Communication Styles - an Information Paper from Empathy Styles

Good Communication

Good communication means expressing your ideas clearly and understanding the ideas of others. An understanding of Empathy Styles (i.e. how people like to communicate and be communicated with) can help enormously for people to communicate better with each other.

Each of us has a natural way of communicating

Given our Empathy Styles each of us has a natural way of communicating. Whether that way is effective will depend on the situation and the Empathy Style of the other person (people). Typically the 7 different styles communicate in the following way:

  • Normal: logical, unemotional, methodical,
  • Hustler: quick, expresses 'what's in it for them', convincing
  • Mover: quick, upbeat, emotional, people/event focused (i.e. not projects/tasks)
  • Double-Checker: slow, emotional, caring, problems, deliberate
  • Artist: reluctantly, images, ideas, quiet, thoughtful
  • Politician: Determined, strong, assertive, opinionated,
  • Engineer: Slow, methodical, detailed, complete

7 people that I know

Let me tell you about 7 people that I know and how they communicate. These are not their real names but they are real people. (And of course none of them has just one strong Empathy Style - we all have a mixture of styles.)

Peter is high Normal - he sets out his thoughts logically and unemotionally. He can't understand any problems I might have in achieving what I want because, logically, to him the way forward is obvious. I think he does understand emotion but he doesn't take it into account in proposing a series of action steps. His motto for communication would be 'let's write a logical plan and get going'.

Jane is high Hustler - she is very quick and talks easily and confidently about her goals. She's a good listener in the moment, but I don't think she always retains the information beyond the point when it's no longer useful to her. She can be charming and she makes a great first impression. When talking about her business and any implications she becomes very focussed and intense, making sure she understands the how what is being discussed will affect her. She would probably agree that she is only really interested in 'what's in it for her'. Her motto for communication would be - "I expect people to be able to pick up what's important to them".

Chris is high Mover - he is very quick. He talks about what he's doing socially, where he's going and where he's been rather than about goals, business or tasks. He's a bit of a social whirlwind with his diary blocked out for many weekends ahead with the events he's involved with. He's actually very interested in my life, what I'm doing and how the family are, provided I don't tell him too many problems. He wants to hear the good stuff that's happening. He'll happily jump about from idea to idea. He's upbeat and positive. His motto would be 'let's do it, now!'

Kathy is high Double-Checker - she is slower at picking things up than some other people I know. She needs lots of reassurance that she can do what I'm asking and that it'll work. She's happy to spend a long time on the phone with me and feels rushed if I say I just have a few minutes for a conversation. She genuinely cares about people and seems happy to learn about the problems that they have. She does a lot of thinking but actually she does more worrying than being constructive. Mostly her thinking produces little or no action. Her motto would be "let's make sure everyone, including me, knows what's happening".

John is high Artist - he is quiet, shy and can be very stubborn about his ideas. He will talk to me if I talk to him but will not always initiate a conversation. He doesn't always look at me and there are sometimes 'quiet patches' in our conversation when neither of us speaks. It's very difficult to get him to change his ideas - I've found that one way is to describe how someone else has done it and how successful it has been. I don't expect him immediately to take on board the idea - it may be that he will do it in his own time. And I don't expect to receive any credit for the idea. His motto would be "I'll tell you my ideas in my own time and in my own way".

Pauline is high Politician. She is forceful in her beliefs and quite prepared to share them in an assertive manner. My experience of her is that she is often right in her thinking. She is a very fast thinker. She loves to argue and expects to win. She will always have reasons for her beliefs. For her there is no room for 'woolly' ideas or 'pie in the sky'. She will listen to me as far as it supports her argument and will easily 'rubbish' my thoughts if they do not fall into line with her beliefs. Her motto would be "follow me".

Alan is high Engineer. He is very methodical in his approach to everything. He will have thought things through and done the research before the meeting. Somehow he finds the time to do the research that is needed. He makes things work. He can be very detailed in his description of things. Other people might describe him as a bit fussy. Once he's started a project he will make sure that it's completed. His motto would be "I need to make sure that you understand the details".

From an Empathy Styles viewpoint, in order to communicate successfully I need 3 things:

  • An understanding of my own Empathy Style and therefore how I 'naturally' communicate,
  • An appreciation of the other person's Empathy Style and how, therefore, they like to be communicated with, and
  • A willingness and the ability to change the way I put my ideas across to them in order to communicate successfully.

If you want to check out your own Empathy Style then do the quick quiz on the front page of the website This will give you your top Empathy Styles. If you want to understand others' Empathy Styles then you will need to be able to assess their Style. Again on the website there are clues to what to look for. Or if they would be willing, ask them also to complete the quick quiz.

The third part, about changing the way you communicate, is the essential part. This is something you will probably need to work at because we are mostly entrenched in the way we communicate. Most people have a tendency to believe that their way of communicating is best.

Really effective communicators realise that they have to change their approach depending on their audience

If you want to communicate more effectively then there are 2 steps to take. First, accepting that you need to change to get 'better results'. And second, looking for ways to communicate with the different styles more effectively.

Imagine for a moment that you've been asked to give a 20 minute presentation explaining how your company intends to achieve its goals in the next 5 years. You've been asked to give the presentation twice; one group is the middle-managers of the business; the other is a group of youngsters who have just joined the business. Clearly you're going to need to present essentially similar material in two very different ways. This is an obvious example of the need to change our approach to communication. What is less obvious is how to change for the different personalities in the audience, or even, how to change our communication style for just one person.

Here are some suggestions for change depending on which style is strong in you:

Normal: You can put a very convincing logical argument forward but,

  • Be prepared to let go of your need to be logical and rational. Accept that it's quite usual for other people to be emotional about their ideas and thoughts. They may not want to be logical. Your logical argument may be impossible to argue with, logically, but it won't convince someone who's not ready to be convinced.
  • Accept that other people have different motives for their actions - not everyone wants to improve things for the good of or the organisation; some want to do things purely for their own gain or for many other different reasons.

Hustler: You can make things happen, but,

  • Understand that others have different motives than yours. Not everyone believes that money and possessions are the most important things. Be prepared to listen to find out what others want and why they want it. And this isn't necessarily an opportunity to take advantage of them. It could be an opportunity to get them alongside you ultimately to help you to achieve your goals.
  • Accept that not everyone is as quick as you are. If you want co-operation from others who are slower than you, allow them time to take your ideas on board.

Mover: You can brighten up a room with your presence, but

  • Sit on your hands when necessary. Appreciate that others can be quite happy without an input of energy, life and enthusiasm. They don't always see the value that it can bring, particularly if they're working on a serious project that needs their concentration and quiet.
  • If typically you can't remember what people tell you, make a habit of making notes after the conversation. People will appreciate your remembering them and their ideas later.

Double-Checker: You can make people feel welcome and cared for, but,

  • Focus on the solution to a problem, not just the problem itself. Although you believe in 'telling it like it is', other people can feel that the way you describe problems can be negative. Every problem has more than one solution - become more solution-focused than problem-focused.
  • Say what you want when you're asked. Practice being more decisive in the moment. This may mean thinking through your goals ahead of a meeting or a conversation.

Artist: You have some great ideas, but,

  • Speak up with your idea even if it's not finished. Many great ideas were developed from an initial idea that was believed to be 'silly' at first. Use a visual medium if speaking the idea is difficult for you.
  • Don't take things so personally. People may not like your idea but that isn't the same as not liking you. And you can't actually tell what people are thinking by their facial expression.

Politician: You are a strong driving force, but,

  • Allow others to have their say. Other people are also capable of thinking things through and having good ideas. There are other ways to get your way other than by forceful argument. Learn to listen and to show respect for others' views.
  • Have more patience with others who are slower than you. Be more prepared to explain, patiently and without being patronising, why you think the way that you do. Allow others to catch up with you in your thinking.

Engineer: You can create a detailed plan that will work, but,

  • Be prepared to speed up your discussion of a project according to who's listening. Not everyone needs the level of detail that comes naturally to you. You will lose some people's attention and thus their co-operation if they become bored.
  • Find new ways to communicate your ideas. Be more creative in using visuals, working models, video and audio clips and PowerPoint.

Communication is one element of relationship

Communication is just one element of relationship. If we have a really good and strong relationship with someone, at home or at work, then communication is likely to be good. In reality good communication has as much to do with temperament and feeling as the 'mechanics' of communication. For example, if you don't like someone, however good their communication is, you're unlikely to listen to them for long or if you do listen to them, to want to agree with them.

We believe that our temperament affects about 90% of our non-rational behaviour. And though you might like to believe that you are very logical, most of us are very irrational at times in our ideas and behaviour. (For example, how many of us have chosen a bottle of wine from the look of the label? Is that logical? Why should the look of the label be a guide to the quality of the wine?)

So having an understanding of the ways that you are different from others and the way that others are different from you is crucial in achieving good communication. Empathy Styles is a very quick and accessible of understanding your own and others' temperaments. See ? for how to do this.

Really good communication is hard to define. As the judge famously said about pornography "it's hard to define but you know it when you see it!" And so good communication similarly is hard to define, but we know it when we experience it. In fact, we may not even notice it as 'communication'. We may simply be affected by the words or the images or the sounds without realising it. So, for example, when we hear or see a really effective advert we don't say "that's well communicated" - more likely we say "that's interesting" or maybe "wow, I didn't know that" or maybe we simply make a mental note to buy the product!

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