The Attentional and Interpersonal Style Inventory (TAIS)


Why do we need and/or use assessment instruments (tests)?

The purpose of such instruments is to help us to predict and understand exactly how an individual will perform under a variety of circumstances. To understand exactly how a person is going to behave, the best sources of data are:

Although highly predictive, it is impractical and expensive to use such methods in all cases. Assessment instruments help us gather useful data in an expedient and practical fashion. Assessment instruments when chosen carefully and used appropriately are invaluable in the selection process.


If we are going to use a test, what types are available? And what types are best?

At one end of the continuum are the tests designed to assess personality and predict behavior. These are from the world of clinical psychology and were created to aid in the diagnosis of personality and emotional problems. Making the information derived from these tests useful in the business world requires years of experience and a great deal of clinical skill. The leap from the data these tests provide to business selection decisions is enormous.

At the other end of the continuum are the highly specific tests designed by researchers for use in certain, specific selection situations. These tests are typically derived through an empirical process where "the numbers" determine reality. They lack any grounding in any theory of human performance and are usually a face valid combination of traits, characteristics, or behavioral styles. They tend to be useful in predicting the behavior of groups or behavior in very specific circumstances. They are less useful when predicting individual differences and performance across a wide variety of situations.

Given the limitations of each of these types of instruments, is there any way to make better predictions?

The answer is "Yes". A description of how elite level athletes and elite military units have accomplished the task provides fine illustrations.

What do these two different groups have in common?

Performance under stress is a critical concept for both these groups. We believe it is critical in the business world as well.

How many of you have seen people in the workplace who are "okay" performers under normal circumstances absolutely falling on their faces when the pressure was on? How many of you believe that what separates the top-notch employee in today's business climate is performance under pressure?

In professional sports or the Olympics, what matters most is how a person performs when everything is on the line; when 4 years of dedication and hard work come down to 10 seconds of performance





This is certainly a very different construct to begin with in a psychological theory of performance. We are much more used to seeing "personality" variables like introversion or extroversion when dealing with psychology. But think about it for a moment. Isn't concentration at the heart of all performance?

Let's face it, at the moment of truth, whether you are introverted or extroverted has very little relevance in your ability to make good decisions or take appropriate action.

At the moment of truth, whether or not you are attending to performance relevant stimuli is all that matters.

Concentration Styles:

How many times has someone said to you, "Pay attention!"? "Concentrate!" The assumption in this type of coaching is that there are four different concentration styles.

Click on the Image to Enlarge

Your concentration varies along two dimensions:



In elite military units, what matters most is how a person will perform when decisions have to be made and action taken when lives are on the line.

Dr. Bob Nideffer developed the Theory of Attentional and Interpersonal Style in his work with elite athletes at the professional and Olympic level. It has been applied extensively in military settings with Navy SEALS and Army Special Forces. The theory brings together performance relevant constructs in such a way as to accurately predict how people will perform in wide variety of situations.

The predictions are especially useful in understanding how a person will react under stress. The theory and the Attentional and Interpersonal Style (TAIS) inventory combine to anchor a selection system that is highly predictive and easy to adapt to any performance situation.

With TAIS data, you can not only predict how a person will perform, but you can also use the information to give corrective feedback and improve performance.

There are very few other assessment instruments that reliably provide targets for professional development. How many of you have ever taken the Myers-Briggs? Anybody remember his or her 4-letter code? Anybody believe their performance improved once they learned their style? A Myers-Briggs result not only can't give you areas to work on, but it also cannot predict how you'll perform under stress.

TAIS Theory of Performance 1

These two dimensions combine to form the four concentration styles depicted in the figure. You can think of these four styles as four different channels because just like with your television you can only be tuned into one channel at a time or use one type of focus at a time. There is no "picture-in-a-picture" with human concentration.

Channel 1 is the Broad-External Focus

This is where you are attending to many different things simultaneously and they are all in your surroundings. You can think of this style as "Street Sense" or general awareness of what's going on. This is the right focus as you prepare to cross a busy intersection. It's the focus most often used by athletes in team sports, like in basketball by Michael Jordan as he runs a fast break down the court. It's his ability to sense or read where his teammates are and what the defense is doing that allows him to make successful choices. It's also the focus of a high producing salesperson as he or she assesses whether or not a client is ready to buy. In fact, in most situations where you've got to react to other people, like at a board meeting or a critical meeting with the boss, the broad-external awareness or ability to read the situation will determine success or failure.


Channel 2 is the Broad-Internal Focus

Inside your head, focusing on many things at once --- this is the planning and analytical type of attention. Broad-Internal typically cuts across time and you are comparing current events with past learning in an attempt to predict future outcome. Broad-Internal is the "big picture" focus used by leaders as strategies and plans are determined.




Channel 3 is a Narrow-Internal focus


This is a "here & now" problem solving focus, where all that is relevant is in the present. If you were asked, "How much is 15 minus 7?" , you would calculate the answer using Narrow-Internal. Or if you were asked to imagine that you are lying on a beach in Hawaii, you would attend to that mental image with this Channel.




Channel 4 is the Narrow-External Focus

This is the attentional style used, as you are about to take action. This is the channel frequented by those highly disciplined performers who become subject matter experts. There is a certain single-mindedness to this style. Narrow-External is used to grab onto a project and stick with it until completion. This is shutting everything else out and focusing. This may be what those misguided mentors of yesteryear were referring to when they screamed, "PAY ATTENTION!!!"



Concentration & Performance

As stated earlier, we can only be tuned into one channel at a time, but the critical thing to realize is we have the capacity to tune into all of the channels. What we know from our research is that each person has a preferred channel or attentional style. This is the style you rely most heavily on in performance situations. It is not clear whether the preferred or dominant style is a result of genetic factors or learning, but what is clear is that it's the style supporting most of our successful performances.

The issue of a dominant style is critical because we also know this is the style a person will go to under pressure. If your dominant style is Broad-Internal, the strategic/analytical style, you will go to it when stress levels are high. The implications of this should be clear. If successful performance is the result of the right match between the situational demands and the attentional style, then a person will perform best under pressure if his or her dominant style matches the situation. In order to select people who will perform exceptionally well, we want to choose people whose dominant attentional style matches the concentration demands of the work environment.


TAIS Theory of Performance

The second component of this theory of performance is Interpersonal Characteristics.

Interpersonal Characteristics:

These are the kinds of psychological factors we are used to seeing when discussing assessment instruments. TAIS theory recognizes the importance of these constructs, but always within a context that includes concentration.

We will discuss each variable independently and then give some examples of how interactions with concentration and other interpersonal variables are critical to predicting performance.

Preference for Diversity


Behavioral Control



Physical Orientation

Speed of Decision Making



Intellectual Expressiveness, Negative Affect & Positive Affect

Focus Over Time

Performance Under Pressure

Combination Examples

Now that we have looked at each of the TAIS constructs individually, let's look at a couple of examples of the real power of TAIS. Combining variables to predict behavior.

Example 1

Example 2


This has been a quick run through of the TAIS and its supporting theory. We believe it is the most viable and effective selection instrument for companies with a focus on performance, especially performance under stressful conditions. If you want to know how a person is likely to react to a wide variety of workplace situations and can't afford a 6-month probation period, TAIS can provide critical data to your selection process.