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Communication Styles Overview

There are so many different ways people communicate. Some people are loud, some more reserved and quiet, and some love to go into detail. The differences in how people communicate are enormous. Chances are we appreciate people who communicate similar to ourselves, and we are frustrated by those who communicate differently. This article introduces you to a framework to better understand various communication styles to better engage with others.

The focus of this framework is on communication tendencies, not personality. The framework comes from the book People Styles at work by Robert and Dorothy Bolton. Let’s walk through the framework.

On the x-axis you have assertiveness. Toward the left are people who are more assertive in their communication, and to the right, we have less assertive people. What would we see and hear from people who are more assertive communicators?

Let’s move to the y-axis, which is responsiveness. In this case, it represents whether you are more people-focused or task-focused. What would you see and hear from more of a people person?

Take a moment to chart where you are on both the x-axis and the y-axis. I encourage you to fight the urge to mark yourself right in the middle. Mark yourself at least a third of the way up or down the axis. If you mark yourself further across the axis, then when you connect the two dots, you will find the quadrant that best represents you, for now. The best way to mark yourself is as if someone were here filling it out for you. Where would the majority of your clients or colleagues mark you? The goal, for now, is to get you into a single quadrant.

Let’s unveil the four quadrants. Please note there is no perfect style, and every style has strengths and tendencies that can be frustrating. Do your best to appreciates differences instead of approaching this with a right or wrong mentality. Listed below are the four styles.

The styles come out in every communication medium, whether in-person, phone, email, instant message or text. People can have a different style across different mediums. For example, when emailing, you might prefer one style, and you might prefer another style in-person.

When I run this exercise, many professionals are torn and ask, what if I am two quadrants instead of one? Yes, you are both! Frankly, you are probably all four, but to start, I encourage you to select a primary and secondary quadrant that best represents your typical approach. The reason is that it forces you to choose a style and focus on the communication habits you might have. Look out for further articles on styles where we will go into more nuance.

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