Style flexibility: which style do you use to communicate effectively?

“Style flexibility,” you may have come across this term before. At The Influence Company, it is a beloved concept. It contributes to “interpersonal effectiveness”: better communication and smoother collaboration. But what does it actually mean? And why do you need it?

What is style flexibility?

Style flexibility is the ability to exhibit specific behaviors as demanded by the situation. By adjusting your communication and behavior to the other person and the context you share, you can more quickly achieve your goals in a pleasant manner.

Have you ever been in a meeting where arguments are being thrown back and forth, but nobody really wants to go along with the other person’s proposal? Where every sentence starts with “Yes, but…”? And everyone is primarily focused on their own viewpoint rather than listening? This is a typical example of ineffective communication that we often encounter.

Using only one communication style, such as arguing, makes it difficult to achieve your goal. To get others on board and achieve your goals in an effective and positive way, you also need to be open to the other person’s perspective. That means employing a different style, such as active summarization and probing. In other words, you flexibly switch from one communication style to another.

Is flexible communication really necessary?

If you’re thinking, “That sounds nice, style flexibility, but I don’t really need it,” you’re partially right. You can go a long way with just one style. Especially when a specific style is encouraged in your environment and it aligns well with your preferences.

For example, in an advisory role, you need to explain your arguments very well, in a social profession, you need to prioritize the other person, and as a leader, you need to connect and inspire. The context demands certain behaviors.

However, you have more positive influence when you can employ different styles. The problem with sticking to just one style is that it becomes ineffective when the situation becomes more complex or when the other person doesn’t immediately agree with you. Like in the meeting example mentioned earlier, if people are not listening to what you’re saying, repeating yourself won’t help.

What are the different styles?

When you search for “communication” and “interpersonal effectiveness,” you’ll come across a plethora of theories, models, and training programs. Communication is something we all engage in every day, so there are many ways to better understand it.

At The Influence Company, we use the Influence Model® for this purpose. In the 1970s, Harvard professors David Berlew and Roger Harrison described four communication styles. They identified these styles based on thousands of observations of human behavior. They concluded that to be truly effective, you need to be able to switch between these four styles:

  • “Asserting”: The style of intellectual power. With asserting, you make proposals supported by arguments.
  • “Persuading”: The style of willpower. With directing, you establish your boundaries and clearly express what you expect from others.
  • “Bridging”: The style of emotional connection. With bridging, you prioritize the other person and pay attention to their perspective and emotions.
  • “Attracting”: The style of shared belief. With inspiring, you connect people and create collective enthusiasm and energy.

Each style has its underlying intention. With a different intention, you can achieve a different goal, such as understanding someone better or clearly explaining what you actually want from them. In this way, you can achieve more together in the long run.

Style flexibility can be learned

As mentioned earlier, specific contexts encourage specific behaviors. You probably rely on one particular style much more than the others. Fortunately, you can learn all the other communication styles! They are already present within you since birth.

Think about it: children are generally very flexible in employing different styles. They can enthusiastically tell stories but, in an instant, make it clear that they don’t want something. Due to certain behaviors being inhibited or cultivated, as adults, we often fall back on that one style that fits best in our familiar environment.

Communication, or your own way of doing things, may seem automatic as a result. However, behavior in the form of communication styles is also a choice. You become more influential when you can consciously choose which style will help you achieve your goal. In many cases, it can still be your preferred style. But you are effective not because of the style itself; you are effective because that style aligns well with the goal you want to achieve. In a different context, you also need a new strategy to attain your goal.

Learning communication styles at The Influence Company

We firmly believe that being flexible in your behaviors and communication styles makes you more effective. We can teach you how, what, where, and when to use each style. Together with you, we examine your goals and devise the best strategy to reach them. Additionally, we teach you how to execute that strategy effectively. It largely comes down to practice, but gathering feedback on when you are and aren’t effective is also crucial. Want to learn more? Take our Influence Test to assess which style you most frequently employ.

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