividends for your team, your products, and even your customers.
We’d love to hear your own strategies for working with different personality types. If something has worked for you and your team, let us know in the comments section.