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DC and Virginia HR Consulting and Executive Coaching Newsletter - Issue #22

Like Talking to a Brick Wall

Have any of these scenarios ever happened to you?

  • You start making small talk with a coworker about the weekend, weather, sports, etc.  They look at you as if you are from Mars, and then quickly get down to business about the current project.
  • You present your plan to someone.  They frown and look deep in thought.  The next day, you receive an email with feedback about your idea.
  • You rush in to someone's office with a problem.  You explain the details of the issues and ask for a solution.  The person looks like they have just been hit by a sledgehammer, takes a breath, and states "well good morning to you, too!"

Before I go into why these situations may seem familiar, I want to thank those of you who forwarded my newsletter to colleagues and friends.  If you could take a second to use the button above to give others an opportunity to subscribe, I would appreciate it!

The examples above are all pretty common workplace dynamics, and are all examples where there may be a mismatch in communication style.

The natural tendency is to communicate with others they way that you want others to communicate with you.  For example, if you like to make small talk, you may expect that others make small talk with you.  You may feel offended if someone does not take the time to chit-chat before getting down to business.

Savvy communicators learn to recognize their own default style, read the cues from others, and vary their communication style to match.  By knowing when to slow down, speed up, pause, etc. you can get your point across more effectively and efficiently.

In the book The Platinum Rule, by Tony Alessandra, Ph.D. and Michael J. O'Connor, Ph.D., four business communication styles are defined based on two factors.  The first factor is whether an individual tends to be "open" or "closed" with their thoughts and emotions during communication.  An open style means that the individual wants to share their thoughts and feelings, and may want to know everyone else's as well.  People with a closed style desire to keep their feelings hidden, and probably do not care to hear about other people's feelings either!

The second factor is whether an individual prefers to be "direct", or "indirect".  People who tend to a direct style want to get to the point, solve the problem, and move on.  They tend to talk a lot, and not shy away from confrontation.  On the other hand, "indirect" communication relies more on talking around the issue, soliciting opinion, asking questions, and listening.  This style can tend to shy away from conflict.

With those 2 factors in mind, here's a table showing the four communication styles:




The Director

The Thinker


The Socializer

The Relater

  1. Closed/Direct - The Director

    Directors tend to take charge.  They are highly rigid and no-nonsense in their communication style.  There is no time for emotions, and once most of the facts are out it is time to take action.  They talk a lot, and are usually "firm and forceful, confident and competitive, decisive and determined risk-takers" say the authors.

    To communication effectively with a director, get to the point.  You may want to structure your discussion to show a BRIEF overview of the situation, and then immediately propose action.  If the director has questions, then and only then they bring out other facts, other options, etc.  If you spend too long with every fact and every thought, the director will probably just take over and implement a solution.  Beat him/her to it.

  2. Open/Direct - The Socializer

    Socializers prefer the style where they can handle workplace problems through influence.  They tend to be outgoing, networked, and in the center of everything.  You will know what they are thinking and what they want to accomplish.  In fact, EVERYONE will know!

    To communicate with a socializer, give them an opportunity to talk about their thoughts and ideas.  Listen, and help relate your idea to them.  If you can get them on board with you, they can be a powerful PR ally.

  3. Closed/Indirect - The Thinker

    Anyone working in high-tech is surrounded by Thinkers.  (Sorry about the stereotype, but it is true)!  Thinkers prefer to spend time in their own heads analyzing the situation and alternatives before jumping on board with a solution.  They don't share feelings easily, and they can be terribly hard to read.  They sometimes come back later with good insights after the conversation, and after they have had time to process information.

    To communicate with a thinker, present the facts and reasons and give them a chance to respond.  You may want to do this in writing, and/or ask for a written response at a later date.

  4. Open/Indirect - The Relater

    Relaters care about the relationships around them.  They are usually open to share opinions once a relationship is established.  They may recoil from aggressive or dominating communication styles.

    To communicate with a Relater, take the time to build a relationship with them.  Then ask for help and thank them for their contribution.

People have default communication styles, but can also move between the styles based on environmental factors.  For example, analytical communication may become directive under stress or deadlines.  To be most effective, it's crucial that you learn to interpret what you are seeing during communication, and adjust your style accordingly.

If you need help communicating with your employees, co-workers, or manager give me a call!

As always, I welcome your comments on this article.  Feel free to email, Twitter, find me on Facebook or LinkedIn, or post to my blog!

Jim Bowles
James Bowles and Associates