The 4 Social Styles And Effective Workplace Communication

When we look at a typical workplace, we can effortlessly notice the diversity present among its workforce. Diversity can exist in various forms such as the location where the people come from, their ethnicity, their emotional well-being; but also in terms of how they function with other people, their working styles, and most importantly their communication style. This can make effective communication, teamwork, and reaching the desired goal quite challenging. 

With the continuous increase in workplace diversity as people from different parts of the world start working together, how exactly should we curb the communication gap and work towards a common goal?

Psychologists David Merrill and Roger Reid pondered over the same question and in the 1950-the 60s developed the infamous 4 social styles model as a method to improve interpersonal relationships in the workplace. 

The model of social styles is based on the assumption that everyone displays a set of behaviors that are their default ‘style’. This can be noticed in the way individuals work and interact. This style reflects who they are. It’s important to point out that an individual’s style is neither good nor bad, it is just more or less appropriate to the task at hand. 

Merrill and Reid were able to narrow down the way people behave and communicate on two main factors:

  1. Assertiveness – also known as Ask / Tell
  2. Responsiveness – also known as Open / Closed

People at the ‘ask’ end of the assertiveness axis are more prone to questioning. They seek information from others and may withhold their own opinions. At the other extreme, people at the ‘tell’ end of the spectrum are always in transmit mode. Confident and direct.

People at the ‘open’ end of the responsiveness scale wear their hearts on their sleeves and have no problem sharing their thoughts with you. At the ‘closed’ end they are more reserved and hidden, holding their thoughts and cards close to their chest. 

When these two axes are placed perpendicular to each other, we get the four quadrants of social styles.

Analyticals, who appear logical and reserved. They want to think things through carefully and get it right.

Drivers are forceful and determined. They are action-oriented and want results.

Amiables are about people and relationships. They appear relaxed, informal, and easygoing.

Expressives are imaginative, visionaries, spontaneous and opinionated.

While it’s important to understand that people have a preferred social style, more often than not, their social style is a mix of the four types rather than a pure type. An individual’s social style is also bound to shift and change with emotional state, fatigue, and stress.

These diagnostic types are ways to explore how someone generally thinks and acts, and how you can best work with them.

By understanding which group we fall into, we can build our understanding of our personality and thus our self-awareness. When we understand our style, we will be aware of the frictions that could arise when we are trying to persuade someone else, and we will be in a position to try and adjust our behaviors. Similarly, by understanding the personalities of others, we can build our empathy and become more effective at working with them.

But just like any other personality-based model, the question arises whether the 4 social styles model encompasses the versatility of humans aptly. Or is it just another four-box personality model?

The answer can be both: yes and no. In its currently existing form, the company that David Merrill created, Tracom, uses the model incorporating a third factor: versatility. Versatility as a factor talks about how the four styles manifest in the real world, to meet the needs of people around us. It is closely related and focuses on the idea of Emotional Intelligence.

Even if we consider the 4 social styles model as ‘just another four-box personality model’, it stands out as an accurate representation of how people function in a workplace. Hence, it’s one of the models that has been widely emulated.

There’s no doubt that Merrill’s model has considerable power in helping managers and team leaders understand their own behaviors and the behavioral traits of the people they work with. Merrill’s model also helps by allowing the members of the workforce to adapt to the different traits and get the best outcome from any social situation; as a workplace is of course, if nothing else, a chain of social interactions.