Communication Styles: Starting with Self, Connecting with Others

There are many factors to consider when thinking about communication – the audience, content, tone and place and time. These all begin and end with how individuals express themselves when interacting with others: called your communication style.

Exploring several personality models can provide valuable insight into different communication styles. In this article, we explore these different models and their practical application in everyday life.

Psychological Types

Psychological type theory, popularized through the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® assessment, is a way of understanding how we take in information, make decisions and interact with others.  It’s broken down into four pairs of traits: extraversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling and judging/perceiving. These traits influence how we communicate in the following ways:

  • Introversion or Extraversion – Introverts tend to draw energy from within and often put a lot of thought into communication before engaging in it. They prefer writing to speaking. Extraverts tend to derive energy from interacting with others and may talk their way to an answer, exploring ideas in real time.
  • Detailed Pragmatism or Big Picture Idealism – Some people prefer concrete, practical, real-world data for decision-making, while others seek to understand the context, patterns, or theories involved. Incorporating both perspectives enhances the accessibility of your communication.
  • Problem-Centered or People-Centered – Communication approaches vary; some take an objective approach to communication, framing issues or needs while others adopt a more personal, values-centered approach. Appealing to both can widen your ability to persuade a diverse audience.
  • Open-Ended/Flexible or Assertive/Directive – Some favor open-ended communications, generating options to explore various paths, while others communicate in a more decisive and assertive tone to get answers. Striking a balance between open data gathering and closed decision-making is key for thoughtful outcomes.

Thomas Kilmann Model

The Thomas Kilmann Model focuses on conflict resolution and provides an excellent communication framework to assess the necessary balance between task-oriented goals and relationship considerations.  When considering communication, the model prompts reflection on the level of assertiveness you are willing to take, how strongly you need or want to advocate your own interests.  At the same time, it encourages you to think about the degree of cooperativeness you are willing to show – how much you are ready to meet the other person’s needs for the good of the relationship.


Creating a matrix with the assertiveness and cooperativeness factors leads to five different “conflict styles”:

  • Avoiding – This is when you have no interest in advocating your own interests or in meeting the other person’s needs. If the conflict isn’t worth it, just walk away.
  • Accommodating – When giving the other person what they need is more important than your own needs. Giving in saves energy for the future.
  • Competing – This style is for those times when there is no interest in a win-win situation – you don’t need a relationship. Fight for what you need, even if it means not having a relationship later.
  • Compromising – In this case, you find a solution that is acceptable to all involved. This may be an efficient and timely outcome, even if the best solution doesn’t emerge through the transaction.
  • Collaborating – This approach focuses on partnering for the best result. You are willing to invest time and effort to find out how to meet both your needs and the other person’s needs – by finding new creative approaches.

These examples illustrate situations where you can apply a consistent style and when addressing a communications challenge, while tailoring your communication to the specific needs of the situation.

Big Five Personality Factors

The Big Five personality factors, also known as the Five-Factor Model (FFM), help you understand and categorize individual personality differences. These factors—openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism—influence communication styles, shaping how individuals express themselves, interact with others and navigate social situations.

  • Openness reflects an individual’s willingness to explore new ideas and embrace creativity. Those high in openness tend to communicate in a more imaginative and abstract way. Individuals with lower openness may prefer straightforward communication.
  • Conscientiousness involves traits like organization, reliability and diligence. Individuals high in conscientiousness are likely to communicate with precision and clarity. They value structure and planning in their communication, contributing to a style that is reliable and well-organized.
  • Like the model of psychological type, Extraversion refers to the degree of sociability, assertiveness and talkativeness in an individual. Extraverts often engage in dynamic and outgoing communication, thriving in social interactions. Introverts may prefer more thoughtful and reserved communication styles, valuing depth over breadth.
  • Agreeableness captures traits related to cooperation, empathy and compassion. Highly agreeable individuals tend to communicate in a warm and supportive manner, prioritizing harmony and positive relationships. Those lower in agreeableness may be more direct and assertive in their communication, preferring honesty and straightforwardness.
  • Neuroticism reflects emotional stability and resilience. Individuals high in neuroticism may communicate with heightened emotional intensity, expressing concerns and anxieties. People with lower neuroticism may adopt a more composed and emotionally consistent communication style.

Understanding these Big Five personality factors enables individuals to recognize potential communication strengths and weaknesses. It also empowers them to analyze and customize communication styles for the unique preferences and contexts of different people.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI) plays a crucial role in shaping and influencing communication styles. EI encompasses the ability to recognize, understand and manage one’s own emotions and the ability to perceive and navigate the emotions of others. In the realm of communication, individuals with high emotional intelligence are better able to establish meaningful connections and foster effective interactions. EI can be learned, making it different from the traditional construct of intelligence (IQ).

  • Self-awareness is a key aspect of emotional intelligence that influences communication styles. Individuals with an elevated level of self-awareness are attuned to their own emotions and can articulate them effectively. This allows them to express themselves more clearly, avoiding misunderstandings and contributing to open and honest communication. Moreover, individuals with a keen sense of self-awareness are more likely to adapt their communication style to suit the specific needs of a situation or audience.
  • Empathy also impacts communication. Empathetic individuals understand and share the feelings of others, creating a sense of connection and trust. This ability to tune in to the emotions of others helps communication by helping individuals tailor their messages to the emotional context, ensuring that they resonate with the intended audience.
  • Interpersonal relationships are built on the foundation of social skills, a component of emotional intelligence. People with strong social skills can navigate complex social situations, build rapport and resolve conflicts. These skills contribute to a communication style that fosters collaboration, cooperation and inclusivity.

Individuals with lower emotional intelligence may find it more challenging when managing their own emotions and understanding others. This can lead to communication challenges such as misunderstandings, conflicts and an overall lack of connection. This highlights the importance of cultivating emotional intelligence to improve communications.

Because of the importance of emotional intelligence, Pryor has several training options in this area. For example, Developing Emotional Intelligence is available in both in-person and online formats and can help you build the self-awareness and resilience to communicate more effectively.  Also consider Pryor’s online video libraries on Emotional Intelligence and Communications.

Other Ways to Use Psychology to Improve Communications

Other tools from psychology can provide valuable insights into how people think, feel and behave. By considering other people’s psychological needs, we can make choices that lead to more effective communication.  Here are some ways to do this.

  • Active Listening: Regardless of what model you use, active listening is essential for effective communication. This is about not just hearing the words another person is saying but understanding and interpreting the underlying message. Active listening is essential in helping you respond more effectively and build stronger relationships.
  • Learning the Full Person: Psychology can help you understand the significance of non-verbal cues, such as body language, facial expressions and tone of voice. These cues frequently convey more information than words alone, offering opportunities to discover new insights. Leveraging this understanding can create a more positive atmosphere and make the conversation more productive.
  • Interpersonal Conflict: Occasionally you may find yourself not particularly fond of the person you’re communicating with, or you may fundamentally disagree and perceive the world differently. Acknowledging this reality allows you to focus on developing conflict resolution strategies rather than avoiding the issues. This involves seeking common ground, expressing feelings in a non-threatening way and working towards a win-win solution.
  • Understanding Cognitive Biases: These biases are systematic errors in thinking that affect our decisions and judgments. Examples include overgeneralizing what the other person is saying, seeing things in black-or-white or all-or-nothing terms and starting with a negative view of the possible outcome. Biases cloud your vision, making communication harder.
  • Emotional Regulation: This aspect aligns with Emotional Intelligence, emphasizing the ability to prevent emotions from dictating your responses. This requires navigating the gap between your initial reaction and your actual response – even taking a deep breath can help reveal other options.
  • Curiosity: Why does the other person do things they do? Approaching communications with genuine curiosity leads to open conversations and two-way dialogue.

Communication may pose challenges at time and you may feel tempted to just give up and go it alone. Always remember, humans are social beings and communication is the way we connect.  Every conversation and interaction are an opportunity to enhance our communication style even further.