The Four Styles of Communicators

When speaking with people you can tailor your message to them more effectively if you know what type of communicator they are.  It also helps if you know how you communicate yourself, hence avoiding some of the pitfalls of each type.

Personality theories date back through the ages, with modern versions taking the form of the Myers-Briggs test or the more recent HEXACO model, among others.  Each of the various theories attempt to quantify human behavior based on metrics deemed important to that model.  The simplest will have three or four main criteria, while the more complex theories work with sixteen and up.

For the purpose of this conversation I’ll introduce the four generic types of communicators that we’ve all dealt with and that everyone can relate to.

The “Type A”

Hard-headed, aggressive, confrontational.  Type-A personalities can be hard to work with and even harder to work for.  But quite often the reason for acting this way is that these people are good at what they do and their level of confidence stems from this.

Action oriented to a fault, it is unfortunate that the conversation ends up being one-sided with an “I win, you lose” outcome the only one acceptable.  And this type of person may often end up getting their way by virtue of being louder, rather than right.  This is especially dangerous when their skills or grasp of the situation isn’t to the level it should be.

When speaking with Type-A’s it is important not to get dragged into a confrontation that ends up being more about the personality conflict then it does the situation.  A name-calling match accomplishes nothing and can damage further relations beyond repair.  It is equally important however to stand your ground.  Make sure your facts are correct and your position is well thought out.  Reason is the best approach.

Quick to heat up, this type is often quick to cool down as well, with words spoken in the heat of the moment soon forgotten.  If you tend towards this type of communication it is important to remember that not everybody let’s things go so quickly.  When dealing with meeker individuals the things you say will not be quickly forgotten and can lead to lasting resentment from your peers.

The Passive Aggressive

You all know this one.  They smile in your face then talk behind your back.  Guilt and shame are the weapons wielded here, with seemingly friendly or helpful sounding words delivered spitefully, or with opposite meaning.  They tend to manipulate others using direct and dishonest messages.

This type is also quite action oriented and results driven, yet lack the skill set to communicate their goals and desires without manipulation.  These interactions are more of an “I win, you lose… but you don’t know that I win!” type of dynamic.  Ultimately, the win comes at someone else’s cost, rather than a mutually agreeable result.

The most effective strategy for dealing with this is to call them on their actions.  Be straight up about it from the start, without being defensive.  Facts are facts – stick to them.

The Jellyfish

This is the totally passive communicator.  “You lose, but it’s not my fault!”  Jellyfish (as in spineless?) are easily led and allow others to shoulder the responsibility.  This stems from a lack of ownership.  When things go sideways they always have somebody to blame, as they weren’t in charge.

The unfortunate thing about this situation is that when they are technically proficient, their experience or input is often lost or marginalized.  The answer might be readily at hand, but valuable time is wasted because somebody can’t or won’t speak up.

It is important when working with passive personalities to make it safe for them to provide input and to encourage participation.

The Natural

This is the person that gets it right.  Has the gift of gab and if they don’t have the right answer, are not afraid to ask the questions.  They make you feel understood.

The reason for this is that they listen, really listen, to what you are saying.

The Natural makes every effort to include everyone and typically concludes each conversation as  a Win-Win scenario.  This is an assertive form of communication, without being aggressive.  Thoughts and feelings are expressed in an open and direct fashion, and feedback is welcome.

One of the keys to becoming a Natural is keeping an open mind during conversations.  Using empathy, you should work to see the situation from the other side of the table and consider the goals and reasons that cause a difference of opinion.

Most importantly is to never take any opposition personally.  If the situation does become personal then the next step is to remove yourself from the conversation until it can be re-approached with a cool head.  Words spoken in the heat of the moment are often not meant, but can never be withdrawn.

With These 4 Powers Combined

One last point to remember is that everyone has all four of these traits in their personality and the dominant trait will shift with the situation.  I’ve seen totally meek people light up and speak with authority when talking about music.  Or generally well rounded assertive people degenerate to slander and name calling.

It’s all human nature.

The important thing is to recognize the styles and tailor your message so that it is delivered in the most effective manner.

Do you identify with one of these styles of communication?  What can you do in your day-to-day life in order to communicate more effectively?


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4 thoughts on “The Four Styles of Communicators

  1. I can honestly say that I have all these types of communication issues especially while being involved in the using of drugs and alcohol. It seems to be the norm with addicts such as myself. It’s definitely an up and down emotional rollercoaster which causes these communication defects of character within me. The biggest pitfall depends on my financial stability I’ve noticed. Money troubles always seem to determine my way of thinking and operating within my day to day life with work or play. It’s most definitely troubling for me I must say! I’ve lived a life in and out of the A.A./N.A. programs and find that if I stay sober I can always balance these 4 issues out better for sure.

  2. Kudos to Sean for highlighting four versions of communication, its pros and cons. It is known that effective communication is the backbone of good leadership. Everyone has certain type of leadership and these versions of communication go analogous with each type. For example, an aristocratic leader may be a hard-headed one like the Type-A Communicator, where, ethnocentrism (everything of mine is better than yours) attitude takes over. A democratic style of leader will adapt to the 4th version of communication, where he discusses, takes opinion of others and take a decision which may go well with the majority.

    I am not the best judge to say which category I fall, but I know one thing for sure. I am a passive listener to any unwanted garb which feel is of no consequence or interest to me. I may have heard someone saying something, but nothing gets registered, if I am not interested in the topic. It may seem to him that I am listening to him whatever he says, but it is far from true Instead, if the topic is of interest to me, whatever spoken by the other party is well assimilated and I take on, whether agree, disagree or on a moderator role. I hate someone imposing his blabbering attitude on others. One may well do well to assess how far he is effective in inducing others to listen to you and there lies your success as a good communicator and then a good leader.

  3. Thanks for weighing in.

    Great point about financial security. It is easy to become more defensive when feeling the pinch!

  4. Thanks Tom,

    Some people certainly love the sound of their own voice and it can be easy to “tune out”. I’m guilty of it myself, although do make a real effort to stay with them in the conversation – even just for practice if nothing else!

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