Communication Styles…Can You Crack the Code?

By Michael Wilkinson, CMF; Managing Director, Leadership Strategies, Inc.

If you’ve ever had a conversation…with anyone, you know that people communicate differently and have different needs, whether face-to-face or in a meeting. By having a mental model of the different communication styles, different needs and typical dysfunctions, you will be better able to prevent, detect and resolve dysfunctional behavior and hold a better meeting. Professional facilitators and consultants often find it helpful to have a model for recognizing different communication styles.

There are a number of models to help professional facilitators and consultants understand behavioral and communication styles, including Meyers-Briggs Type Indicators, Hermann Brain Dominance Indicators and DISC Communication Styles. In our organization, we use the DISC Communication Styles from TTI Performance Systems, LTD to help us decipher communication styles. We find that it is an insightful, yet simple, model that is easily understood, retained and applied by casual users of the information.

In the DISC model, there are four basic communication styles. While all of us communicate across each of the four dimensions, we do so to varying degrees. And for most of us, we tend to naturally communicate in one of the four styles most of the time. Below is a very abbreviated summary of each of the styles. The summary describes the styles when at their best and worst in a facilitation session, and additional prevention strategies to prevent dysfunction from occurring.

Hi-D Style

At Their Best
  • Driving for efficiency, participating, directing, making direct comments, giving end point first
At Their Worst
  • Alienating by being forceful, not letting people catch up, making snap decisions, killing creativity, unaware of what's happening in the group
Prevention Strategies
  • Keep session fast paced, well planned
  • Lay out the process and the benefits
  • Get them on your side to go with the flow

Hi-I Style

At Their Best
  • Participating, creative, talking, keeping energy up, cheer leading and supporting
At Their Worst
  • Don't stop talking, don't listen, don't want to take time for important details, blue-skying, unrealistic
Prevention Strategies
  • Give lots of chances to talk
  • Enlist help for out of box thinking and getting others to speak
  • Have ground rules: keep discussions relevant, end point first, avoid bar discussion

Hi-S Style

At Their Best
  • Friendly, supportive, nodding, agreeing, paying attention, good listeners, tolerant, peace makers
At Their Worst
  • Going along with what they don't believe, being the silent martyr, checking out, passive-aggressive actions in response to change
Prevention Strategies
  • Check for agreement
  • Use teams to avoid putting on the spot
  • Reinforce with praise

Hi-C Style

At Their Best
  • Looking at the details, constructive critiquing, identifying impacts of decision, keeping on task, providing reality check
At Their Worst
  • Bogging down in details, giving all the reasons why something won't work, not allowing intuitive judgment, unrealistic expectations of quality
Prevention Strategies
  • Set expectation that more detailed analysis will be done outside of the session
  • Remind of the level of detail needed for each decision
  • Encourage praise first and seeking new solutions

To learn more about using communication styles to help you consult and facilitate effectively, take a look at our course, The Facilitative Consultant.

About the Author

Michael Wilkinson is the Managing Director of Leadership Strategies – The Facilitation Company, and a much sought after trainer, facilitator and speaker. He is a Certified Master Facilitator and a Certified Professional Facilitator. As a past president of the Southeast Association of Facilitators and a board member of the National Institute of Facilitation, Michael is a national leader in the facilitation industry. You can get more tips from either of Michael's books, The Secrets of Facilitation or The Secrets to Masterful Meetings. You can receive a signed copy through our website.

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