Since medieval times people have realized that the way people communicate falls into one of four general categories. Many different methodologies have been used to categorize our preference for communicating. For example style, inventories such as the Kilmann Thomas Conflict Mode, Meyers Briggs Personality Types, Wilson Learning and associates survey are all examples where the four preferences for how we communicate have been defined. There is one particular method I like based on two dimensions of how we communicate. The first dimension is how much to we like to tell versus ask and the second is how much we like to show our emotions versus control our emotions. The characteristics of four common animals are used to explain those four styles.
It is important to remember that research over a long period of time and involving many different groups has determined no style is right or wrong. The inventory just shows that we generally have a preference for how we like to communicate. Those preferences generally fall into one of the four categories.
Let’s take a look at each style more closely.
The Owl. Just like the animal the owl those that fall in this category are very strategic. Owls don’t hunt by just cruising around trying to find food. They go to a location that most likely has their favorite delicacy and then strategically wait and zero in on their dinner. People who are of the owl communication style are similar in that they tend to be very strategic and focused. They care about results. The animal the owl usually travels alone. They like to work alone. However when owls get together it is called a parliament or a wisdom. The same is generally true for those who fall in this style.
The Fox. Just like the animal the fox the person with style is usually seen as full of energy! The fox is what is known as an opportunistic hunter. It will come across a hen house and take advantage of an opportunity! The fox usually is not a planner like the owl. They like variety and will roam great distances. This is true of the person with the fox style too! They like variety and love performance. Many Hollywood actors and sports figures are this style. They like the owl generally prefer to work alone.
The Dolphin. Just like the animal the dolphin people who fall into this category are usually social. It has been said the dolphin is the one species of animal that plays well with others! That is definitely true of this person with this style. They love to work with small teams. They like to collaborate.
The Beaver. Just like the animal the beaver the person of this style is generally very hard working. They like accuracy. Attention to detail is important to this style. The beaver as animal is known for building great dams to stop massive bodies of water. The beaver will not stop building its home until the work is done. The beaver also likes to work in small groups.
So if style is not a good way to determine if we will be successful why even talk about it? Well there is a characteristic that has been shown to determine our success. And that characteristic is our ability to make others feel comfortable. Making others feel comfortable correlates with:
Success on the job
Longevity on the job
Increased sales close rates
Approval rating from subordinates
So how do we make others feel more comfortable? We pay attention to how they like to communicate! For example if you are meeting with a dolphin take time to get to know them before you jump right down to business. If you are speaking with an owl take time to organize your thoughts and communicate in a logically precise manner. If you are working with a beaver slow down and provide detail. If you are working with a fox be interesting and engaging.
One additional way style can help us is by paying attention to how we communicate when we have the opportunity to communicate with someone of a completely opposite style. It has been demonstrated by research that dolphins and owls can have difficulty communicating. This makes sense when the dolphin is showing emotion the owl is controlling emotion. The same is true for the beaver and fox. When the beaver needs order and a methodical approach the fox needs variety.
So remember what matters most is helping others feel more comfortable! Try to communicate in a way to help your audience understand. Remember the platinum rule treat others as they would like to be treated. Great books on the subject Managing Style at Work, The Platinum Rule. Check them out!