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Better Communication at Work: How to Model and Mirror Communication Styles
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Better Communication at Work: How to Model and Mirror Communication Styles

Improving communication in the workplace makes everyone’s job more effective and more enjoyable.

March 17, 2021
Rob Lennon
Customer Education Lead at Hugo
Marketer and author with experience spanning a diverse 16 years in retail and SaaS startups across healthcare, mar-tech, and ad-tech, and productivity software sectors.

The most productive teams have excellent communication in the workplace.

But—excellent communication means different things for different people. 

To be effective an effective communicator, one of the best techniques is to pay attention to your colleagues’ personality types and how it affects their communication style at work. 

This article goes a bit deeper into some of the techniques you can use for giving feedback, running effective stand-up meetings, or when mentoring and coaching others.  

Modeling and mirroring

While there are formal methods for categorizing communications styles, the basis for leveraging any technique is the ability to model the person you are talking to, also known as mirroring. People communicate differently based on personality as well as other attributes.

Mirroring can be as simple as speaking at a similar pace as someone else all the way through using similar gestures and even breathing at the same pace as someone else. That might sound creepy, but actually, it’s quite natural for most people. 

You’ve probably been in a situation where you noticed your speech patterns or vocabulary started to resemble someone you spent a lot of time with—or even someone whose podcast you listen to regularly. 

To effectively use mirroring in the workplace, pay attention to how people speak, gesture and move when they talk. In a text or e-mail environment, pay attention to the length of the interaction or the length of the sentences, as well as the content. 

Do they give a long explanation or get right to the point? Do they ask how you are before diving into the topic at hand? 

In some cultures, it’s important to go through the formalities of asking how you are before discussing work, and in some cultures, it’s fine to text short instructions. 

The communication style of each person indicates how they would prefer you to speak to them, not just how they are speaking to you. The company culture as well as a person’s personality and background can affect the preferred communication style in the workplace.

When you use mirroring in the workplace, make sure that it’s not “mimicking”. Don’t precisely imitate the gestures and tone of the speaker—that gets creepy. Adjust yourself to their communication style, but be yourself. When you mirror effectively, it makes the other person comfortable with you, even in situations where you have different perspectives.

Personality types for better workplace communication 

Personality types impact how people prefer to communicate in the workplace. Many different frameworks describe different personalities and how they affect communication. 

The following framework can help you communicate at work by identifying people’s personalities or preferred communication styles. 

Keep in mind that these aren’t labels you can just stick on and expect people to fit in one communications style. We all have elements of each style but most people have dominant preferences in their self-expression and personality. 

The Merrill-Wilson framework includes four personality types that affect people’s communications styles:

  • Analytical: Analytical personality types like to see facts, proof, and details. They tend to look at their work decisions as rational and they often prefer to get much higher levels of detail than other people. Analytical people do not like to make decisions or take action without clear explanations or details. 
  • Driver: Drivers tend to want to get work done. They don’t want to be bothered with the formalities or details. In your communication with them, you can be direct and ignore the niceties.
  • Amiable: People with amiable personality types are considerate of the people involved in the work. If you are too direct with someone who is amiable, they may perceive that as callous and uncaring. To them, the relationships in the workplace are just as important as getting the work done. Amiable people tend to be laid back and less opinionated—or at least less inclined to express that opinion. Because they are oriented towards getting along with others, it may be best to have one-on-one conversations to get them to express themselves.  
  • Expressive: Expressive communicators tend to be enthusiastic and are great at getting people on board with a project. Their communication style tends to be more animated. For expressive people, the details aren’t important, so although their enthusiasm is contagious, it’s important in a work environment that you hold these people to account or pair them up with people with a more practical perspective.   

The graph below shows a visualization of how these personality types react in the workplace. 

In addition to considering people’s personality type, you’ll also want to take a look at our blog with 7 tips for communications in the workplace.

Improving virtual communication styles

Being aware of personality types and using mirroring techniques have obvious applications when you are in person with people, but what about asynchronous and online communications in the workplace? The practice is similar.

  • Pay attention to the tone and style of people’s emails and texts. If they write short answers to you, they probably fall into the “driver” category. Don’t use a lot of detail in response.
  • If someone doesn’t speak up much in online forum, they may have an “amicable” orientation, and you might want to explicitly call on them to get their professional opinion. Watch for those “expressive” personalities who may end up dominating meetings. In the online format, the meeting leader has more control in balancing among the participants.
  • People who are more analytical may prefer more written information with links to detailed explanations. One of the advantages of online meetings is that it’s possible to send links in the chat, so that people who want more detail can get it without distracting others in the meeting. If you do know someone is more detail-oriented, sending them the information ahead of the meeting is incredibly important so that they feel prepared.
  • Text is not a great medium for people who are more interested in relationships, such as expressive and amiable personality types. Using video or voice messaging provides more tone and nuance and can be more effective for communicating in the workplace. You might be giving the exact same facts by voice that you would give in text—but the tone and expression of your voice or gestures give social cues and information that are important to these types of personalities.

Improving communications at work makes everyone’s job more fun as well as more effective, and there’s no one way to do it right. Using these personality types can help you understand why you aren’t getting through to everyone on your team. For a quick exercise, take a look at our blog on how some famous executives run meetings and ask yourself what personality type is dominant in each example.

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Rob Lennon
Customer Education Lead at Hugo
Marketer and author with experience spanning a diverse 16 years in retail and SaaS startups across healthcare, mar-tech, and ad-tech, and productivity software sectors.

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