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May 2024
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Understanding Your Communication Style

A fast breakdown of four types of communicators.

By Bill Brown, DTM

“IllustrationIllustration by Bart Browne

Have you ever had a project in Pathways that you would rather put off as long as you could? One of those projects for me was “Understanding Your Communication Style” in Level 2. The project has you take a test to understand your normal communication style and then discusses how you can best interact with people with other styles.

I have taken tests like this before. Sometimes it is for leadership style. Sometimes it’s personality. But it almost always contains four categories. The names are different, but the characteristics are the same. I have always understood who I am. My problem is understanding how to work with all the other styles.

The communication style project is now the next one in my path. I could easily give a fluff speech, to just get it over with. I decided, however, to take a different approach, to actually figure it out. Maybe my journey will help you as well.

This concept is usually presented as something that is straightforward. Very quickly, in a fraction of a second, before you open your mouth, analyze the other person’s style and then, just as quickly, craft an approach that meets their communication need. At least, that’s what I heard. Easy peasy, right? Not!

The breakthrough came for me when I realized that this is not something that comes naturally and quickly. It is a skill that you have to develop. And this takes time. It’s okay to get it wrong. Just learn from it.

That may seem obvious to you. But it was a liberating revelation to me.

The four styles discussed in the Pathways project are called Direct, Analytical, Supportive, and Initiating. I came in strongly in the Analytical category with Direct as my second. Yes, I am highly detail oriented. You may have picked that up from some of my articles.

I have always understood who I am. My problem is understanding how to work with all the other styles.

The rub for me is quickly assessing another person’s communication style. The project does an excellent job of describing each style in great detail, but when I am talking with someone, I am not going to remember all of the signs. I need a quick tool to help me out.

I have reduced the four types to a brief description. I view the Direct as “no nonsense.” The Analytical is “details, details, details.” The Supportive is “caring.” And the Initiating is “the life of the party.” Are these exact? Probably not. But it gets me in the right neighborhood.

Next, I need to know how to relate to those of each type. With Directs, I need to get to the point. With Analyticals, I need to provide details. With Initiatings, I should focus on stories. And with Supportives, I need to be calm and reassuring. And I need to have patience. Not my strong suit. Yes, there’s more to it than that. But that is where I am starting.

Obviously, if we have been working with someone for some time, we probably have a pretty good idea of their style, but what if we are meeting someone for the first time?

I asked myself, how would I react if someone approached me? If they were direct, I would ask them to provide more details. If they started with chitchat, I might ask them to get to the point. And if they started providing details, I would ask them questions so that I could receive the details that I wanted in the order that made sense to me. In other words, in each case, I would give the other person clues on how best to interact with me. I then need to become really good at picking up the clues that others give me.

As I said before, this is a skill that needs to be developed. And that will happen over time.

The project is targeted toward interpersonal communication. But does it have relevance to formal presentations? Yes.

If you are giving the presentation to one person, target it to their style. But if you are speaking to a group, you might have people there from each of the four styles. You should then craft your presentation to provide something for each style.

As I said earlier, this is a breakthrough for me. And I have a lot to learn. But for the first time, I am excited about the topic and the challenge. Hopefully I have challenged you, as well, to become more adept at this important topic and to embrace the “Understanding Your Communication Style” project, as I have.


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