Developing a Personal Communication Style as an Executive

How a Manager Can Develop a Unique Communication Style

Modern understanding of interpersonal communication styles in business owes a debt to the creator of the DC Comics character Wonder Woman.

As World War II loomed, American psychologist William Moulton Marston was inspired by devotion to the burgeoning feminist movement to create a powerful woman superhero to join the growing DC Comics roster of male heroes – Superman, Batman and the like. Wonder Woman made her debut in December 1941, cementing Marston’s place in feminist lore.

Marston also invented a way to measure systolic blood pressure, which led to the development of an early version of the polygraph. While his contributions to American entertainment and science were considerable, today’s business leaders have been more affected by Marston’s research into and writings about the effect on interpersonal communication by four behavior types:

  • Dominance
  • Inducement (or Influencer)
  • Submission (or Steady)
  • Compliance (or Conscientious)

Combined, the first letters of these types spell “DISC.” Marston’s 1928 treatise, Emotions of Normal People, examined how people whose approach falls primarily under those four behavior types conduct interpersonal communication.

Later, another psychological researcher, Walter Clarke, built on Marston’s theories by developing the DISC assessment to help discern patterns of potential behavior based on how people perceived themselves and their interaction with their environment.

Subsequent research has refined the DISC assessment method, and today it is one of the key tools used to help hiring managers determine the suitability of job candidates for specific positions.

Back to Marston and the invention of Wonder Woman. It was no coincidence that Marston’s best-known and most enduring creation was a heightened representation of feminine strength and grace. Author Jill Lepore examined Marston’s relationship with women and his theories on personality in the book, the Secret History of Wonder Woman.

His research into the psychology of personality led him to believe that interaction among men was anarchic and unpredictable, because it was based on dominance and the ability to coerce compliance. By contrast, according to Marston’s theory, communication among women was based on what, at the time, were considered feminine qualities of inducement and submission.

Today, as managers attempt to establish a personal style of communication, the DISC assessment method is a good starting point. It can help individuals understand their own approach to interpersonal communication, as well as interpreting how others might respond to different methods and styles of communication.

This point is, perhaps, the most important takeaway for managers looking to develop a personal communication style in the workplace: Communication is as much about how someone perceives the intended message as it is about how that message is delivered.

Communication Dynamics

A deep dive into communication dynamics reveals more than a few methods of classification for communication styles.

Author Mark Murphy, founder of business consultancy Leadership IQ, writes in Forbes about the strengths and potential weaknesses of four distinct communication styles:

  • Analytical – data-oriented, logic-driven, essentially unemotional
  • Intuitive – focused on the big picture, results-oriented, willing to challenge conventional thinking
  • Functional – detail-oriented, focused on process
  • Personal – focused on emotional responses and conflict resolution

In some ways, these communication approaches parallel Marston’s DISC theory – dominance, inducement, submission/steady and compliance are psychological terms used to illustrate human motivation. Similar groupings of personality-driven communication styles are prominent in the business world: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive and assertive; people-oriented, action-oriented, content-oriented and time-oriented.

These descriptions are potentially useful for managers and executives who care to examine their own communication habits. It is a matter of finding a description that matches your inclination and behavior, then recognizing the same traits in others.

The bottom line, though, is that no matter what sort of communication style a manager or executive uses, there are common sense techniques that can help establish trust and a basis of understanding in his or her business relationships.

Effective Communication Techniques

It is vital that managers understand the individuality inherent in interpersonal communication, as detailed by author and Atlassian executive Aubrey Blanche on Medium. Assessing the communication styles of employees will enable a manager or executive to deliver a message more effectively and with more resonance.

That said, from a big picture perspective, wise managers practice the following communication techniques consistently:

  • Listen well – Being a good listener means avoiding the poor conversational tactic of listening to respond, rather than listening to understand. Let people know that you care about what they say by making eye contact, examining emotional cues (body language and word choice) and concentrating on what is being said.
  • Follow through – If you pledge to act based on the conversation, do so in a timely manner. Follow up with an email or other digital message to make sure the message was received clearly and to indicate that you intend to act on it.
  • Practice empathy – Rather than focusing exclusively on how the topic of conversation affects you, try to understand the other person’s point of view.
  • Give feedback – While one of the best ways to communicate is to listen well, simply sitting passively without responding is not effective. If you have a question, wait until a pause and respectfully ask the other person to further explain. Never assume you can work out the meaning later; chances are, an honest question in real-time will help you avoid confusion later.

An online MBA from Jacksonville University’s Davis College of Business can help current and aspiring managers hone their business communication styles. The 100% online curriculum exposes students to proven techniques for human resource management, leadership and teamwork.


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