Understanding Communication Styles in the Workplace

Different people communicate differently. Undoubtedly, you already know this. What you may not know is that these different ways of communicating are pretty much hard-wired into people and seldom reflect conscious choice.[1] Our communication style emerges from a combination of brain dominance, psychological preference and the communication examples that have surrounded us since birth.

Think about the following questions for a minute:

  1. How do you communicate with others during a typical work day?
  2. How do your co-workers communicate with you and each other?
  3. Based on your personal experience, why does communication breakdown in the workplace?

Successful communication requires that someone (the sender) shares information and that someone else (the receiver) gets the message and correctly interprets it. The full communication loop is only successful when the sender can confirm that the receiver understood the message as intended.

It sounds simple enough. In reality, many things can prevent successful communication, not the least of which is a different communication style. There are a number of different constructs describing various communication styles. Let’s explore one of the most common.  

Communication Styles

Based on the behavioral grid model depicted here, there are four main communication styles.[2]

  • Interpersonal, also called the Relator
  • Affective, also called the Socializer
  • Cognitive, also called the Thinker
  • Behavioral, also called the Director

Relator (Interpersonal): The Relator is relationship orientated and readily expresses their thoughts and feelings. However, Relator's are generally slower paced and security conscious, so they prefer less intrusive interactions.

Socializer (Affective): The Socializer prefers to interact with others rather than work alone. Socializers have a fast paced, aggressive communication style and generally work well with others.

Thinker (Cognitive): The Thinker has a closed, personal style and is analytical in their approach. Thinkers take a while to feel comfortable with others, and tend to take longer to reveal information about themselves.

Director: (Behavioural): The Director has an aggressive, competitive nature and is very independent. Directors are results orientated and focus less on the people impacts.

Consider the descriptions above and think about your own communication style and preferences. What kind of communicator are you?

Communicating with Different Styles

We all feel most comfortable with people who communicate the way we do. We are less likely to misinterpret their messages or motives and much quicker to connect with and trust them. That said, there are four predominant communication styles, so most of the people we interact with at work are likely to have a different communication style from our own. This means that the odds actually favor miscommunication!

Avoiding derailed communication at work (and being recognized as a highly promotable, excellent communicator!)  means understanding and learning to interact effectively with all four styles. Here are some tips for communicating successfully with each style[3].

To connect most effectively with a Relator:

  • Use less intense eye contact
  • Speak in a moderate pace with a softer voice and moderate tone
  • Seek their opinions and ideas: then listen
  • Try not to counter their ideas with logical arguments
  • Allow time for them to make a decision to reduce pressure
  • Encourage them to express their concerns without getting upset with them
  • Aim for mutual agreement on work goals and completion dates

To connect most effectively with a Socializer:

  • Make direct eye contact
  • Speak in an energetic and fast paced manner
  • Support your ideas with the opinions of people they respect
  • Confirm any agreements made; follow up with a brief “to do” list so they remember what they agreed to do
  • Allow some socializing time in meetings
  • Talk about experiences, people, opinions and facts
  • Ask about their “gut” feel
  • Maintain balance between fun and achieving results

To connect most effectively with a Thinker:

  • Be more formal in your speech and manner
  • Don’t speak in a loud or fast paced voice
  • Present the pros and cons of an idea along with options
  • Follow up in writing
  • Be punctual
  • Present information in an organized, planned and comprehensive manner
  • Accept that options requiring risk-taking options are generally not welcomed

To connect most effectively with a Director:

  • Get to the point quickly in a clear and succinct manner
  • Speak in a fast pace
  • Be specific and don’t over-explain or repeat yourself
  • Make direct eye contact
  • Minimize small talk
  • Be organized and well prepared
  • Focus on results to be achieved
  • Be punctual and stick to guidelines

The most important thing to remember about communication styles is that the differences are real and largely unconscious. Railing against someone else’s communication style or expecting everyone to interact in your preferred style seldom leads to a positive outcome. Highly effective communicators learn to recognize and adapt to different communication styles; both when they’re receiving and interpreting information from others and when they share information with others.


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