Recognizing Various Communication Styles in the Workplace

Published December 15, 2021
Businesspeople explaining and listening at meeting

A person's communication style impacts how they prefer to send, receive, and process information. In the workplace, it's important to be able to communicate effectively with co-workers and others. Learning how to recognize and adapt to various communication styles is a vital key to workplace success. DISC theory has long provided one of the most intuitive and easiest-to-apply strategies for identifying and understanding communication preferences.

Understanding Communication Styles in the Workplace With DISC

The DISC theory of human behavior has been around since the 1920s and is still used as a tool to identify communication and personality styles. This theory was developed by psychologist William Moulton Marston, who introduced the concept to the world in his 1928 book, Emotions of Normal People. The specific terms associated with the four-letter DISC acronym have evolved over the decades. Today, they are most commonly stated as dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness.

How to Identify Communication Styles With DISC

While people can take behavioral assessments that reveal where they fit within the DISC framework, you can't really approach your co-workers and ask them to take a test so that you can understand how to communicate with them. That's what makes DISC such a powerful tool for anyone who wants to improve their ability to communicate effectively in the workplace. With the DISC model, you can easily estimate someone's style by answering a few simple questions about their behavior.

  • Does the person (a) tend to move/think/act quickly and be quick to speak up, or (b) exercise caution and reflect carefully before acting or speaking up?
  • Does the person seem to be warm and accept others at face value, or does the individual tend to show skepticism by questioning things before accepting them?

The first bullet point addresses the trait of pace, while the second addresses degree of skepticism. While these traits don't tell the whole story of an individual's personality, they are strong predictors of both behavior and communication style.

The Four DiSC Styles: Where Do Your Co-workers Fit?

The answers to the two questions listed can provide you with insights into what an individual's DISC style is. If you want to figure out the communication style of one of your co-workers, consider the questions above in relation to your observations of their ordinary behavior. Use the chart below to decide which style most accurately describes them.

Pace Skepticism
D (dominance) fast-pace/outspoken skeptical/questioning
I (influence) fast-pace/outspoken accepting/warm
S (steadiness) cautious pace/reflective accepting/warm
C (conscientiousness) cautious pace/reflective skeptical/questioning

Note: Because people can actually be blends of multiple styles, and because what you see of others' behavior may already involve them adapting to others rather than letting their own natural tendencies shine through, this isn't going to provide results that are as precise as what an actual DISC assessment might reveal. However, it does empower you to reasonably estimate the communication preferences of the people with whom you work, so you can adapt accordingly.

Female business executive leading team meeting

Adapting Workplace Communication Based on DISC

How does knowing a person's DISC style help you communicate more effectively? Once you have a good idea of what their style is, that reveals quite a bit about how they prefer to interact with others. You can use that information to adapt your approach based on style.

  • D (dominance) - A person with the D style tends to be very focused on moving forward, making progress, and getting results. They tend to think and move quickly and expect others to do the same. They are very focused on productivity and don't want to spend time on things they don't feel are productive. Others often see people with this style as brusque and inconsiderate, but that's not their intent. When communicating with a person who has a D style, it's important to put things in the context of how they contribute to action and results. They'd rather skip the small talk and get down to business. It's not that they don't care about you. They just want to get things done.
  • I (influence) - People with the I style tend to be very action-oriented and social. They like to keep things moving, but their focus isn't on finishing as quickly as possible. They greatly value collaboration and opportunities to interact with others. They are upbeat and enthusiastic and are often seen as the cheerleaders of the group. They interject a lot of energy into the team but are sometimes perceived as social butterflies rather than hard workers, due to their social tendencies. When interacting with someone who has an I style, take a collaborative approach. Be sure to ask for their insights and share what others think as well, instead of just telling them what to do. Don't assume that they're happy just because they're smiling.
  • S (steadiness) - Individuals with the S style like to make sure that they're being supportive of other individuals as well as the team overall. They tend to seek harmony and want to get a sense of what others are thinking before speaking up. They're not likely to be the first to speak up when there is a problem. Sometimes others see them as pushovers or feel they are not engaged, but they're usually reflecting on how they can best support the team. Give them time to reflect on their thoughts rather than expecting them to respond right away. They need time to process. Give them a chance to share their thoughts privately, as they won't be comfortable speaking up in a way that could disrupt the group's harmony.
  • C (conscientiousness) - Those with the C style tend to be very analytical. They want to do things right the first time, so they don't want to feel pressed into action when they don't have all the information they need or haven't had time to do thorough research. They consider team members who want to move quickly to be reckless. It causes them extreme stress to make a mistake. They want to hold off on making decisions until they are completely sure that the action being taken is correct. Don't assume they're dragging their feet when it takes them a while to work through something. They are working; they just have a strong drive to avoid errors. Once they've considered all the variables and have all the relevant data, they'll speak up.

Building Better Workplace Communication Skills

By recognizing others' styles, you can apply that information to figure out how to best approach or respond to them. This will help you build stronger workplace relationships and be more successful. After all, there is a direct correlation between communication skills and career success. That's because communication is extremely important in the workplace. When you get in the habit of identifying and adapting to the communication styles of your colleagues, you'll be on your way to strengthening your business communication skills.

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Recognizing Various Communication Styles in the Workplace