Surviving in the Jungle

By Clare Willis, Senior Training Consultant, Speak First

THE ABILITY TO DEVELOP GOOD WORKING relationships with a wide variety of people is a key skill for the medical sales professional. There are those people with whom you feel an instant rapport; others present much more of a challenge. This article suggests a method of analysing those difficult relationships, identifying a likely cause of the problem, and developing a strategy to enable you to work together more easily.

One of the keys to success in relationship building is flexibility – the ability to understand, react and adapt to very different behavioural styles. Ever since thinkers got to grips with human differences, they have categorised people within behaviour types; researchers have consistently identified four distinct groups.

We have synthesised the research and given light-hearted but memorable labels to the four personality types – Lion, Owl, Horse and Monkey. No animal is better or worse than any other – but they all have their differences. Consider the people you do business with. Based on the descriptions of characteristics, you should be able to find the animal that best fits their nature and approach. You should also be able to identify yourself in animal terms.


Lions are autocratic, independent and strong willed. Authoritative and goal-oriented, Lions leap to challenges, take decisive action and seek to dominate the problem-solving process. At their most extreme, Lions are intolerant of other people’s advice and feelings, wanting immediate results and failing to listen or co-operate.

Best at: Being in control Worst social feature: Dictatorial Response to stressful situation: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

Behaviour under stress: Your instinct will be to dictate and you will appear: critical, abrupt, uncooperative and aggressive.

To increase your flexibility:
• Slow your momentum to come across as more relaxed
• Demonstrate active listening
• Allow more time for discussion
• Acknowledge feelings as well as facts.

How to deal with Lions:
• Present the facts concisely, logically, quickly
• Emphasise benefits, time frames, results
• Focus on facts, not feelings
• Ask how they would solve the problem.


Horses are caring creatures, at the other end of the scale to the Lion. They value close personal relationships and actively listen to the opinion of others. Horses are steady, calm and supportive, working slowly and cohesively while avoiding conflict. Qualities of patience, loyalty and consideration are the flipside of passivity, dependency and indecision.

Best at: Supporting others Worst social feature: Submissive Response to stressful situation: “OK, if that’s the way you must have it, we’ll try it.” Behaviour under stress: Your instinct will be to withdraw and you will appear: indecisive, hesitant, submissive, slow to act.

To increase your flexibility:
• Speak up more often
• Voice your disagreements
• Say ‘no’ occasionally
• Be willing to reach beyond your comfort zone.

How to deal with Horses:
• Give them time to talk about their concerns and feelings
• Discuss options; don’t pressurise them
• Show you’ve thought about the impact of your ideas on others
• Remember that they have a hard time saying ‘no.’


Monkeys are sociable and spontaneous beasts, jumping rapidly between activities. Intuitive and emotional, monkeys love to be involved. They tend to dream the dramatic, taking risks and persuading others to follow the rainbow. At best they are open and enthusiastic visionaries: at worst impulsive and inconsistent time wasters.

Best at: Socialising Worst social feature: Confrontational Response to stressful situation: “Listen you idiot, I’m fed up with the way you’re treating me.”

Behaviour under stress: Your instinct will be to confront and you will appear: manipulative, impetuous, erratic, wasteful of time.

To increase your flexibility:
• Listen more; don’t interrupt
• Concentrate on the task
• Allocate more time for checking, verifying, specifying and organising
• Work on following through.

How to deal with Monkeys:
• Allow time for social chat
• Use stories, examples, humour and enthusiasm
• Show that others are in favour of your ideas
• Remember that they prefer to ignore unpleasant facts.


Owls attend to detail and tend to have serious personalities. Accuracy is more important than imagination or deadlines. Driven by data, owls are intellectual, structured and organised animals, devoted to getting it right. Cautious and compliant with authority, they like to work methodically through objective tasks in a controlled environment. This can make them resentful in the face of change.

Best at: Processes and Systems Worst social feature: Withdrawn Response to stressful situation: “I can’t help you any further – do what you want.” Behaviour under stress: Your instinct will be to withdraw and you will appear: resistant to change, unresponsive, slow to act, overdependent on data and facts.

To increase your flexibility:
• Concentrate on high-priority issues
• Focus on the bottom line
• Share your feelings and points of view
• Try to adjust more readily to change and disorganisation.

How to deal with Owls.
• Give them time to think about processes, procedures, problems
• Be accurate; include statistics
• Allow them to work through the details
• Tie new ideas into old ones.

The nature of the beast Of course, no-one is a pure lion any more than they are a thoroughbred horse. Each of us is an amalgam of characteristics, creating a unique individual, yet we have primary characteristics which assign us to one of the four types. These dominant characteristics come to the fore in a crisis. Under pressure, we revert to type, minimising balancing characteristics while accentuating our main traits.

Identifying the characteristics of each animal has three main benefits. It enables you to understand and use your strengths while minimising your weaknesses; to build understanding of why colleagues and stakeholders act as they do; and provides strategies for acting on this knowledge and developing greater rapport with a wider range of people.

Being more aware of your own instinctive behavioural style is the first step in building better relationships, and can help you to develop conscious strategies to build rapport. If you are a detail-loving owl, your first instinct will be support your case with statistics such as the results of the latest clinical trials. But if you are talking to a horse, you might be more persuasive if you use real-life examples of how patients have benefited from your drug. Monkeys will like to know that respected colleagues have had good results with the product; lions want to focus on the bottom line. So, you need to adapt your approach to suit the person you’re talking to – even if it means treating other people differently from how you yourself like to be treated.

Knowing the nature of the beast might just give you the edge when dealing with the assertive consultant, the detail-loving pharmacist or the sociable practice manager.