How to Flex Your Communication Style - Forget the Golden Rule

POSTED: Jul. 12, 2016

If we want to communicate with influence we need to forget the Golden Rule - “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” Of course we all want to be treated with dignity and respect; that is a given. But beyond that, it is important not to approach or communicate with others in the way we like to be treated, but approach them in the way that suits them the best; the Platinum Rule.

So how do others like to be treated? That can be a challenging question. As I mentioned, everyone likes to be treated with dignity and respect. That is your ticket in the door, but we all are unique and have personal preferences as well. For example, in the workplace some people like to work alone, others like the energy of groups. Some like to thoroughly analyze the situation before making a decision and others like to go with their gut. Some people have a focus on the team while others are more task focused. These are just a few ways we can differ from our co-workers. Before you start looking at others, it’s a good idea to first determine what kind of preferences you have.

The Personal Interaction Style Profile© from PPS International is a great place to start. I have been utilizing this assessment in my programs for years. This is not a psychological assessment; it is behavioral. There are 58 yes/no questions asking what your preferences are when you interact with others. It’s quick, easy to understand, but most importantly, easy to apply in the workplace. After taking the assessment, you will fall into one of four categories:

  • Expresser
  • Director
  • Analyzer
  • Relater

The Expresser style is very open and expressive – both verbally and nonverbally, meaning that people in this style tend to be open books. They will tell you anything you want to know, at any time. They are usually the people telling a joke, having fun and enjoying whatever situation they may find themselves in. They have no problem speaking their mind, which if they are not careful, can get them into some sticky situations. Because of their upfront, tell you everything kind of style, they can be overwhelming at times to others who don’t share their interests. They are excellent promoters and can get others on board with their enthusiasm.

The Director style is very clear and direct. They are focused on getting things done and getting the desired results. They are fast paced, have no problem taking charge of a situation and telling others what to do. They feel their time is valuable and limited. In their effort to get things done, they may not realize how they are coming across to others or just who they may have left in their wake. They like clear, succinct information. They tend not to make time for socializing or relationship building. They will tell you that they are here to get the job done and that is what they have every intention of doing. They don’t mind conflict and come across very confident (sometimes arrogant) if they are not careful.

The Analyzer style is very focused on data and information. The more facts, the better. They prefer to work alone and review all the necessary stats before making a decision. They do not like to be wrong and can sometimes over analyze a situation, causing delays, for fear of making a mistake. They like clear parameters and checklists. They prefer step-by-step instructions and procedures. They can have a difficult time with change. In a meeting, they tend to be quiet, gathering all the information they can, but often have a tough time being put on the spot to make a quick decision. They tend to be black/white thinkers. The data either supports it or it doesn’t. The emotions of others, or the people side of a decision, almost never is considered in their equation.

The Relater style is your ultimate team player. Relaters make their decisions based on relationships. They enjoy talking with others and hearing all opinions. They are excellent listeners and often demonstrate great empathy. In their effort to make everyone happy, they may shy away from conflict. They do not like to rock the boat. They tend to be on the quieter side, asking a lot of questions, but unlike the Analyzer who is focused on the facts and data, Relaters are focused on others’ feelings and opinions. Relaters are also very loyal and dedicated. They enjoy a sense of belonging and situations where their opinions matter and are valued. They work through the relationships that they build with others.

After hearing each of the styles, where do you think you fall? How about the people you work with? Live with? It’s an interesting and important question to be asking yourself. After you have determined your style and the style of those people who are important to you, you may notice that you are a lot more like some people than others. For example, I am an Expresser and I usually enjoy time with other Expressers. Their approach to interacting is similar to mine, we tend to make decisions in a similar way, and value the same approaches. You may notice that as well; you get along well with those people who are the same style as you.

Now think about the people who are very challenging to you. What style do you think they are? If it is a different style than you, this is your first clue as to what they may need from you (that you may not value yourself). For example, since I am an Expresser, my approach differs greatly from the Analyzer style. So when I meet with an Analyzer, in order to give them what they need, I need to “flex” my style. I need to tone down the emotion, be less demonstrative with nonverbal body language and focus on the facts. I may even need to prepare my information and send it to them ahead of time so that they can review it. I need to be more clear and concise with my information and cut out the “fluff” that I may like to share in my reasoning. That is how I “flex” my style to work more effectively with an Analyzer.

Now let us go through each style and think through an easy scenario – being in a meeting – for each style. If I am another style, what do I need to do to “flex” my style to a Director in a meeting? Start on time, prepare an agenda with quick bullet points, focus on the results of what we are trying to accomplish, end on time, minimize small talk and cut out the fluff.

How about a meeting with a Relater? Ask how they are doing and how their family is doing, making time to listen and show empathy. Express your concern about the team. Give them the reasons why a decision is being made. Provide information on all the perspectives and opinions that have been considered.

A meeting with an Analyzer? Send them the information to be covered ahead of time. Provide all the relevant data and statistics. Be clear and systematic in your explanation. Minimize emotion and small talk. Give ample time for questions and discussion around the facts and give them time to formulate and share their decision.

Last but not least, how would you “flex” to an Expresser in a meeting? Create an informal setting. Be flexible. Add humor, smiles and show emotion. Tell them they are doing a good job and are an asset to the team. Allow ample time for conversation, while showing patience and interest in their story.

Some of the above “flexing” behaviors may be very challenging for you depending on your style and how you approach a situation. But when you are trying to be influential with someone, giving that person what they need is the key to great communication. I need to provide others with what they need in order to work more effectively with me. What is important to me may not be as important to others. I need to be very aware of that, especially with those people who I find very challenging to work with. Just try it.

Included below is a summary of the various styles:

  • Expressers - Are easy to read, very social, show emotion, need recognition
  • Directors - Are difficult to read, like action and getting things done, need results
  • Analyzers - Non-emotional, very precise and systematic, need accurate facts
  • Relaters- Good listeners, focus on relationships, team players, need harmony

The better you are at reading others and providing them what they need, the better communicator you will be. As you begin trying to determine what categories people fall into, don’t think so much of the names of the styles, rather pay attention to what behaviors they are demonstrating. Also pay attention to what they are talking about, what is important to them and how they are expressing themselves. Once you have taken the time to make observations about others, then you can try “flexing” your style.

Another way to determine how others want to be approached, is to simply ask them. It is amazing how often we assume things about others that are incorrect. But that’s a blog for another day.

Good luck flexing!

Interested in learning how you can “flex” your style? Check out Kent State’s Understanding Emotional Intelligence to Increase Your Effectiveness program.


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