Different Communication Styles
Style refers to a particular pattern or way of behaving. However, in the context of communicating, perhaps a better definition is that style is a consistent approach that an individual may take when communicating with another person. At its broadest level, many “patterns of behavior” or communication styles can be described. This includes styles such as friendly, open, warm, on the perceived to be more positive side, and directing, coercive and even manipulative on the perceived to be more negative side perhaps. These various styles can be broadly classified into “pull” and “push” categories, and this helps us to start classifying different ways in which communication may therefore occur.
So, what specifically constitutes communication style?
We have used the word “style” in the knowledge that most people will be familiar with the term in other applications or uses. For example, we know that people may have a particular “dress style,” “personality style” or “life style” (and understand that there are several very different style types that may be adopted). However, when it comes to a communication, we can extend this concept of a particular style (whether it is push or pull) and start to consider what particular patterns of talking or influencing that people may adopt or that we may see in others around us.
In most communications, style appears to have two major underlying drivers. These are:
- The level of energy that we bring to a communication (encompassing pace, direction, goal or task-orientation)
- The level of empathy we bring to a communication (encompassing our emotional orientation and level of relationship warmth towards the other party in the communication).
While we may basically suggest that these drivers both run from high to low, in terms of energy, this often translates into a pace of communication scale running from “fast” to “slow.” And as far as level of empathy is concerned, this scale often translates into an attitudinal measure running from “active” to “passive.” In fact, several factors feed into both of these drivers of energy and empathy (and therefore our communication style as a whole). These include pace, tone, volume of communication, our attitude and our use of external body language. Each of these factors feed mainly into either the energy or the empathy scale (and in the case of body language, into both).
How can different communication styles be used?
People are clearly able to use a whole range of different styles in a single conversation and may elect to do so when the conversation is lengthy and the person to whom they are talking is somewhat familiar. However, communication styles vary much less than we might think and in the vast majority of cases are used in two main ways. The first way is in relation to the key communication subject. In this approach, the more push-oriented style may be used when there is an emergency or time is tight, or when we are on a deadline, for example. Here, the opportunity for empathy is considerably diminished greatly and communication becomes typically more energetic. Conversely, when introducing two colleagues, who are meeting for the first time, for example, a much more empathetic pull communication style is likely to be used, with much quieter voices and warmer attitudes and words, perhaps. Secondly, individuals can adopt a single communication style for almost all of their communications. Whether this is a push or pull type of style, it is applied to all circumstances. This may not be ideal in many situations (a push versus pull style when trying to coach someone will feel very different for example) but the person may feel more comfortable and adept in using this one style and therefore not break out of it very often. This creates a familiar and expected communication approach for others but it can present difficulties on occasions. For example, we have all seen the constantly louder, more commanding communicator and have also experienced the consistently soft-spoken, more listening centric communicator.
We have two options when we seek to communicate with others: we can attempt to push the other party to see our perspective, (and that can work sometimes, especially in the short-term), or we can take a more complex approach and try to gently persuade or help an individual to make their own sense of an issue – a more pull-oriented approach (although this often takes longer to do). Both methods are appropriate in different circumstances and an effective communicator therefore often seeks to “flex” his or her style to meet the needs of the individual he or she is communicating with as often as necessary. However, some individuals become comfortable using only one communication style for all situations and as other parties in the communication we may need to steer them to communicate differently if we want a different approach to be taken.