Interpersonal communication style is the manner in which one communicates. It includes the way one interacts to create expectations for future behavior on the part of both participants. Communication is the transmission of information and meaning from one individual to another. The communication process, whether verbal or nonverbal, involves a sender and a receiver. Whether we realize it or not, people are constantly shaping our behavior by the ongoing style they use as they talk to us.
Interpersonal Communication Style Research
Scholars have extensively studied communication styles in interpersonal relationships. Research in this area has primarily focused on the effect of gender on communication style, the relationship between the communicators and its effect (i.e., type of relationship and length of time, supervisor and subordinate), culture, situation, and the expectations of communicators. Also, research on the effect of mediated communication on communication styles as it relates to interpersonal communication is of recent interest.
Descriptions of Interpersonal Communication Styles
Robert Norton developed nine specific communicator styles typically used in the communication process that inform the nature of the relationship between communicators. These styles have been studied extensively in several organizations to assess communication satisfaction and commitment.
- Dominant communication style. The dominant style of communication is characterized by speaking frequently, strongly, in a dominating and take-charge manner. Communicators using a dominant style are often perceived by others as individuals who possess high levels of self-confidence. This perception is reinforced by their willingness to speak often in a conversation using a strong and steady voice, as well as their ability to control the environment in which the communication occurs. Communicators who prefer this style also rely on the use of body language including recurring eye contact and the negotiation of others’ personal space to emphasize communicative dominance.
- Dramatic communication style. This style of communication requires the communicator to merge both physical and verbal techniques to create a performance of the message. Communication using this style is often accomplished through storytelling, the application of jokes, and the use of hyperboles. The actual meaning of a dramatic communicator’s message may be hidden and could require background knowledge of the communicator to uncover it. Communicators may use this style to deal with negative information they cannot convey to someone else at face value. Other reasons for selecting a dramatic style of communication are to reinforce a communicator’s status in the group or to alleviate stress among group members.
- Contentious communication style. This style of communication is similar to a dominant style of communication. Communicators using a contentious style of communication are often described as being argumentative. People who use this style are not afraid to challenge others, especially if they have evidence to support their position. Consequently, they expect their communication partners to present similar substantiation when making a claim. Contentious communicators are very precise about the words they use and view communication as being straightforward without any area for delineation. Individuals interacting with someone who uses this style may feel the need to defend themselves, which may result in less focus on the message.
- Animated communication style. Animated communicators typically reveal more about their thoughts and emotions through body language than through verbal communication. When interacting with communication partners, people who use this style rely heavily on facial expressions to convey meaning. Some of these expressions include eye contact to show interest in a communication partner or to reveal emotions, smiling to show pleasure, and nodding to show support or agreement. Communicators using an animated communication style also gesture frequently, using their hands in addition to posture and body positioning to indicate thoughts.
- Impression-leaving communication style. This communication style is somewhat difficult to distinguish from others because it relies heavily on the impression formed of the sender by the receiver. People who use this style deliver messages in a manner that is unique and easy for receivers to differentiate from other communication partners. This quality makes people using an impression-leaving style easy to remember. It is possible that people who use an impression-leaving style could use another style but communicate in such a way that differentiates them from other people who use that style.
- Relaxed communication style. Communicators who approach communication in a relaxed style appear calm when interacting with their communication partners, even in high-stress situations. This demeanor often provides reassurance to their partners because they do not appear anxious and can make others feel comfortable. Relaxed communicators speak in a natural but confident manner and do not seem to be nervous when observed by communication partners.
- Attentive communication style. This communication style is characterized by the actions of the sender rather than the verbal communication of that person. Someone who has an attentive communication style is a good listener and lets communication partners know they are being heard. Body language such as eye contact and nodding let communication partners know that the attentive communicator is listening. People who use this style of communication are often regarded as empathetic and are able to internalize their partner’s message, which is one reason that communication partners tend to open up to them.
- Open communication style. People who use an open style of communication are not afraid to express their thoughts and emotions and will generally let others know how they feel. Open communicators reveal personal information rather quickly when interacting with communication partners, with little regard to the potential outcome. Adjectives used to describe this type of communicator are talkative, approachable, and conversational. An open communication style could be considered a positive or a negative attribute and would depend a great deal on the communication partner’s perception.
- Friendly communication style. Communicators who use a friendly style of communication have a positive effect on their communication partners. This effect results in people seeking interaction with them. Friendly communicators use both body language and verbal communication to reinforce the self-image of others by showing them that they attract people who are friendly. This style of communication is also characterized by the recognition of the accomplishments and value of communication partners.
Communication styles are an essential factor in studying interpersonal communication. Communicators may use different communication styles in different situations but generally rely on a particular style because they are comfortable using it. Factors affecting communication style include the relationship of the communication partners, social norms, and the specific organizational situation.
- Coeling, H. V., & Cukr, P. L. (2000). Communication styles that promote perceptions of collaboration, quality, and nurse satisfaction. Journal of Nursing Care Quality, 14(2), 63-74.
- Norton, R. (1983). Communicator style: Theory, applications, and measures. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
- Rehling, L. (2004). Improving teamwork through awareness of conversational styles. Business Communication Quarterly, 67(4), 475-482.