Communication Styles: Setting the Foundations for Choice

Communication serves as the lifeblood of our social interactions.  As social beings, understanding and adjusting to diverse communication styles are essential to fostering satisfaction and finding success in our personal and professional relationships.

Because communication is crucial, many people have invested a lot of time in creating tools to help us understand our communication styles and increase our effectiveness.  Let’s explore some of these aspects of communications.  These ideas provide a foundation that guides us in choosing the best communication style for the situation and audience.

How We Communicate:  Constant and Diverse Pathways

When we consider communication styles, our initial thoughts revolve around how we speak to others – our interpersonal, verbal communication.  And certainly, that is a common and key element of our communication toolbox.  Yet, it’s important to pause and recognize the many other ways we communicate – often entirely unintentionally.  Here are some examples of these pathways and their impacts.

Verbal Communication is the initial form of communication we think of – communicating to others with our voice, or in some cases, sign language to convey our message.  This can take on many forms such as one-on-one conversations (interpersonal communication), contributing as a participating member of a group or team (team communication), or addressing a larger audience (public speaking).  Our communication styles vary in each of these settings, influenced by our intended goal.  Here are some examples:

  • Building a relationship, either with an individual or a group, often requires focus on active listening, engagement, or storytelling. Even when addressing a large group, if our goal is relationship-building, adopting a less formal tone and encouraging questions or feedback can be key during the sessions.
  • Trying to achieve a specific and targeted goal may call for a different communication style compared to when our aim is strengthening a relationship. Conducting a formal business negotiation requires a different communication style than an intimate moment with a friend.  Teaching a new skill to a large group varies from the approach needed for one-on-one mentoring.
  • We’re all discovering that verbal communication in online video meetings differs from communicating face-to-face. The exchanges between people and the formality of handoffs need to be managed differently in the digital space.
  • Verbal communication can also happen through recorded video or audio, which is called asynchronous communication. When we talk AT someone through a posted video requires more context to make sure everyone understands and to fill any gaps.

Visual (or Written) Communication often happens at various times and locations. Your audience typically reads your content without your presence unless it’s a presentation complementing your real-time spoken word.  Written communication includes text and other visual elements like pictures, graphics and video to convey information or ideas. As with verbal communication, the communication style differs depending on your goals and your anticipated audience.   For example, a social media post requires a different style than a personal letter (and yes, many people still appreciate those!), an email, or a business report.


Non-verbal communication plays a significant role when we are interacting with others.  Non-verbal communication includes body language, facial expressions and gestures. We are often less conscious of our own non-verbal communication when we are in different situations.  Think about it: How many times have you assumed another person, whether a friend or a stranger, was feeling a certain way – like being angry, tired, or happy based on their body language?

It’s a good reminder that you are sending those same signals yourself – often without realizing it.  Just remembering to smile can make a difference! For example:

  • Without a smile, a colleague may think you’re upset as you pass them in the hallway, not realizing you’re deep in thought.
  • A smile at the checkout lane can make a customer service professional feel acknowledged and valued, just like you would want a family member to feel.
  • A smile during a negotiation can foster trust and connection which is particularly important when the stakes in the relationship are as high as the transactional ones.

Self-Talk are those conversations that happen in our minds.  Never underestimate the importance of self-talk. Self-talk is that voice inside our heads that helps us process, analyze and plan for what’s next. It can be positive or negative, optimistic or pessimistic, past-focused or future-focused.  All these internal conversations shape our communication style with others.

Communicating with Intention – Matching Style to Need

Many communications trainings focus on your general style – how your personality and preferences shape your default communication style.  Here are some examples of default styles and their possible unintended consequences:

  • Juan prefers writing emails rather than calling or having a meeting, because it allows him to think through what he wants to say for a more complete and thoughtful presentation. He receives praise for his thoughtfulness but can sometimes be taken off guard when he learns that others disagree with what he wrote – or that they don’t read email.
  • Mary is passionate about public speaking, where she excels at persuading people through vibrant imagery and compelling stories and arguments. While this skill is effective for inspiring people and building awareness, Mary occasionally misses direct, one-on-one persuasion required to get key stakeholders to take action.
  • Gerry prefers a non-directive communication style, opting to present facts and stories and let them speak for themselves. This approach guides people to arrive at conclusions without Gerry being explicitly assertive. Some call this “facilitate or lead from behind” – but others call it “classic passive-aggressive.”
  • Reggie prefers to “say it like it is” leaning toward straightforward and assertive communication style that is efficient and leaves few questions. However, his directness is perceived by some as overly directive and closed – and may assume there is little room for discussion, even when Reggie is just intending to open a topic up for debate.

While it’s valuable to understand our own preferred communication, it’s equally important to consider the audience and the desired impact.  Here are key questions to maximize your strengths and address potential blind spots.

  • What is my goal (near-term or long-term) in this communication?
  • What is at stake for me? What do I have to win or lose and how important is it?
  • With whom am I communicating or with whom do I need to communicate? Anyone else?
  • Given my goal and what is at stake, how much do I want to invest in this communication?
  • Based on those questions, what is my general preference for approaching this communication?
  • Does that approach make sense here? Why or why not?
  • Are there other approaches that would increase the chance of success?
  • What are the benefits and risks of the different communication approaches I have available?
  • What do I want to do first? Next? Then what?

Now, this may appear excessive to plan extensively for a quick conversation with the team about a deadline, but taking the time to consider these questions is worthwhile.  You might realize that the conversation doesn’t need to be about the deadline but could involve a different topic entirely.  This may influence both your communication style and the tone you use.  Strategic consideration of communications takes time, yet it can lead to better alignment between your intentions and the impact of your message.

Next Steps in Building Communication Skills

The point in understanding communication styles is to enhance our ability communicating effectively with others, enabling us to achieve our own goals and contribute to the success of others.  Because communication is such an important skill, Pryor has an entire learning category on Communication Skills Training.  Here are some key topics addressed in these offerings:

  • Enhance Your Communication Skills: Pryor’s curated selection of online videos and courses covers the fundamentals of effective communication, active listening and constructive feedback delivery. There are a variety of options to communicate more assertively and instill greater confidence in yourself.
  • Elevate Your Business Writing Proficiency: Explore Pryor’s courses dedicated to refining your business writing skills, with a focus on crafting clear, concise and effective emails, reports and letters.
  • Master Conflict Resolution with Positive Strategies: Pryor offers a variety of training series and individual courses designed to teach strategies for resolving conflicts in a positive and productive way.
  • Develop Leadership Communication Skills: Tailored for supervisors, managers and leaders, Pryor’s leadership courses focus on essential communication skills such as motivating others, delivering effective feedback and leading successful meetings.
  • Foster Teamwork: These courses focus on strengthening communication within a team, offering strategies for effective collaboration and team decision-making.
  • Hone Customer Service: Pryor’s customer service courses focus on communication skills needed in customer service roles, such as empathy, patience and problem-solving.
  • Deepen Communication through Emotional Intelligence: A key reason to develop your emotional intelligence is to enrich your communication skills, fostering improved listening and response techniques.

Effectively communicating is a lifelong process, not a single occurrence. Maintaining the sharpness of our skills and continuing to hone and acquire new skills as we grow are key to success.