A magician's practical approach to understanding personalities


We’ve been dividing people into four personality types, styles or patterns since the time of Plato.

personalities deck of cards aces A magician's practical approach to understanding personalities

These days, online personality tests are everywhere. After a series of fun questions, you can discover which animal, shape, color or celebrity you’re aligned with. Or take a serious personality test to help identify your management, leadership or communication style.

If you really want to get to know yourself, you can take a more scientific assessment that not only tells you who you are, but what drives you, what motivates you and how people can best work with you. You’ll get 35 pages of autobiographical information, which can help you understand yourself.

And that’s great, but when you’re meeting people for the first time—as you’re exchanging greetings, smiles or handshakes, paying attention and being present—it’s rather difficult to identify them and put them into one of 16 categories off the top of your head.

And no one ever brings you their 35-page assessment and hands it to you like a manual and says, “Here’s who I am and how to deal with me.”

If you’re in sales or customer service, reading your audience is critical to your professional success. This ability has long been a secret of the magician’s success, too. Magicians are astutely skilled in the fine art of perception and recognizing the individual personalities that make up their audience.

Next time you watch a magician up close, pay attention to the audience members and see how they react. There are generally four types of reactions:

There’s the excited participant, ready to be blown away by anything.

There’s the passive viewer, who is enjoying the show and hoping he isn’t asked to participate.

There’s the take-charge A type who wants to be in control of the situation.

There’s the skeptical know-it-all who has to figure out the secret.

Now think of the four suits in a deck of playing cards and what images they bring to mind:

The Diamonds are shiny and exciting; they yearn to be seen and recognized.

The Hearts are compassionate and loving; they wish for everyone to get along.

The Spades are quick and strong; they want power and control.

The Clubs are very specific; they require attention to detail to be right.


The four suits align with the Myers-Briggs, DiSC, Merrill-Wilson and the Helen Fisher systems:

Diamonds are: Expressive, Explorer, Influence

Hearts are: Amiable, Negotiator, Steadiness

Spades are: Driver, Director, Dominance

Clubs are: Analytical, Builder, Conscientiousness


Once you know which four personality styles align with which suits, you’ll want an easy system to identify which person is exhibiting the behaviors of which suit. To do that, you just need to pay attention to a person’s speed and temperature.

The speed and temperature of suits

What’s amazing about the four suits of a deck of playing cards is that their color and shape connect to a person’s speed and temperature.

First, think of the color of the suits—red or black. When you meet people for the first time, if upon introducing yourself, they are open and engaged, they are most likely a red suit—a warm Heart or a Diamond. If they are reserved or withdrawn—acting colder toward you—they are a Spade or Club.

Next, think of the shape of the suits. The Diamonds and Spades have sharp and pointy ends—they move fast and talk fast, just like their edges are fast to illustrate. They go for the straight line of the situation; they get to the sharp end of the point. So, if someone you meet is moving and talking fast, they are a Diamond or a Spade.

Hearts and Clubs are round suits. These people can’t be rushed or pushed to making a decision. They need time. The best way to remember the Clubs is that this suit is difficult to illustrate; it requires attention to detail to do it right. So, people who are critical, detailed and disciplined—people who require being right—are Clubs.

See how easy it becomes? Just pay attention to how fast/slow and warm/cold someone is. With two questions you’ll have a strong sense of which suit best describes the personality.

Warm and fast? Diamond

Warm and slow? Heart

♠ Cold and fast? Spade

♣ Cold and slow? Club


If you’ve studied other personality evaluation systems, you can overlay the four suits over the terms you already know. The four suits make memory recall easier, helping you speed up the entire identifying process. They are a shortcut for your mind.

Depending on your own personality, you may think that this is amazing (), or this is all obvious to you (♣). Maybe you’re curious how this will affect others (), or maybe you’re ready to put thoughts into actions (♠).

What hand were you dealt?

If part of your life involves meeting new people, and you want to connect and communicate with them for business or social reasons, there’s nothing better than paying attention to people’s personalities. It provides the groundwork to approach and understand someone. No matter your type, here’s how you can give the people you encounter what they need:

  • If you meet a , provide recognition and attention.
  • If you meet a , provide support and approval.
  • If you meet a ♠, provide opportunities to take charge and make decisions.
  • If you meet a ♣, provide opportunities to be “right.”

A great magician provides each of the personalities exactly what they need. For example, he allows the ♣ to analyze whether it’s a regular deck of cards. He then lets the ♠ decide which card to select by authoritatively shouting “stop!” And he invites the on-stage to receive the attention and credit for seemingly making the magic happen. All the while, he leaves the alone to take pleasure in watching others enjoy themselves.

Once you’re aware of what each suit needs, you, too, can provide each person the right opportunities to thrive, just like a magician.

Shuffling it all together

Many people have taken personality tests to tell them who they are. But very few people can instantly assess the personality style of someone they meet. Thanks to this magical system, you’re now equipped to do just that.

You don’t have to rack your brain to search for the right word to describe someone. The magician’s method of four suits is simple to learn and easy to use in the real world. When you’re in the trenches of a presentation or negotiation, meeting people and trying to understand them on the fly, use the four suits to identify personality types quickly and easily. And then, give them what their suit needs.

The goal is for you to eventually be able to identify the personality styles without even thinking about doing it. Mastering this skill will enable you to be more adaptive to your audience—just like a magician. That will go a long way to help you build that relationship or close that deal.

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