Four Basic Communication Styles (Video Explanations)

Four Basic Communication Styles (Video Explanations)

When you take the Communication Styles Profile, the first payoff is discovering the styles of communicating you use most often – Director, Expresser, Thinker, and Harmonizer.

We tend to use two of these styles more than the others. But we have within ourselves the ability to use any of these styles in different situations.


Imagine someone who’s focused on what tasks they’re going to do – whether it’s building a house or starting a new company. This style is the Director, the first of the four basic communication styles.

The Director talks about actions. Directors don’t have much time for small talk, or for social niceties. In fact, they can be a little uncomfortable around people. They’re quick to make decisions, quick to assign tasks, always on the move. Imagine Orson Wells in “Citizen Kane” and you’ve got a good mental image of the Director.

Directors tend to focus on doing, not listening. They don’t tell long stories or inquire into the health of your children. But they do talk about goals, about “getting a jump on the competition,” about the importance of getting the job done. That’s the key for the Director: completion; getting it done. Now, not later. “Give me the bottom line” – that’s the Director’s favorite phrase.

Directors take risks. They’re willing to make tough decisions and gamble. Directors like to be in charge. Because the Director focuses on getting things done, not on people, they can at times appear insensitive – even intimidating. We’ll explore later how to deal with this.

In sum, Directors emphasizes action and results. They’re great at setting goals. Without the Director’s drive, vision, and decisiveness, the world would be a much more static place.


Now imagine people whose modus operandi is expressing themselves, talking about their ideas and opinions and feelings and experiences. These people – the Expressers – are great talkers. They like to gesture and use animated facial expressions to make a point. You’ll find them telling a story about what they felt when they bought their first new car, or dreaming up a clever advertising campaign. Unlike Directors, Expressers like to tell stories. In fact, they’re so animated and expressive when they tell stories that they make other people feel limp. But give them credit: Expressers are entertaining to have around.

Imagine David Letterman or Carol Burnett. Imagine Diane Keaton. Expressers have lots of ideas and thoughts going on at once, sometimes so many that the ideas tumble out of their mouths before they’ve had a chance to edit them. In fact, thinking aloud is the trademark of the Expresser.

Expressers are creative, always trying to find new ways to do things. They’re willing to take chances, especially if their creative reputation is on the line. They’re fun to invite to a brainstorming meeting – they’re always coming up with an out-of-the-box idea. Yet they can also be disorganized and lack follow-through.

Expressers have a hard time focusing on one topic and listening. Nor do they have a long attention span for something that doesn’t involve or interest them. This can be frustrating for people around them. So Expressers can demand a lot of patience. At the same time, Expressers tend to be sensitive to other people’s feelings, and they’ll express great embarrassment once they realize they’ve said something that hurt someone else.

In short, Expressers are dynamic, dramatic, exciting, engaging, and entertaining. They may not always be organized. But without them the world would be a much less interesting place.


Now imagine people who like to solve problems. They like the process of working through all the details, the nuances, the ramifications and implications. These people – the Thinkers – are focused on getting things done right. Their exacting sense of detail drives them to ask lots of questions.

If a Thinker is thinking about buying a new computer system, for example, he’ll ask for all the comparative data. He’ll make sure he has all his facts exactly in order. He’ll make a list of the features he wants (the list is a trademark of the Thinker). Often he’ll postpone making a decision until he’s certain he’s got every piece of information he can find – much to the frustration of Directors who’d like things to move more quickly.

Problem solving is of paramount importance to Thinkers. Imagine the character played by Jeff Goldblum in “Jurassic Park” and “The Lost World.” The Thinker possesses a marvelously honed ability to focus entirely on the problem at hand ­– often to the exclusion of the bigger picture. Thinkers can seem tedious at times. But details are not tedious to the Thinker. All those questions are crucial if the job is to be done right. And his attention to detail can make the Thinker very valuable to have around.

As you might surmise, Thinkers tend to be more cautious than either Directors or Expressers. They play out scenarios in great detail, and so they’re likely to consider other people’s needs and feelings before acting. They may not understand the root of the problem. But Thinkers like to think they’ve considered every aspect of the problem.

Thinkers tend to underestimate the amount of time they need to complete a project. Unlike Directors, who rarely miss a deadline, Thinkers will give themselves “extensions” in order to make sure the project is done correctly the first time.

In sum, Thinkers are the world’s problem solvers. They ask questions and revel in details. They may miss an occasional deadline, but no one is more superbly equipped than the Thinker to think it through.


Now let’s meet the fourth major style of communicating. Picture someone who listens to other people’s problems, someone who is steady and dependable, someone who will offer a sympathetic shoulder when someone’s child catches the flu. Picture Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca” or Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Or better yet, Mother Theresa.

These people – the Harmonizers – are care-givers and healers. They bring muffins to work in the morning. They give special presents at holidays. People naturally turn to them for comfort in times of trouble. They speak warmly and lovingly to other people, who in turn speak warmly and lovingly of them. Harmonizers may not be decisive or daring, but they keep people working happily together, often in subtle ways.

Harmonizers are attuned to people’s feelings, and they like to talk about people – not in the same animated or aggressive way Expressers do, but more quietly, with less attention drawn to themselves. They’re focused on the group’s well being; the Harmonizer’s trademark is being a team player. At lunch or at a company picnic, you’ll see the Harmonizers sitting together talking quietly – or often not talking at all. Harmonizers aren’t trail blazers. In social situations, they’ll rarely say anything inflammatory or unconventional. Harmonizers prefer to fit in, not stand out.

Harmonizers seek to avoid conflict. When a stranger comes into their midst, they are careful, guarded. You can only get to know them gradually, not right away. Because they like to please other people, they’ll say “yes” to something even though it would be better for everyone if they declined. As a result, Harmonizers can take on too much and feel overwhelmed.

In short, Harmonizers are quiet, caring people whose words express pride in the accomplishments of the team. Without them, the world would be a far less caring place.


One of the earliest efforts at understanding human nature was led by a school of Greek philosophers who maintained that people’s characters were determined by four special “humors.” Each “humor” was concentrated in a particular bodily fluid. High levels of blood resulted in an enthusiastic type; an excess of black bile resulted in a melancholy character; high amounts of yellow bile caused one to be irritable; and an excess of phlegm created a slow, apathetic personality.

Now you’ve learned about the four communication styles – a modern counterpart of the four humors. By tuning yourself to identify and understand each style, you’ll quickly learn to appreciate some of the subtleties in people’s communications – the hidden levels of meaning behind what they say, the types of things they pay attention to. This, in turn, will lead to more satisfying and more successful interactions.

More important, as you begin to appreciate how people see things in four very different ways, you begin to appreciate how around us revolve four different worlds – the worlds of the Director, Expresser, Thinker and Harmonizer.

Previous: Personality Theory Next: Zeroing In On Your Own Communication Style

Eric Douglas

Eric Douglas is the senior partner and founder of Leading Resources Inc., a consulting firm that focuses on developing high-performing organizations. For more than 20 years, Eric has successfully helped a wide array of government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and corporations achieve breakthroughs in performance. His new book The Leadership Equation helps leaders achieve strategic clarity, manage change effectively, and build a leadership culture.

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