What is communication style? When asked many people think of two or more people engaged in conversation. But communication is a multifaceted series of actions and interpretations, simultaneously more complex and simple than conversation. Four different forms of communication are verbal, paraverbal, body language, and the use of personal space. All four forms send messages to other people.
Personality style is an important part of all forms of communication. If people are aware of another person’s typical behaviors, they will take that into account when interpreting their actions. For example, if your coworker Fred is generally a friendly and outgoing person, the fact that he gives you an enthusiastic hello should not be interpreted as a sign of deep friendship. On the other hand, if Fred is a private person and gives you an enthusiastic hello, that might be taken as a sign of friendship. Knowledge of style sets up expectations of certain behaviors, so when the unexpected occurs, people can more accurately attach meaning to it.
Because our communication style affects our interactions with others, a better understanding of our own style can lead to more effective communication. Studies have revealed two basic dimensions of style: Expressiveness and Assertiveness. Assertiveness is the effort a person makes to influence or control the thoughts or actions of others. Expressiveness is the effort that a person makes to control his or her emotions and feelings when relating to others.
There are varying levels and combinations that form the basis of four personality styles:
• Direct: Gets to the bottom line, speaks forcefully, and maintains eye contact.
• Systematic: Presents precisely, focuses on facts, and uses speech efficiently.
• Spirited: Focuses on the big picture, uses motivational speech, and is persuasive.
• Considerate: Listens well, counsels, and uses supportive speech.
Although we choose the words we say, our intended meaning may not be shared by those who hear them. Because of differences in age, experience, and background, words have different meanings to different people.
It’s not only the words we say but the way we say them that communicates meaning. How quickly one speaks, pauses, tone of voice, and intensity of voice all convey a message.
The way we stand, maintain eye contact and even shake hands all communicate meaning to others. Body language is also heavily influenced by style. Our preferences for eye contact, gesturing, and touch are usually quite pronounced. It’s much easier to read another person’s body language message if you know his or her style.
Communication and Personal Space
Personal space is not only the space between you and others, but also how you arrange your desk or workspace, your personal appearance and your choice of decorations. Interpersonal distance is also an element of personal space. How close we prefer to be to others is another function of our styles that can make a definite impact on how our communication is interpreted.
Understanding our own personality style and those of others can make effective communication much easier. Making adjustments to our own behavior to accommodate another person’s style can make that person feel more at ease with us, and help us more readily achieve our goals.