Thinking Out Loud

Keeping Styles Fluid

A recent question in the Communication Lab prompted the writing of this piece. The questioner was confused about how he “used” the interpersonal and intrapersonal components. He clearly sees himself as intrapersonally oriented, yet with his wife (also strongly intrapersonal), he is more talkative, much more interpersonally driven. Specifically, he initiates most of the let’s-sit-down-and-discuss-this requests, tries to share more about what he’s going through, and asks questions about her process. This caused him to question his understanding of the communication styles framework.

The communication components aren’t solid blocks arranged in an orderly and predictable fashion. Yes, they are building blocks in a sense, but they are more liquid than solid. They’re like muscles—some employed more often than others, perhaps, and all necessary to shape your communication style. We all employ the seven communication components whether we are aware of it or not. Our strengths, however, stand out in a way that makes them more consciously identifiable. In the situation described above the questioner easily identifies his intrapersonal component because it is so active and a part of his identity. Yet with his wife, he draws on his interpersonal component to foster connection and communication . . . and how wonderful that he does, or the risk of too much silence and distance could cause real emotional confusion and pain.

We can and do adapt our communication style to our relationships, and it’s important that we do. Often we do it in subtle, intuitive ways that we may not be aware of. This is very common in the workplace and can be related to the role one has and what the job requires. You may find it helpful—and interesting—to look at the communication requirements of your job and how they match your natural strengths. [There is an activity in the Communication Styles Workbook designed for that purpose.] This also gives you a good opportunity to see how your style may not work so well for you on the job, a topic I want to address in a future Thinking Out Loud piece.

How we use the components of our communication style ideally is a fluid process: strengths we employ at home and at work may be very different. Several people have commented that at home they tend to think out loud, whereas at work it wouldn’t be appropriate, and often the requirements of your job draw on a particular component to a degree that it might not be very active by the time you get home. Think, for example, of a massage therapist (kinesthetic component) who tires of making physical contact at work and doesn’t need or want much by the time s/he gets home.

The relationship always plays a role in how our communication style components configure. The communication style of the other person, the roles we are in, the setting and circumstances—all these factors influence how we express ourselves, although how we receive information stays largely the same.

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