They say a picture paints a thousand words. They also say that human behaviour is complex. Fortunately, Human Synergistics International has a model that paints a picture of human behaviour. It is called a Circumplex.

The Circumplex is a visual model of humans’ thinking and behaviour styles. It is used to help individuals, managers, leaders, teams, and whole organisations measure and improve behaviour. It is a picture that helps us to get more clarity and understanding of our behaviour.

Looking at the Circumplex, you will see 12 “thinking” or “behaviour” styles around the circumference.

Are you Task-oriented or People-oriented?

The first thing you can do when you look at a Circumplex is to draw a line down the middle of the picture.

Notice that on the left-hand side, the words on the circumference are all Task Oriented. When you read them allowed, they even seem sound task-based. From the bottom, you have Oppositional, Power, Competitive, Perfectionistic and Achievement. On the right-hand side, the words on the circumference are all People Oriented. Again, they even sound people-oriented. From the bottom, you have Dependent, Conventional, Approval, Affiliative and Humanistic-Encouraging. At the very bottom, the Avoidance style straddles both Task and People orientation and at the very top Self-Actualising straddles task and people.

Everybody has a different balance between task and people. The circumplex is a way that you can measure that balance.

Are you Security-oriented or Satisfaction-oriented?

Another way to look at the Circumplex is to draw a line horizontally.

In the bottom half of the picture, the styles on the circumference are all Security-based styles. In other words, they are styles we use to protect ourselves. They are Defensive styles.

The styles above the line are Satisfaction-based. They are used when we want to achieve more satisfaction. That is why they are called Constructive styles.

If you have heard of “above the line” and “below the line” behaviour, this will all make sense to you. The team from the Conscious Leadership Group created an excellent animation to demonstrate this concept.

Now let’s look at that against the circumplex:

It is easy to see how the circumplex can show you where you are and give you the data to work with to improve your mindset and leadership.

Three General Clusters

When Dr Clayton Lafferty first developed the circumplex, the intersection between the Task-People and Security-Satisfaction axis created four quadrants. Further assessment of construct validity by Dr Rob Cooke et al. (1987) demonstrated that the 12 LSI scales provide measures of three more general thinking and behavioural orientations, or clusters. Aggressive/Defensive (task/security-based) – coloured red, Passive/Defensive (people/security-based) – coloured green, Constructive – coloured blue

The Aggressive/Defensive Cluster

Let’s explore the Aggressive/Defensive cluster.

If you choose any of these styles and ask yourself, “What is the benefit of using this style?” you should be able to find a reason to use it. For example, “Competitive” thinking is often associated with maintaining drive, motivation and success. Now if you ask yourself, “What are the undesirable effects of using this style at high levels?” you should also be able to find reasons not to use it. For example, using “Competitive” behaviour at high levels is often associated with winning at the expense of others and feeling isolated.

So, you can see that even though there are perceived benefits to using these styles, they will cause undesirable effects at high levels.

The Passive/Defensive Cluster

In the same way as the Aggressive/Defensive cluster, you can ask the same questions in the Passive/Defensive cluster.

For example, “What are the benefits of using the “Conventional” style?”. You can answer that for yourself, but many say it provides more certainty and stability. “What are the downsides of too much “Conventional” behaviour?”. Again, answer for yourself, but many will say things like stagnation or low innovation.

Once again, you can see that even though there are perceived benefits to using these styles, they will cause undesirable effects at high levels.

The Constructive Style

The Constructive styles don’t produce undesirable effects at high levels. That is why they are called constructive. They are Satisfaction based.

The circumplex and your coaching

Your Thinking and Behaviour Styles can be assessed using the Life Styles Inventory™ (LSI).

During your coaching sessions, we help you use your LSI assessment to create objectives and a personal strategy that will move you away from Security-based styles (and the undesirable effects that come with them) toward more constructive, Satisfaction-based styles. When you take action on those objectives, you will raise what we call your “Centre of Gravity” and improve your effectiveness.

Here is a real example of a client who raised their Centre of Gravity significantly through our coaching process and now consistently stays above the line even when under pressure.


The LSI and circumplex model are valuable tools for understanding and measuring thinking and behaviour styles. It has been widely used and accepted by researchers and practitioners worldwide and has helped thousands of people improve their mindset and leadership goals.

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