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Communication Styles

19 January, 2016 - 15:28

In addition to the communication that occurs within organizations, each of us has our own individual communication style. Many organizations give tests that may indicate their candidate’s preferred style, providing information on the best job fit.

Our communication styles can determine how well we communicate with others, how well we are understood, and even how well we get along with others. As you can imagine, our personality types and our communication styles are very similar. Keep in mind, though, that no one person is “always” one style. We can change our style depending on the situation. The more we can understand our own dominant communication style and pinpoint the styles of others, the better we can communicate. The styles are expresser, driver, relater, and analytical. Let’s discuss each of these styles next.

People with an expresser communication style tend to get excited. They like challenges and rely heavily on hunches and feelings. Depending on the type of business, this can be a downfall as sometimes hard data should be used for decision-making purposes. These people are easily recognized because they don’t like too many facts or boring explanations and tend to be antsy if they feel their time is being wasted with too many facts.

People with a driver style like to have their own way and tend to be decisive. They have strong viewpoints, which they are not afraid to share with others. They like to take charge in their jobs but also in the way they communicate. Drivers usually get right to the point and not waste time with small talk.

People with a relater style like positive attention and want to be regarded warmly. They want others to care about them and treat them well. Because relaters value friendships, a good way to communicate well with them is to create a communication environment where they can feel close to others.

People with an analytical communication style will ask a lot of questions and behave methodically. They don’t like to be pressured to make a decision and prefer to be structured. They are easily recognized by the high number of questions they ask.

Table 9.1 Which One of These Communication Styles Do You Tend to Use?
  Passive Assertive Aggressive
Definition Communication style in which you put the rights of others before your own, minimizing your own self-worth Communication style in which you stand up for your rights while maintaining respect for the rights of others Communication style in which you stand up for your rights but you violate the rights of others
Implications to others my feelings are not important we are both important your feelings are not important
I don't matter we both matter you don't matter
I think I'm inferior I think we are equal I think I'm superior
Verbal styles apologetic I statements you statements
overly soft or tentative voice firm voice loud voice
Nonverbal styles looking down or away looking direct staring, narrow eyes
  stooped posture, excessive head nodding relaxed posture, smooth and relaxed movements tense, clenched fists, rigid posture, pointing fingers
Potential consequences lowered self-esteem higher self-esteem guilt
anger at self self-respect anger from others
false feelings of inferiority respect from others lowered self-esteem
disrespect from others respect of others disrespect from others
pitied by others feared by others

Let’s discuss an example of how these communication styles might interact. Let’s assume an analytical communicator and a relater are beginning a meeting where the purpose is to develop a project time line. The analytical communicator will be focused on the time line and not necessarily the rapport building that the relater would be focused on. The conversation might go something like this:


What are you doing this weekend? I am going to my son’s baseball game. It is supposed to be hot—I am looking forward to it.


That’s great. OK, so I was thinking a start date of August 1stfor this project. I can get Kristin started on a to-do list for the project.


That would be great. Kristin is a really hard worker, and I’m sure she won’t miss any details.


Yes, she’s OK. So, your team will need to start development now with a start day coming up. How are you going to go about this?

How do these two personality styles walk away from this conversation? First, the relater may feel ignored or rejected, because the analytical communicator didn’t want to discuss weekend details. The analytical communicator may feel annoyed that the relater is wasting time talking about personal things when they have a goal to set a project time line. These types of small miscommunications in business are what can create low morale, absenteeism, and other workplace issues. Understanding which style we tend to use can be the key in determining how we communicate with others. Here is another, personal example of these communication styles and how a conversation might go:

Expresser, to his partner:

I am really excited for our hiking trip this weekend.


I still think we should leave on Thursday night rather than Friday.


I told you, I don’t think I can get all day Friday off. Besides, we won’t have much time to explore anyway, if we get there on Thursday, it will already be dark.


It won’t be dark; we will get there around 7, before anyone else, if we leave after work.


I planned the trip. I am the one who went and got our food and permits, I don’t see why you have to change it.


You didn’t plan the trip; I am the one who applied for the permits.

In this situation, you can see that the expresser is just excited about the trip and brings up the conversation as such. The driver has a tendency to be competitive and wants to win, hence his willingness to get there Thursday before everyone else. The expresser, on the other hand, tried to sell his ideas and didn’t get the feedback he felt he deserved for planning the trip, which made the communication start to go south.

In addition to our communication personalities, people tend to communicate based on one of three styles. First, a passive communicator tends to put the rights of others before his or her own. Passive communicators tend to be apologetic or sound tentative when they speak. They do not speak up if they feel like they are being wronged.

An aggressive communicator, on the other hand, will come across as standing up for his or her rights, while possibly violating the rights of others. This person tends to communicate in a way that tells others they don’t matter, or their feelings don’t matter.

An assertive communicator respects his rights and the rights of others when communicating. This person tends to be direct but not insulting or offensive. The assertive communicator stands up for his or her own rights but makes sure the rights of others aren’t affected.

Have you heard of a passive-aggressive communicator? This person tends to be passive but later aggressive by perhaps making negative comments about others or making snide or underhanded comments. This person might express his or her negative feelings in an indirect way, instead of being direct. For example, you are trying to complete a project for a client and the deadline is three days away. You and your team are working frantically to finish. You ask one of your employees to come in to work on Saturday morning to finish up the loose ends, so the project will be ready to present to the client on Monday. Your employee agrees, but when you show up on Monday, the project isn’t ready to present. You find out that this person had plans on Saturday but wasn’t direct with you about this. So the project didn’t get completed, and you had to change the appointment with the client. Later, you also find out that this employee was complaining to everyone else that you had asked her to come in on Saturday. As you can see from this example, passive-aggressive behavior doesn’t benefit anyone. The employee should have been direct and simply said, “I can’t come in on Saturday, but I can come in Sunday or work late Friday night.” Ideally, we want to be assertive communicators, as this shows our own self-esteem but at the same time respects others and isn’t misleading to others, either.

When dealing with someone who exhibits passive-aggressive behavior, it is best to just be direct with them. Tell that person you would rather she be direct than not show up. Oftentimes passive-aggressive people try to play the martyr or the victim. Do not allow such people to press your buttons and get you to feel sorry for them. This gives them control and can allow them to take advantage.