There are four basic styles of communication. Of these four styles, no one style is better than another. The population is equally divided among the four styles, and each style serves an important role in the workplace.

The following are the four primary communication styles:


Collaborators thrive on interaction with people, have high energy levels, and are outgoing. They are commonly good motivators and usually expect others to be just as enthusiastic about each of their new ideas.

When communicating, collaborators are expert storytellers. The collaborator tends to be dramatic and cite examples or tell stories before quoting statistics, unless the statistics are sensational. When it comes to offering opinions, the collaborator is apt to be straightforward. Collaborators often ”think out loud” and skip from topic to topic without a logical path. Collaborators expect chitchat, and see it as a critical part of building rapport in the workplace.


Contributors are socially oriented, but they prefer speaking with people in small groups or individually. Contributors are good listeners and are open to opinions and new ideas. Often, contributors are masters at the art of compromise.

However, contributors’ diplomacy leads them to be viewed as indecisive and non-authoritarian. In addition, the desire to maintain a peaceful environment may lead contributors to repress angry feelings. Instead, contributors may air their complaints to a third party. When this happens, contributors are not seeking advice or a resolution, but someone to listen as they release the anger they have kept hidden.


Inquisitors are the perfectionists of communication. Logic and reason rule the communication of an inquisitor. Generally, both the phrasing and repercussions of any question or response given by an inquisitor have been well thought out. The inquisitor does not typically speak in emotional terms but prefers data and hard facts.

Inquisitors like to minimize risk through strict attention to detail. Unfortunately, the high standards of inquisitors often lead them to be viewed as overly critical of themselves and others. Inquisitors like small groups or one-on-one interactions but prefer to work alone.


Directors focus on the completion of tasks. Most directors adopt a practical approach to situations and generally take action when someone with a different communication style is still analyzing or planning. This gives directors a reputation for being decisive; however, directors change their opinions, sometimes radically, when they perceive that a situation has changed.

Occasionally, directors’ decisiveness and quick action can be frustrating to others, especially in situations where the quick decision was the wrong one. In addition, since directors tend to be forthright with opinions and reach their points quickly, their communication style can be intimidating. Often, directors are perceived as lacking compassion, but they frequently express support through action rather than empathy.

What actions can I take to encourage communication?

The following three actions can help you encourage communication:

Be approachable. When you are willing to share information about yourself, people will find you approachable. Self-disclosure helps build rapport and relationships because people will be more willing to talk about themselves. When you self-disclose, keep in mind that the information you share does not need to be personal. Talking about where you work, your work experiences or projects, your hobbies, and places you have traveled can all help encourage others to talk to you. Occasionally, it is beneficial to discuss your weaknesses candidly since it will help others see your human side. In addition, sharing about your weaknesses indicates to the receiver that you trust him or her.

Express interest. You cannot encourage communication unless you are willing to put aside your own interests for a while and pay attention to someone else. People will be willing to talk to you when you express interest in them. You can display your interest by softening your communication style as the other person talks. For example, soften your tone of voice, posture, and gestures. You should also lean forward to indicate interest, and nodding your head can indicate understanding.

Pay attention to nonverbal messages. It is important to pay attention to your nonverbal communication as well as the nonverbal communication of your listeners. Be sure that your nonverbal communication matches your intentions and your verbal communication. When you are listening to others, pay attention to what they do not say and notice whether their nonverbal and verbal communication are consistent. In addition, understanding the meaning of silence can be important in conversations. Silence can indicate confusion, agreement, or frustration among other meanings.

Why is it important to ask for clarification?

As people communicate, they sometimes forget that everyone else does not have the same viewpoint about the world around them. Because of this tendency, people often make assumptions and draw conclusions that are inaccurate. Try to be aware of the assumptions and conclusions you draw during your daily conversations. When you are aware of at least some of the assumptions and conclusions you make, you can ask questions to clarify the information you are receiving.

How should I handle conflict in communication?

When conflict arises in communication, use the following actions to prevent the conflict from becoming detrimental:

Acknowledge that the conflict exists. Acknowledging a conflict as soon as it arises prevents frustration from accumulating and keeps emotional reactions to a minimum.

Clarify the source of a conflict. If you do not clearly identify the source a conflict, you may never resolve the conflict. Often, conflicts are caused by more than the obvious reasons or even the initial reasons offered by those involved. There is always the possibility that other underlying issues are present and need to be resolved. Underlying sources for conflict are frequently caused by differences in background, perception, and expectations.

Allow individuals to vent frustrations. If you do not allow people to share their frustrations before you try to solve their problems, they will not be able to concentrate on what you have to say. When someone is venting his or her feelings, do not interrupt. Interrupting leads the individual to believe that you are stifling his or her opinion, which causes him or her to become more upset.