The Language of Each Communication Style

The Language of Each Communication Style


Now that you’ve learned about your style of communicating and the styles of the people around you, how can it help you become a more competent communicator? The answer should be obvious by now:

Communicate in a mode that makes other people feel more comfortable relating to you.

In other words, modify your style so it takes the tone of the company you keep.

In this post, we’re going to look at specific ways that you can do this without appearing unnatural or phony. In essence, we’re going to learn a few simple tools that will enable you to communicate in a style that more closely resembles theirs, without forsaking yours.

To be an effective communicator, try to see the world as they do. Immerse yourself in their way of thinking. Imagine the world through their filters and frames. Try to understand how their communication style influences the way they live. Study their language.

The following is designed to help you understand the ways that each style communicates. It reveals the body language, specific words and phrases, even the topics that are favored by each style. In essence, it’s the secret passcode for each style. Use this passcode, and you’ll be able to enter their camp undetected.

The Language of Directors

The Director speaks in short, crisp sentences, often quickly. Directors like to talk about results.

“Our goal is to achieve a 10 percent increase in market share. Let’s focus on what we need to do to accomplish it.”

The Director typically thinks the conversation is over before it really is. You may find yourself puzzled about what he expects you to do. “Just do it” is a phrase invented by Directors. They naturally assume that everyone else wants to “just do it”– and the quicker the better. The only snag is: You haven’t a clue what it is exactly that needs to get done. Simply inquire.

“I don’t track what you’re saying. Could you explain it in more detail?” Or: “Can we spend five minutes talking about specific steps?”

By giving it a finite period, you allay the Director’s concerns about wasting time.

Sometimes even the goal isn’t clear. Clarify it.

“I’m not clear on what the goal is, what the intermediate objectives are. Can you clarify that for me?”

Or if time is running short (as it always is with Directors), say:

“I’ll put together a memo spelling out what I think our objectives are and run it past you, O.K.?”

Directors are typically comfortable talking the language of numbers. They may forget the details, but Directors love the bottom line, even if it’s “back of the envelope.”  If you want to make a persuasive case to a Director, the best way to do it is with numbers. And emphasize the return, the bottom line, the profitability.

The best way to communicate with anyone whose style differs from yours is to put into words the dilemma you feel. For example, if you’re talking to a Director, a frequent dilemma is this:

“I know you’re pressed for time, yet I need you to explain what you mean.”

By putting this dilemma into words (your inner script), you show sensitivity to them.

I’m at a dilemma here. I feel you don’t have time to go into this more thoroughly right now. Yet I need you to take more time to explain it. Is that okay with you? Should it be now, or sometime later?”

The Language of Expressers

Expressers love to talk, and talk they will, sometimes so quickly and on so many different topics that it’s hard to keep up. They’ll wave their hands, point their fingers, squeeze your arm – all to make a point. They love imagining what’s possible, whether it’s a new use for technology or a better way to organize the office or how to make sure that a budding romance works out. They imagine everyone else likes to talk, too, and therefore talk to make sure the air is filled with talk. That’s why brainstorming is such a pleasure for Expressers. It’s their natural form of communication.

Expressers, unlike Thinkers or Harmonizers, often talk before they think. Much of what they say is a “work in progress.” If they’re aware of their style, they’ll say, “I’m thinking aloud here.”

The best way of communicating with an Expresser is to brainstorm for a while. Let your spontaneous, creative side show. Tell him or her:

“You know, it’s just occurred to me while we’re talking that….” Or: “That idea you have is really interesting. Imagine what would happen if….”

Sometimes you need to get Expressers to be more grounded in the concrete reality of things like budgets, tasks, and results. It helps to frame the conversation for them so they know you’re shifting gears.

“If everyone agrees, let’s shift from brainstorming to how we’re going to make this decision. I’d like specific suggestions from each of you.”

Make sure you get the Expresser to commit to the decision by writing down specific agreements on what he or she will do by when. Otherwise, the hours you spend together may be wasted, because when you return to the same subject, the Expresser will say:

“You know, I’ve been thinking about a better way to do that.”

However, if you’ve reached an agreement, you can say:

“Since we already decided that, how about we move on to the next item. Unless you feel your idea really warrants reopening this decision.”

Expressers don’t particularly like the language of numbers. Numbers are too precise and immutable and dry. Ideas are exciting and stimulating. So in speaking the language of finance, don’t assume that Expressers are able to track your thinking. One of the most difficult tasks you can give an Expresser is to create a budget. Give them a template of exactly what you expect. Illustrate the backup information you need. And make it clear you’re available if they have any questions, regardless of how trivial.

If you’re talking to an Expresser, a frequent dilemma is this:

“I know you value brainstorming and coming up with new ideas, but a decision has got to be made.”

So put it like this:

“I feel that I’m in a dilemma here. Your ideas are creative and good, yet we need to come to closure. How can we decide that it’s time to pick one option and go with it?”

The Language of Thinkers

Thinkers talk in slow, precise, concrete terms. This is the language of the Thinker:

“After we reviewed the language in Section D, we proceeded to Section E. We dealt with five issues, most of which we were able to resolve, however, I want to bring to your attention two sub-paragraphs in Section E having to do with ….”

Thinkers revel in details. All those details can be wearying, especially to people with different styles. But Thinkers need to explain their reasoning and logic carefully. As we’ll see, that style of communicating can be very appropriate when you’re dealing with tough, complex issues. But the Thinker’s style may not be as appropriate when a deadline looms, or when you’re trying to brainstorm.

Thinkers like to talk about things, especially subjects about which they may have accumulated some special knowledge. So you’ll find Thinkers talking about their collection of Ertha Kitt records, or their boxes of baseball cards, or their interest in antique vases. The topic will be specific and grounded.

Thinkers like to solve real-world problems.

As long as they feel comfortable, they will ask questions when faced with something they don’t understand. They are most comfortable, in fact, when they are getting the information they need to solve a problem. And that’s a sign that your relationship with a Thinker is going well.

Like the Director, Thinkers are happy to focus on a task. But their approach to solving a problem is to slow down and understand every step along the way. The process is as important to them as getting results. They want to make sure they understand the first time, so they don’t make any mistakes.

To communicate effectively with a Thinker, simply remember to answer their questions thoroughly, to ask them questions in return, and be patient. If time is a problem, tell them that you’re going to have to resume the conversation at a later point. But be sure to schedule the time – and then give yourself a little extra. Expect the Thinker to use all of it.

Unlike Expressers, the language of numbers is comfortable for Thinkers. They enjoy financial discussions and find it easy to think in concrete mathematical terms. Many accountants are Thinkers.

If you’re talking to a Thinker, a frequent dilemma is this:

“I know you want as much detail as possible, yet I can’t give you all the detail you want.”

So put it like this:

“I feel that I’m in a dilemma here. I understand and appreciate your desire to get all these things nailed down, yet I don’t have the time (or all the answers) you need. Are there other sources you can use? Can you think of other people to turn to?”

The Language of Harmonizers

Harmonizers like to make small talk. Sports, weather, social gossip – any kind of small talk is their bread and butter. The reason is that the Harmonizer uses language as a lubricating device – to make sure that people feel included, a part of the conversation. This is the Harmonizer’s goal: to make those with whom he’s communicating feel comfortable and safe.

The Harmonizer is the neighbor who talks about his fishing trip, the friend from work who asks about your daughter’s school play. He is friendly to all, incapable of offense, not boisterous or outgoing like the Expresser, but quiet and somewhat shy. Speaking of a Harmonizer in our office, one of my colleagues said:

“She is the glue that keeps this place together.”

The Harmonizer’s strategy is to enhance social interactions. As you might guess, Harmonizers spend a lot of time listening, engrossed in what other people are saying.

“Tell me about your children. What are they doing this weekend?”

It’s typical of a Harmonizer to know more about what’s going on with other people’s lives than anyone else.

Harmonizers are reluctant to talk about tough issues or sensitive subjects. New business strategies or entrepreneurial ventures are not natural fodder for them. When those subjects come up, Harmonizers typically are silent. Even if you ask them a direct question about a challenging topic, Harmonizers will try to duck it. They’d prefer to talk about people, or places, or things they’ve seen and done. Anecdotes are the natural province of the Harmonizer, not analysis.

Harmonizers tend to speak more patiently than other styles. They’re trying to communicate, not just talk, and this makes them effective communicators. They deeply care whether someone hears what they’re saying. And they love to participate in a two-way conversation – they enjoy listening as much as talking.

The language of numbers may or may not be of interest to the Harmonizer. Typically, he will prefer to work in an environment where tasks are well-defined, without risks or controversy. So if the number crunching is methodical and routine, the Harmonizer will feel comfortable. But if it’s pie-in-the-sky forecasting, the Harmonizer may feel out of his element.

To communicate effectively with a Harmonizer, always start off with small talk. Let them know how you’re feeling about the weather or last night’s game. Approach them gingerly if you need to broach a sensitive issue. Cast your conversation in terms of what’s good for everyone involved. The Harmonizer will always respond better if you ask him questions that allow him to speak on behalf of the whole group, not just himself.

If you’re talking to a Harmonizer, a frequent dilemma is this:

“I know you value the good of the team, but I feel you would get more done if you paid less attention to the needs of the rest of the staff.”

So put it like this:

“I feel that I’m in a dilemma here. I fully appreciate how valuable you are to making people feel cared for and looked after, yet I feel that some of that prevents you from getting on with your work. How can we strike a reasonable balance between the two?”

Learning these different languages is a matter of practice. So start putting these techniques to work. Watch how people respond. You’ll find people seem start to relax when they see you talking their language. Pretty soon you’ll start getting messages from them saying: “Hey, that was a really good meeting we had yesterday. Why don’t we do it again soon?”

Rules of the Road

Here’s a set of rules to help you speak the language of each style:

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