Communication

4 Workplace communication styles (and how to approach them)

10 min read

This article walks through 4 types of communication styles you can find in the workplace and how to approach them.

Communication is one of those things that seems simple on the surface. If we speak the same language, surely we understand each other, right? Well, in work environments and even personal ones, it can feel like we’re speaking in totally different languages even when we’re collaborating on the same projects

One person might make a suggestion just to float an idea, but another will take it as a definitive statement about what will happen next. You might allow other people to make the final decision out of politeness and consideration but be interpreted as passive or disinterested by a colleague. 

This is especially true post-pandemic when people may be experiencing video-conference fatigue and have less patience for unclear communication. Understanding communication styles can help us better appreciate what we each bring to the table and avoid frustration. 

There are many different ways to interpret communication styles, but we’re focusing on 4 today: 

These categories were first identified by New York Times bestselling author Mark Murphy. Most people will probably see all four styles in themselves but identify more with one in particular. 

1. Analytical 

As the name suggests, an analytical communication style focuses primarily on analysis. Think hard numbers and data. Analytical communicators are fact-driven and provide a sturdy backbone for their projects. 

They tend to be dependable and help flesh out others’ ideas with facts and figures that turn plans into reality. For example, they will make sales projections for a new product based on consistent in-store sell out information collected by the sales team rather than intuition.

Analytical communicators aren’t big fans of generalizations, vague language, or overly optimistic thinking. They’re less interested in the hypothetical and more interested in what the numbers are saying in the here and now. 

They might not be first in line to test out a strategy based on a “gut feeling”, but they will be the ones to come up with ideas based on data. For example, they won’t:

  • Argue for pink buttons across your website because it’s part of your logo. But, they will make a case if your past conversion rate tests suggest it’s the better choice.
  • Discuss the best phone manner to use in your call centers to put your customers at ease, but they will be able to get you all the stats on virtual phone numbers and their usage. 

While they can sometimes be seen as cold, they simply want to be as scientific and rigorous as possible, which is one of the things that makes them so reliable. 

How to work with an analytical communicator

✅ Do: 

  • Lead them to where data and figures can be found: This is what they need to do their best work. Point them in the right direction so they can reach their full potential. 
  • Offer a clear project outline and lay out your expectations of them: With a clear structure, an analytical communicator will know exactly how they can best support the project and are more likely to deliver the results you want. 
  • Allow them to get stuck into a project (independence is appreciated): Trust them to get the job done. Analytical communicators are detail oriented and will appreciate the recognition that they know what they’re doing. 

❌ Don’t: 

  • Overwhelm them with superfluous details: Analytical communicators work best with the facts so allow them to focus on these. Unnecessary details will make it harder for them to get the job done and will only slow the process down. 
  • Pressure them into being social butterflies: Not all analytical communicators are extroverts. It’s important to take the time to understand what workplace situations they’re comfortable with (and not) and let that dictate where you push and pull.
  • Ask them to run a brainstorming session : While analytical communicators can offer some great data-based solutions, creatively brainstorming ideas is not where their strengths lie. Instead, allow them to focus on the facts and figures and they will really come into their own.

2. Functional 

Functional communicators appreciate order and clarity. A nice step-by-step process that can be simply followed is their nirvana. You might recognize this person in your friend group as the one who always has a travel itinerary, map, and a list of local restaurants ranked by price, popularity, and proximity to your hotel. 

While some might see this person as a stick-in-the-mud who can’t go with the flow, they’re integral to the proper functioning of any system. They make it easier for other people to relax because they’re in control of the situation. They’re the person you want in charge of things like:

How to work with a functional communicator

✅ Do: 

  • Give a timeline for projects: This will enable them to order their time and prioritize tasks in the way that works best for them, ensuring that they meet every deadline. Just make sure to be very clear about when everything is due to put them at their ease.
  • Expect and accept their questions seeking clarity and details: Functional communicators will usually ask a lot of questions to ensure they understand every part of a project. Be patient, being curious about the details will help them deliver fantastic results. 
  • Offer consistent feedback: Before you do this, it’s important you first ask how they like to receive feedback (I.e. verbally, in writing, with examples, etc). Everyone operates differently and understanding how people like to be given feedback (and when) is a great way to ensure you’re delivering feedback in a way that’s most helpful.

❌ Don’t: 

  • Rush them: Set deadlines and stick to them. Agile frameworks can be very helpful when it comes to moving fast while managing expectations on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly cadence.
  • Neglect their carefully curated spreadsheet: To work successfully with a functional communicator you need to align yourself with their processes. Take the time to familiarize yourself with any systems they may be using to help them get the job done.
  • Ask them to do things last-minute: Functional communicators work best when they have the time to put into place a carefully thought out plan. So bear that in mind before you spring any last-minute projects on them.

3. Intuitive 

Intuitive communicators are the big-picture thinkers of the world. They like to fast-forward to the ultimate goal. They provide the purpose for your project. Idealists and artists are often intuitive communicators. They care less about the small print and more about what they’re striving for.

Intuitive communicators are great leaders who motivate us and remind us of our aims and values. Their learn-by-doing attitude is often what you need to get the ball rolling. 

While this might seem terrifying to an analytical communicator, without the intuitive member of the team, you won’t move half as quickly toward your goals.

How to work with an intuitive communicator: 

✅ Do: 

  • Give them room to develop big ideas: This is where intuitive communicators come into their own. Utilize them to the max in brainstorming sessions to come up with some fresh and dynamic ideas for your next projects.  
  • Keep instructions quick and to the point: Intuitive communicators work better with a broad overview of what they’re working on. Don’t waste time going through the details as it isn’t necessary. Focus on outcomes over outputs and give the the creativity to get there by there own accord. 
Output vs. outcome: Why your remote team needs outcome goals
  • Use visual data and real-life examples: Most intuitive communicators aren’t interested in the nitty-gritty details of how to make a project work, but some detail is needed to see a job through. A visual aid such as a flow chart will help them take in the relevant information quickly and concisely, enabling them to complete their task successfully. 

❌ Don’t:

  • Bog them down with too many details: When explaining a new idea to an intuitive communicator, too many details can become distracting and make it harder for them to connect with the concept. Instead, focus more on the reason why it is important and the long-term effects it will have. 
  • Stifle their creativity: You may need to remind them of limitations at times but these are big-picture people. Let them focus on developing big ideas that could really take your company to the next level.
  • Micromanage them (this applies to everyone, but intuitive types may be more sensitive to this): According to The State of High Performing Teams, 20% of managers acgree micromanaging is their greatest challenge. This will cause issues when working with intiuitive communicators in particular.  As stated above, intuitive communicators prefer a broad overview to lots of detail. So instead of making sure they have every fact to hand, prioritize in-person catch-ups. It will suit their more casual style and enable you to check they’re still working towards the final goal.

4. Personal

The defining feature of a personal communication style is an emphasis on people’s feelings. People with this style of communication focus heavily on diplomacy, interpersonal awareness, and keeping their colleagues in harmony with one other. They’re vital to boosting team cohesion within team-specific and cross-departmental initiatives. 

Often seen as the soul and spirit of a project, they play an essential role in helping their colleagues achieve their collective goals. They often care more about their colleagues’ well-being than the goals themselves, which, paradoxically, is part of how the goals are achieved. A healthy, happy team is a productive one, after all.

They can be fantastic in team tasks management as they know exactly where a team member will excel and where they won’t.  

How to work with a personal communicator:

✅ Do: 

  • Summarize details for them after each conversation or meeting: Personal communicators work best with synchronous communication as they connect with the emotions and general ‘vibe’ in the room. But, summarizing a meeting afterwards can help clarify the details of the project and allow them to use both to their advantage.
  • Give them opportunities to shine: By offering them the chance to develop in other areas, you’ll see a personal communicator come into their own. They excel at connecting with their colleagues on an emotional level which can benefit the team.
  •  Let them communicate their feelings (and share yours): An emotional connection really helps personal communicators to perform well. Take the time to build a relationship with them. It’ll help build trust in your team.
How to build trust: Be vulnerable first

❌ Don’t: 

  • Shut down their emotions: As explained above, this is an essential part of how personal communicators work. They need to form strong connections with those they work with in order to feel happy in a team.
  • Bog them down with admin work: There is admin in every position but try to keep it to a minimum for personal communicators. They work best when they are connecting with people, so help them to do this rather than keeping them glued to a computer screen 
  • Communicate only via email: A face-to-face meeting can do wonders for a personal communicator so try to find the time to speak to them outside of email. It will help them to grasp a concept much faster and to also understand the team they’re working in.

The takeaway

Companies need all four communication styles to build a dream team. When you have a diverse set of communication styles on your team, it creates a balance and forces the team to look at things from various perspectives. Having a good blend creates a well-balanced work culture where all personalities are welcome and valued. 

It’s easy, if you fall clearly into one of these four categories, to miss the importance of the other 3. Hopefully, this list has clarified how each style is beneficial to your project and how you can best approach different members of your team in the future.

The proof — as they say — is in the very productive pudding. Give it a go and see how embracing your employees’ individual communication styles enhances your efficiency and output. 

Grace Lau

Grace Lau is the Director of Growth Content at Dialpad, an AI-powered cloud communication platform and VoIP phone provider for better and easier team collaboration. She has over 10 years of experience in content writing and strategy. Currently, she is responsible for leading branded and editorial content strategies, partnering with SEO and Ops teams to build and nurture content. Connect with her on LinkedIn.