Communication: It’s a Matter of Style


By Manie Bosman

It’s often been said that communication is the lifeblood of an organization. Literally hundreds of thousands of books, articles and courses focus on communication and many of these propose to have some or other recipe for improving your communication proficiency. So if we all realize the importance of communication and we have so many available resources to help us improve our communication skills, why don’t all of us simply start communicating in the same clear and efficient way which everyone else will understand? Why does some of us go into the finest detail when we tell a story, while others only provide the skimpiest (and to them) essential facts? Why do some leaders bark instructions while others engage in long in-depth discussions?

There are probably numerous underlying factors causing us to communicate in different ways, but no doubt the uniqueness of each individual plays a major role. Over the years several studies have shown that our communication style – the manner in which we prefer to communicate or be communicated to – is closely related to our individual personality and the way we think or process information.[i] This means that having some degree of insight into our own personality and the personalities of the people we communicate with would increase our understanding of what others are trying to communicate to us. As leaders (or leaders-to-be), understanding the influence of personality on communication preference would also help us to adapt our communication style according to the situation or audience, and give us a better understanding of how others perceive us.

Which Quadrant Rules?

Several models of describing and defining communication styles had been developed over the years. For instance, research by Roger Sperry (Winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1981) led to the identification of four “thinking styles” which are related to the quadrant of an individual’s brain that is dominant when receiving, storing, and processing information. An individual’s thinking style, together with his or her experience and emotional state, act as a filter (for sending and receiving information) during the communication process. It is therefore proposed that to understand communication styles and become more effective communicators, leaders need to recognize their own and their follower’s “thinking styles”:[ii]

Left cerebral quadrant: People with this thinking style prefer exact facts, they analyze problems logically and rationally, they love technical detail, they emphasize performance, and they are generally realistic and often critical.

Right cerebral quadrant: These people prefer the ‘big picture;’ they don’t like detail; they’re curious and imaginative; they love change and new experiences; they often take risks, and they are multi-taskers who enjoy doing several projects simultaneously.

Left limbic quadrant: These individuals prefer well-prepared information; they are sequential, organized, cautious, and reliable; they like to work with detail, they would avoid risk-taking if possible; and they enjoy stable environments.

Right limbic quadrant: People who think with right limbic dominance are often emotional; yet they are also good team players who have empathy for others. They are often very animated communicators who will solve problems through emotional rather than logical processes.

Digging People or Tasks?

Using the tendency to be either task-orientated or people-orientated as the departure point, Swiss psychologist Carl Jung described four groups of communication styles – controllers, collaborators, analyzers and socializers.[iii] Here’s a brief description of each style and how to improve your efficiency when it’s your style or when you’re communicating with someone of each particular style:

Controllers: These are strongly task-orientated individuals who are focused on the end result. They are likely to take-charge if given the opportunity and prefer to be in control of themselves, others and situations when working as well as when communicating. If this is your communication style, you could improve your effectiveness by not always trying to be in control of other people and conditions; and by working on supportive skills such as listening, questioning, and positive affirmation. When communicating with controllers, you should get the best outcome by supporting their aspirations and objectives; keeping communication formal and focused on desired results; and by recognizing ideas instead of the individual. Try to be accurate, specific, efficient, and well organized; and always provide clearly described alternatives with supporting facts and analysis. When there’s a disagreement debate on facts and not on feelings.[iv]

Collaborators: These individuals are strongly relationship-orientated and are generally ‘easy-going’ and peaceful and often speak slowly. They get along well with just about everyone else, enjoy working in teams and when communicating they prefer to avoid conflict and work toward reaching consensus. If this is your communication style, try to allow for change and tackle new challenges from time to time; work on your creative thinking abilities and take action to improve your directive skills such as negotiation and self-assertiveness. When communicating with collaborators, keep in mind that personal relationships are their highest priority. Therefore be warm and sincere (keep it honest, though); show personal interest; listen actively; and acknowledge their strong their relationships with others and their skills at teamwork. If a disagreement develops, be mindful and open about personal feelings.

Analyzers: These are logical thinkers who are task-orientated and mostly prefer to intellectual work and to work on their own. Accuracy and detail is very important to them and for this reason they often need time to process information before they will come to a conclusion. They generally speak slowly but have excellent problem solving abilities if given enough time. If this is your communication style, you can adapt to others by lowering your natural tendency towards pointless perfectionism; and by being less focused on limitations and weaknesses. Working on developing your supportive skills and where possible surround yourself with others who have complementary communication strengths. When communicating with analyzers make sure that you are thorough, organized, accurate and well prepared; list advantages and disadvantages of any plan in detail; and provide solid, tangible, factual evidence for what you say or propose. On an inter-personal level be respectful and appreciative of their organized and thoughtful approach and ask questions to let them demonstrate how much they know.[v]

Socializers: Socializers are outgoing and people-orientated individuals who enjoy working in groups. They enjoy the spotlight and sometimes appear to need approval from others; while at the same time they are not afraid to take risks and like regular change. When communicating they often speak quickly and would avoid details when possible. Socializers generally have good persuasive skills. If this is your communication style, you might adapt to other by lowering your need for approval; and work on developing more focused and directive communication skills such as self-assertion, conflict-resolution, and negotiation. When communicating with socializers, you might get best results by supporting their opinions and ideas, complimenting them from time to time and allow discussions to flow and sometimes even stray from the topic. If possible try to be entertaining and interesting, avoid long-windedness and avoid direct confrontations and conflict.[vi]

At this point you’ve probably recognized elements of your own and others’ communication style and preferences in these two models. Even though this article only presents a very brief description of these communication characteristics, it should nevertheless encourage you to be mindful of different styles and to adapt your communication accordingly. As you do so, also bear in mind that as unique individuals most of us probably have elements of more than one style in our communication repertoire!

Copyright Strategic Leadership Institute 2010


[i] Bruvold, W. H., Parlette, N., Bramson, R. M., & Bramson, S. J. (1983). An investigation of the item characteristics, reliability, and validity of the inquiry mode questionnaire. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 43 (2), 483-493. Herrmann, N. (1982). A bulletin special: The creative brain. NASSP Bulletin, 66, 31-36. Herrmann, N. (1981). The creative brain. Training and Development Journal, October, 11-16. Golian, L. M. (1999). Thinking style preferences among academic librarians: Practical tips for effective work relationships, ACRL, April, 1-8.  Dwyer, K. (2007). Using thinking styles to assist communication. Retrieved on August 26, 2009, from http://www.changefactory.com.au/articles/article_026.shtml

[ii] Dwyer, K. (2007). Using thinking styles to assist communication. Retrieved on August 26, 2009, from http://change.angrymonkeys.com.au/articles/teamwork/using-thinking-styles-to-assist-communication/
Herrmann, N. (1982). A bulletin special: The creative brain. NASSP Bulletin, 66, 31-36.
Herrmann, N. (1981). The creative brain. Training and Development Journal, October, 11-16.

[iii] Hank, S. (2009). Communication styles: What is your impact on others? Professional Safety, May, 22-25.

[iv] Gilman, D., & Culpepper, B. (2007). Identifying communication styles. Powerpoint Presentation retrieved January 6, 2011 from http://bit.ly/dHX0JL

[v] Gilman, D., & Culpepper, B. (2007). Identifying communication styles. Powerpoint Presentation retrieved January 6, 2011 from http://bit.ly/dHX0JL

[vi] Gilman, D., & Culpepper, B. (2007). Identifying communication styles. Powerpoint Presentation retrieved January 6, 2011 from http://bit.ly/dHX0JL

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About Manie Bosman

Manie Bosman is Founder and CEO of the Strategic Leadership Institute. He is a leadership development consultant specializing in the emerging fields of neuroleadership and neurosafety. Based in Pretoria, South Africa, Manie has more than 20 years of international experience in cross-cultural interaction, diversity management, change management, public speaking, communication, corporate training and team development. He holds a Masters of Arts in Organizational Leadership and believes that effective leadership is the key determiner of success in any venture, group or organization.
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One Response to Communication: It’s a Matter of Style

  1. Pingback: Four Pillars of Effective Communication | strategicleaders

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