Communication Styles


Decades of studying human behaviour have revealed that people develop a communication type or style most comfortable as their default.

We base our first impressions of people we meet on the verbal and nonverbal behaviour we see. Our perceptions of others are developed from this behaviour. Based on past communication, we can predict how people may react to any situation.

This communication type operates habitually, becoming part of our nature. We mostly behave in this ‘comfort zone’.  In particular, two characteristics form the basis of our preferred communication style –  how direct we are and our preferred level of focus (human-focused or fact-focused).

This leads to four broad communication types. Within these four types are many mixes and variations, but we all have a preferred or dominant type of the way we like to communicate.

To gain an understanding of the four broad types, we need to examine two dimensions of human behaviour.

Level of Directness

The directness part of the communication type is the way in which a person attempts to influence other people. This ranges from asking them, to telling them. We can be anywhere along the continuum.

Characteristics of Directness

Indirect People

  • Slow and careful speech
  • Indirect eye contact
  • Reserves opinion
  • Patient
  • Consultative
  • Conditional statements
  • Waits to be spoken to
  • Quieter, more introverted

Direct People

  • Fast and firm speech
  • Steady eye contact
  • Readily offers opinion
  • Impatient
  • Competitive
  • Declarative statements
  • Initiates conversations
  • Talks a lot, more extroverted
Both communication styles can want to influence others to the same degree, but the way that they go about it is different. Neither is more successful as it will depend on who you are communicating with and the style that person relates to (which is usually similar to their own).

Level of Focus

The focus part of the communication type is the way in which a person expresses their feelings when responding to or dealing with people. This can range from a very human-orientated approach, to a very fact-orientated approach.

Characteristics of Directness

Human Focused

  • Open with feelings
  • Likes physical contact
  • Digresses in conversation
  • Relaxed with people
  • Goes with the flow
  • Friendly and animated
  • Opinion orientated

Fact Focused

  • Hides feelings
  • Avoids physical contact
  • Stays on the topic
  • Likes detail and procedures
  • Formal
  • Less personal
  • Fact orientated
Both human and fact-orientated types of people can care about people to the same extent – it is just how individuals focus on a situation. Being fact-focused does not mean you do not care about people’s feelings.

Think of the example where your friend has just discovered their house has been robbed. If you are a human-focused person, you would calm the friend by listening to their story, empathise and suggest they have a cup of tea. On the other hand, if you were a fact-focused person, you would calm the friend by ringing the police, neighbours, insurance company etc. and help by organising everything.

The Communication Styles Matrix

The two dimensions of directness and focus that have just been described can be combined to create the Communication Type Matrix shown below:

This grouping of individuals, by approaches to directness and focus, creates four broad communication types:

Some generally agreed traits you might observe in an EAGLE

  • They take charge, make quick decisions and give orders.
  • They are very self-controlled and like to control situations and other people.
  • They are self-organised, logical, independent and appear confident.
  • They are results (end-point) and goal-orientated.
  • They are generally strong-willed and forceful.
  • They have a sense of urgency about life, tasks, situations and outcomes.
  • They like an immediate time frame – “Let’s do it now”.
  • Competitive.
  • They often display impatience with self and others and may be seen as critical.
  • They are not very interested in persuasion and do not rely on feelings or intuition; just want the facts.
  • They have very high standards and expect the same of others.
  • Can be seen as stubborn and inflexible.
  • They like recognition for results and efficiency based on tasks, rather than of a personal nature.
  • They tend to be conservative and base decisions on past experience, rather than taking a risk and trying the unknown or new.
  • They relieve stress by action.

Talk the language of others: how to talk to an EAGLE

  • Tell them how long you are going to take up front.
  • Break the ice by giving recognition for their efficiency or the results of a recent project.
  • Don’t waste time with discussion – get to the point and be businesslike.
  • Ask “what” questions to get straight to the specifics.
  • Discover their objectives, then find ways to assist and support them to make it more efficient, faster, economical etc.
  • Focus on results (outcomes) of the task or job, rather than on the personal relationship.
  • If you wish to voice an objection, disagree with the facts of the situation, not the person.
  • Talk in terms of goals, objectives, tasks, achievement, results, and efficiency.
  • As they resent being told directly what to do, try to provide choices or alternatives for them to decide upon so they feel in control.
  • Present information, letters, sales calls etc. in bullet point form. Keep it short and to the point. They don’t need to know how to do things, just why and what to do.
  • Ask them what they want to do now. They like fast, action-orientated discussions.

Some generally agreed traits you might observe in an OWL

  • The Processor takes a problem-solving approach toward people and situations.
  • They appear thoughtful and sometimes hesitant in a new situation or with people they don’t know.
  • They think in a historical time frame – “We will do it the same as last time”.
  • They are task-orientated, thorough, methodical, accurate, reliable; they follow through and complete each task with precision. Accuracy and precision is more important to them than meeting deadlines.
  • They often prefer to take their time or work alone, gathering all facts and details.
  • They prefer a structured, organised environment with plans and guidelines to work by.
  • Their workplace can seem cluttered as they keep all information in case they need it in future.
  • They dislike confusion and pressure. They do not rely on feelings. They work by facts and logic.
  • They may appear secretive as they are often introverted and prefer to think on things.
  • They like recognition and respect for knowledge, problem-solving ability, precision and perseverance to be given in a quiet manner, relating it to the task rather than themselves.
  • They don’t need to be the centre of attention or get public recognition.

Talk the language of others: how to talk to an OWL

  • Break the ice by giving recognition regarding their task precision, processes, systems etc.
  • Don’t oversell or overstate yourself or your points initially. Stick to facts and figures and do what you say you will do..
  • They like a step-by-step timetable to work by. Demonstrate organisation and a process in your communication. Take your time, however be persistent by adding facts, proof and data to support and validate your ideas.
  • They move cautiously, questioning change and new ideas. Don’t assume they are against your ideas, they just need proof and time to be convinced and think upon things.
  • They have a strong need to believe every decision they make is the right one.
  • You gain credibility through being orderly and process orientated with them.
  • They do not like surprises or sudden change. Go over everything in detail so that they are well informed.
  • Give them assurance that decisions and plans made today will not be changed suddenly
    in the future.
  • Avoid manipulative methods or gimmicks to try and get a quick decision.
  • Give them time to “think” about their final decision. Leave  information with them to read over.

Some generally agreed traits you might observe in a PEACOCK

  • They interact with others and like forming relationships in an open manner.
  • They are usually talkative and will readily talk about themselves and who they know in common with you.
  • They use their imagination to work out new ideas in a creative manner and are innovative.
  • They see things in a future time-frame, “It will be terrific when…”, “You should do this with you product…”
  • They take the initiative with people and they like to motivate, stimulate and persuade others with their opinions to help them in their life, career etc.
  • They are enthusiastic about life in general and can be inspirational.
  • They need change and variety as they are easily bored. They get impatient with details. They would rather discuss ideas with others (the office gossiper).
  • They can be inattentive to detail. Detail frustrates them.
  • They can be seen to manipulate or “use” people to make themselves look better. They are concerned about what others think and about their image.
  • They like visible recognition for personal efforts, creative ideas and the ability to inspire others.
  • They like to be the centre of attention and be able to be seen to achieve by others of importance.
  • Don’t argue with them – they want to win and they think they are right.
  • They want to be liked, like to be in groups and teams, and tend to be leaders.
  • They will try new products, ideas etc. as they like to be seen as leaders. They look at change and new directions as exciting.

Talk the language of others: how to talk to a PEACOCK...

  • Break the ice by giving them personal recognition for their dress, car, office, staff etc.
  • Be friendly, open, enthusiastic and stimulating.
  • Present your ideas quickly and keep the discussion moving. They like innovative suggestions or ideas but are conscious of time.
  • Ask them “who”, “what”, “why”, “how” questions to get their ideas and opinions about people, future objectives, possible solutions to share together.
  • They love to talk about their opinions and ideas.
  • Avoid competing or arguing with them, as they feel a strong need to win arguments. Look for exciting alternative solutions.
  • Get agreement on action to be taken and the timing. They tend to move on and forget to follow-up or complete.
  • Try to handle the details for them (or find someone else to do it). If it seems too time consuming or “detailed”, they will not bother.

Some generally agreed traits you might observe in a DOVE

  • They are considerate of people’s feeling and will ask you about you, rahter than talk about themselves.
  • They are genuine listeners.
  • They are usually seen as a casual, friendly, approachable person – “a people person”
  • They have a current time-frame, “How do you think we should do it this time?”
  • They are understanding, co-operative, loyal and dependable.
  • They are a reliable team member who supports others.
  • They may let others take the lead as they are happy to go along with the team.
  • They want the support of others, particularly superiors to enable them to work well.
  • They prefer discussion with others before making major decisions.
  • They may withhold unpleasant information from you to avoid hurt feelings.
  • They like recognition one-on-one rather than in front of a group.
  • They need to trust you and know you personally before they will do business with you.
  • You need to be open and personable with them to gain that trust.

The Communication Styles Matrix

Talk the language of others: how to talk to a DOVE

  • Break the ice by complimenting the way they get along with others’, show friendliness.
  • Be co-operative, understanding, open, casual and warm.
  • Ask “who”, “what”, “why”, “how” questions and listen. Show patience. Don’t be pushy or domineering.
  • Clarify areas of doubt in a non-threatening way.
  • With disagreements, avoid a debate on facts and logic.
  • Discuss personal feelings and opinions with them.
  • Indicate areas of how you will personally support them on agreed-upon objectives or tasks.
  • Be specific and clear with directions, who will do what, time limits, etc. Don’t pressure them.
  • Spend time with them in a casual way e.g. take them for a coffee, to lunch etc.
  • Plan follow-up meetings with them as they often welcome the support of others.
  • Minimise their risk by personal guarantees.
  • Follow-up and keep up the “social” side of your conversations with them.

The Communication Styles Matrix