Thinking Out Loud

Adapting Your Communication Style

The foundation of your communication style is directly related to your inherent abilities—the way you are wired. Yet there is more to it. Relationships influence how we use our style.

Recently I had a question in the Communication Lab, bringing focus to this issue. The questioner indicated that both he and his wife have dominant intrapersonal components. Often, though, he’s the one who appears to have a strong interpersonal component. He brings up issues, wants to talk about them, needs to connect and discuss in a back and forth manner—qualities that might be observed as relating to the interpersonal. Everywhere else in his life, he sees himself much more strongly through the intrapersonal lens. Yet, since both partners are more intrapersonally oriented, the risk of emotional distance increases. He feels this and makes the effort to behave more from the interpersonal perspective.

We don’t often notice these seeming aberrations because they are infrequent and employed intuitively. The above questioner, however, noticed a pattern and made a conscious decision to actively use a less developed component. This type of style shift can be useful. For example, I don’t have much connection to the logical component, yet if I think it will be helpful in a complex discussion, I bring it forward: “Let’s think about the sequence of events and see what conclusions we can draw.” This is akin to looking at something from a different perspective and can better focus the discussion.

With children we frequently demonstrate flexibility in our style and don’t think about it. Kids need us to approach situations from different angles to help them better understand something, so we might use an analogy, a logical construct, explain our own experience to draw out their emotions. We try hard with kids because we understand their limited experience, vulnerability, and confusion. It feels like the right thing to do, so we actively use numerous components in an effort to connect.

With adults, we expect more and generally have less patience than we do with children, and the emotional boundaries are different, as well. We don’t want to communicate in a manner that could be construed as condescending.

Although the communication styles framework helps anchor you in your strengths, it is also helpful to pay attention to less developed areas in your style. Because I am so interpersonally driven, I have to consciously remind myself to take the time to go within, and in some relationships with those who have a strong intrapersonal component, it’s a necessity.

When you stretch beyond your natural comfort zone, you tend to learn something new. Broadening your use of the seven communication components can be very helpful in gathering information, understanding others, and communicating more effectively.

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