Interacting with Prospects and Clients: Clues for Making Long-Term Connections

Have you ever been out at business function where you didn’t know anyone? Think back to how you acted. Did you hang in a corner like a bat hoping no one would notice you or did you target the individuals or groups who seemed to be the most like you and strike up a conversation?

The latter is what most of us do in the course of our day-to-day lives. We find others within our comfort zones and communicate with them by unconsciously understanding the way they speak and respond in order to gauge how to act accordingly.

In the business of law, we are constantly being presented with opportunities by new prospects and existing clients; however, sometimes we fail to connect interpersonally, so they move on to others with whom they feel more at ease.

Understanding some basic fundamentals on how people interact will help you position yourself to be the one they choose to work with, both now and in the future.

Here’s how:

Everyone has a unique way of interacting. Some people talk fast, some slow. Some populate their conversations with anecdotes while others like to hit the ground running in a no-nonsense effort to get the most done in as little time as possible. Some make decisions quickly while others need time to reflect.

It’s your job to learn how to recognize and complement various interaction styles so that the person you are speaking with on the other side of the desk feels most at east with you and what you have to say.

Interaction styles

There are four basic interaction styles that have been widely studied based on observable behavior patterns. These interaction styles were first based on theories by psychologist, Carl Jung, one of the fathers of modern psychology in the early 1900s.  In the 1960s, psychologist, David Merrill, elaborated on Jung’s types calling them “Social Styles.”

I will describe the four styles as prototypes.  Of course, human nature is a continuum, so few will actually conform to a precise type, but they can be used as a practical guideline for dealing with people.  Understanding and differentiating them is one step closer to communicating successfully and building trust and credibility with your prospects and clients.

The first interaction style is based on those who like to control the conversation and their environments. These are the hard hitting, fast talking, task and result-oriented folks. They are quick to make decisions and to get the job done. They are not interested in small talk. They want results and they want them now. They are formal and business-like. They look you square in the eye.  It’s your job to be able to quickly ascertain that these quick talking, no-nonsense individuals want to get down to business right away. Be frank, straight-to-the-point, and efficient with their time. Give them what they need and they will feel comfortable continuing a dialogue with you.

Then there are those who are expressive. They want to be heard and they want you to listen to them. They are also not concerned with the nitty-gritty details of what you can do for them and the steps that you are going to take to get it done. They are talkative, fast moving and concept-oriented. Somewhere in their heads is a huge picture of what they want and they expect you to see it and grasp it quickly, or at least to pretend you do. Give these types an outlet for their ideas. Listen and support what they say. You may need to help hone their grandiose schemes to one or two ideas at a time. As far as they’re concerned, Rome might not have been built in a day, but it was built nonetheless, and they designed an amazing villa made out of the finest marble as part of the finished product – because they envisioned it that way.

How about the cooperative types? They are friendly, amiable and warm. They tend to be on the quiet side and may seem vague at times. They give you lots of time and are conflict-averse. They easily agree with you but may later change their minds. These people need time to get to know you, and they don’t like pressure. They are consensus builders and will never rock-the-boat for you within their organizations. Make sure you are prepared to act in the way that a cooperative type wants you to act. If not, you may both end up very frustrated.

Finally, there are the analytic types who are all ones and zeros. They are detail-oriented, thorough, fact-driven, bottom-liners. Everything about them from their thinking to their speech is methodical. They want to hear the hard core numbers about how your firm has helped others in the past, as well as the bottom-line regarding what you can offer them in the future. These analytical types are risk-averse and want no mistakes, because rest assured they will find them if you make them. You never want to rush these types. Give them time to reflect and give them the facts and proof they need to feel comfortable with you.

In summary, pay attention to your prospects’ and clients’ communications and behavioral clues. They will help you to better connect with them.  Observe if they are speaking fast or slow, leaning forward or sitting casually back in their chairs, looking more like they are on vacation than at a business meeting, hopping from one topic to another or staying linear.  Understanding that there are different interaction styles and teaching yourself how to respond accordingly to them will not only give you a better shot at their business but allow you to continue to develop relationships with them for long-term success.

Written by Sheryl A. Odentz, President of Progress in Work LLC, a career management firm for attorneys.  She can be reached at or  The article was published in the May 2012 issue of LJN (Law Journal Newsletters) an ALM Publication.