There are four basic communication styles: expressive, systematic, sympathetic, and direct. Our communication styles affect how others' react to and perceive us. Knowing your communication style and knowing how to manage others' communication styles can reduce conflict, increase productivity, and improve teamwork in the workplace.

Generally, diversity training and seminars about generational differences seek to increase cultural awareness, reduce conflict, and promote teamwork. Being aware of cultural and generational differences can improve employee productivity, enhance the work environment, and contribute toward greater understanding of one another. Knowing how to adapt their communication styles to complement someone else's style will enable employees to sustain productivity and create a harmonious work environment.

Furthermore, recognizing your communication style can help you to understand how your actions are perceived by others. Centuries ago, the Greek physician Hippocrates studied people's personality types. Instead of using basic terms that today's researchers associate with certain personality types, Hippocrates determined one to be sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholic, or choleric. Although he believed that certain body fluids such as blood, phlegm, bile, and black bile determined one's temperament, he was on to something.

Conflicting situations are bound to occur in the workplace, but unlike Hippocrates, we can take an active approach by being aware of others' communication styles and then adapting our style to find that balance.

There are typically four basic communication styles. Today, researchers use the terms expressive, systematic, sympathetic, and direct. Modern researchers have also differentiated the terms personality and communication style. In fact, communication styles are probably more determined by our needs at a given moment than by our personalities, which tend to be constant traits.

For example, someone who is generally a nice person could be having a bad day. Or, a generally positive co-worker could be experiencing symptoms of depression following the loss of a loved one. Temporary occurrences like these don't reflect our personalities but can affect how we communicate with one another.

We can avoid conflict and misunderstandings by paying close attention to how those around us communicate. Communication can be verbal or nonverbal, in the form of body language. If you sense an imbalance, then adjust the way you're communicating either verbally or physically. For example, if you sense that the person you are speaking to is nervous because you're standing over him, then try sitting down.

The basic communication styles

Here is a list of the four basic communication styles and an explanation of how certain types are perceived. You may want to take an assessment to learn your general style. Following the assessment, take into consideration that no one style is better than another. You may also discover that your style is a mix of all four styles.

  1. Expressives tend to have high energy, speak quickly, and focus on the big picture. They generally find conflict or differences in opinion invigorating. Others can perceive expressives as overly cheerful, vain, or unpredictable.
  2. Systematics focus on the facts and details, and not the big picture. They're generally not comfortable with conflict. Others can perceive systematics as unemotional or nonchalant.
  3. Sympathetics like to focus on people and relationships. They are good listeners and generally concerned with everyone's needs. Sympathetics typically don't like conflict. Others can perceive sympathetics as soft-hearted or overly helpful. They can also appear to be procrastinators when distracted.
  4. Directs generally keep conversation brief and are often involved in many things at once. They tend to see the big picture and are more focused on the outcome than on smaller tasks. Directs can appear self-confident, intimidating, and opinionated.

Communication styles in the workplace

Discovering your communication style is the first step. Now you need to learn how to adjust your style according to the situation. Expressives, for example, tend to be hyperactive. When dealing with an expressive, it's necessary to remain calm, speak slowly, and control the pace of the interaction.

Systematics are characterized as orderly, but careful when carrying out tasks. Sometimes they can be overly cautious. For example, a systematic who is learning a new computer skill may be hesitant to touch his keyboard out of fear that he will break something. When dealing with systematics, be patient, be their guide, and give them confidence to complete tasks.

Sympathetics are nurturing and born socializers. However, they may spend too much time socializing instead of focusing on more important matters. When you encounter sympathetics, share their concern and be supportive, but inform them that you must stay on task and that you've got work to do.

Lastly, directs are generally pressed for time. They're usually not concerned with the details but just want to know the facts, and they want to know them in a hurry. Because they usually run from meeting to meeting, they are sometimes seen as lacking emotion. Don't take this perceived lack of emotion personally. In the presence of a direct, be direct but detailed, and politely speak up if you feel that her demands are unreasonable. It's better to let directs know up front if you'll not be able to meet their request, than for them to find out later.

Experienced training professionals know all too well how their communication styles affect learning, and that the interactions that take place during training can have an effect on desired outcomes. When it comes to training, practicing good communication techniques is a must, and knowing your communication style certainly helps. Training professionals can teach their good communication practices to the rest of the organization in an effort to maintain or restore balance where conflict, productivity, and teamwork are lacking.