There are many ways to identify communication styles, but most of them have problems. First, they tend to label people with words that create room for judgment. Introvert, extrovert, aggressive, passive, all have assumptions attached, some desirable, and others, not so much. Second, they box people into categories, an approach of which I am not a fan. While they may help organize something as unruly as people and their personal styles, they also limit our ability to understand communication as a two-way exchange. What about the person on the receiving end? Nowhere do we really talk about the effect our styles have on others. And shouldn't that be what really counts? After all, if no one were listening, would any of it matter? In other words, aggressive is only aggressive to those who aren't, and the same is true for any other definition we place on people. It's all relative. The one label we do need though, in my opinion is, "negative" or "positive." It tells you all you need to know, because that is the key variable that determines both the quality and outcome of interpersonal communications across all types.

When I wrote my book about difficult conversations, I thought a lot about how we can better understand the chemistry of communication. In the process, I became increasingly convinced that it is not about what some model or theory tells us we are. I also thought about all the times in my career I'd been described as "intense," and it was with enough frequency that I knew it was a pattern. But what did that mean? There was no box for that. "Intense like Listerine?" I once asked and had someone answer, "Yes, exactly. That's how you feel. It stings like a left hook to the jaw." That got me thinking.

I am inclined to get to the point and appreciate when others do the same. The more direct someone is with me, and the less peripheral chatter I have to sift through to understand him or her, the better. But not everyone welcomes the zing, the bite, and the sting that can accompany this kind of communication style. Probably the least likely of whom are the less "intense" folks, perhaps those who are more mild in their style - like Scope. Think about the comparison. You can feel it. They tend to have a less pointed delivery, which at times can also mean they seem less direct. So for the Listerines there will invariably be times when it is necessary to temper their intensity with a buffered, more watered-down approach in order to make dissimilar people feel more comfortable.  Likewise, Scopes may need to adapt the same way.  I'm not saying it always works. It is impossible to control how someone else is going to process and interpret your words and how you say them. That in the trade is what we call "baggage," and it belongs solely to the person who is carrying it. But what we can do is be aware of how we affect people when we speak and try to be as sensitive to their receptors as possible.

In summary, if you look through the lens of energy (it being either positive or negative) and intensity (scaling it as either high or low), you will see that they end up being the characteristics that cause  the most harmony or the most dissonance.

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About the Author

Donna Flagg

Donna Flagg is the author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations and a New York City-based dancer.

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