Five Thinking Styles


“Thinking is more interesting than knowing, but less interesting than looking” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

You improve your communication with others when you can match their thinking style.

You can also avoid rubbing your boss the wrong way by paying close attention to how they approach the tasks of the day.

In Coping with Difficult Bosses, Robert Bramson identifies five thinking styles to categorize our modes of thinking and problem solving we use most frequently.

Key Take Aways
Here are my key take aways:

  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood. The more you understand somebody, the better you can adapt your style. I think the five thinking styles are a helpful framework in addition to understanding somebody’s learning style ( auditory, visual, or kinesthtic), their NLP meta-programs, their motivation (towards pleasure or away from pain), their values, their "rules", their extraversion and introversion tendencies, their passive or aggressive tendencies, whether they are more "task-centered" or "people-centered", their decision making style (consult-and-decide or build consensus), and their management styles (Autocratic, Paternalistic, Democratic, and Laissez-faire.)
  • Establish rapport. I think the heart of identifying the five thinking-styles revolves around establishing rapport. Rapport is the key to communication, influence, and trust.
  • Know the anti-patterns. It’s probably more important to know how to avoid rubbing somebody the wrong way, than getting the preferred or ideal communication style exactly right.
  • Wear different hats. I think you can use the Six-Thinking Hats concept to switch your hat based on who you are working with. Each hat you put on or take off can represent a different thinking style.

Five Thinking Styles
According to Bramson, the five thinking styles are:

  • Synthesists
  • Idealists
  • Pragmatist Thinkers
  • Analyst Thinkers
  • Realist Thinkers

According to Bramson, "Synthesists are creative thinkers who perceives the world in terms of opposites.  When you say black, they think white, when you say long, they think short."
To connect with Synthesists, Bramson suggests "listen appreciatively to their speculation and don’t confuse their arguing nature with resistance."

According to Bramson, "Idealists believe in lofty goals and standards."
To connect with Idealists, Bramson suggests "associate what you want to do with these goals of quality, service, and community good."

Pragmatic Thinkers
According to Bramson, "Pragmatic thinkers are flexible, resourceful folk who look for immediate payoff rather than for a grand plan that will change the world."

To connect with Pragmatists, Bramson suggests "emphasize short-term objectives on which you can get started with resources at hand."

Analyst Thinkers
According to Bramsom, "Analyst thinkers equate accuracy, thoroughness, and attention to detail with completeness.  They are likely to gather data, measure it, categorize it, and rationally and methodically calculate the right answer to any problem you come up with.
To connect to Analysts, Bramson suggests "provide a logical plan replete with back-up data and specifications."

Realist Thinkers
According to Bramson, "Realist thinkers are fast moving doers who know that reality is what their senses – sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch – tell them it is, and not that dry stuff that one finds in accounting ledgers, or the insipid pages of manual of operations."

To connect with Realists, Bramson suggests, "If you communicate with Realist bosses as if they were Analysts, you will never get their attention. Rather than gobs of computer-printouts and other detailed information, Realists want a three-paragraph “Executive Summary” which tells briefly what is wrong and how you propose to fix it. For rather complicated reasons, they will often take you at your word if they see you as a qualified expert. You become an expert in their eyes when they know that you’ve assembled a store of facts in which they are interested, and you have proposed a set of actions that they already believe are the best things to do.”

How To Use the Five Thinking Styles
Take the time to place your boss or who you need to interact with into one or two of the five thinking-style categories. Keep in mind that while one or two styles predominates for most people, about fifteen percent use all five styles equally. Those who do, are seldom difficult bosses. Once you’ve identified their preferred categories, figure out how you can change your approach to better suit their style.

Photo by Ivan Zuber

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13 Comments on "Five Thinking Styles"

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  1. RickM says:

    Some posts on specific anti-patterns would be fantastic.

  2. JD says:

    @ Rick

    Thanks for stopping by. Good point.

    Here’s a couple that are helpful to start:
    10 Distorted Thinking Patterns
    13 Negative Motivation Patterns
    Six Thinking Hats

    Six Thinking Hats is helpful because normally thinking is incomplete. It’s usually just one slice of the pie — a negative slice or a positive slice or facts and figures. Six Thinking Hats forces you to collaboratively think key points from the various perspectives to round out your thinking.

  3. Raj Mudhar says:

    I loved this book. Read it a few years ago. What’s interesting for me how the different thinking styles come together in a work team, and in a family.

    While introducing Agile to our business I see how the different styles of thinking lead to miscommunication and misunderstanding. Teams that understand the mental process are a lot more tolerant of, and inquisitive about different points of view.

    Thanks for the post.


  4. JD says:

    @ Raj

    It’s a great book and I like your point on how it helps for family and work teams too.

  5. marie-christine says:

    I agree with Raj, how you can implement both in a family environment as well as business. It is all about building teams not separating them and can only be achieved through clear communications. The key lies into putting yourself into the other person;s shoes.
    thank you for your insight.It makes me think of using the five senses for the five thinking style.

  6. Hamdiyatur Rohmah says:

    a lot knowledge. The best way to observed a student too.

  7. Ahmad Hisham says:

    Thank you authors for making me realize i’m in about 90% synthesist thinking style mode.My many speculations,arguments and disinterested approach in discussions makes me appear fickle-minded and i have only a few endearing friends. Now to find ways to improve my thinking but many times i still default into this synthesist thinking. Sigh.

  8. JD says:

    @ Ahmad — Believe it or not, improving your thinking is pretty easy. Here are two keys:
    1. Practice directing your attention
    2. Practice asking better questions

    You can very quickly change your focus by asking different questions. You can ask better questions, by changing your focus. They build on each other.

    I think the key person to learn from on thinking is Edward de Bono. When it comes to creative thinking, the king is Michael Michalko, with an amazing library of creative thinking techniques you can immediately apply.

  9. Denise says:

    Hi JD – great summary and synthesis of the key points! Thanks for sharing your insights.. this has been very useful.

  10. JD says:

    @ Denise — Thank you. I really enjoyed Brahmson’s scenario-based approach to connecting with different thinking styles.

  11. Karabo says:

    An eye opener,thanks

  12. jesse says:

    JD i was wondering if you had a Bio? I wanted to use this as a reference in a research project. I wanted to know a little bit more about your educational background.