Are you a talker or a listener? – Two different communication styles

If somebody says “Donald Trump is great”, then most people would frown upon the person who said it. In most people’s head, ‘Trump’ throws a negative image; stubborn, idiotic, and a sexist. However, the person who said it might have meant that Trump is great because he is good at running his own business. So for good communication, it is always necessary to make sure everybody in the conversation is on the same page. There are two ways of doing so: choosing the “page” yourself, or accepting others’ “page”.

Since I moved to the Netherlands six years ago, I was involved in many social activities. I could meet a lot of locals and expats from all over the world. While getting to know people more by time, I realized that everybody has a different communication style. It could be their culture, or their own personality; some people are more assertive and trying to make people understand them, some people are more interactive and trying first to understand what people say and adapt themselves to it.

From that, I got to think that the communication style people have can be understood in the following ways: being a persuasive communicator or being an interpretative communicator (I couldn’t come up with the right terms at first, but thankfully a few lectures from my university gave me those). Naturally, most people are both persuasive and interpretative because they have their own opinion, but also try to understand others to be able to interact with them. So it can be understood as a spectrum; which side is more dominant when communicating.

1. Communication style in general
When you are at a party, you often see a person who’s in the middle of attention. That person is controlling the mood of the room by talking up a storm, whereas others are listening to them. They cook the subjects by coating it with their own opinion, and others are usually joining the flow by replying or reacting to their remarks. That’s a typical persuasive communication style. Persuasive communicators say what they think first and try to make people understand their interpretation of the topic. Because persuasive communicators put their opinion out there first, they are the ones who define the character of the conversation (e.g., “I find Trump idiotic, what do you guys think?).

On the contrary, interpretative communicators first try to look at how this person talks about certain subject. There are always friends who are trying to understand your perspective and adapt their view to yours, and talk in a way you would find most comfortable. When somebody throws out their opinion, interpretative people try to tailor their way of speaking in a way that suits best to this person who they are talking to (e.g., “what did you think of Trump’s recent tweets about North Korea?”). In that sense, they are good listeners.

2. Dangers (negative extremes)

Communication has to be two-way. However, when either the persuasive or interpretative side gets extreme, it will lose its reciprocity.

Everybody has an experience of having an argument with a stubborn person who is impossible to communicate with. When someone’s persuasive side is too strong, they don’t listen to what other people say and only try to persuade them of their opinion. It can make people sick of you, because nobody likes to be around people who don’t listen to others. Everybody will no longer feel that they are listened to. Communication loses reciprocity, then why would anyone keep talking to you? That is why it is important for persuasive communicators to sometimes try to understand that different opinion could still be valid, and admit that there can be misunderstandings if you fail to think from another person’s perspective.

On the other hand, when the interpretative side gets too strong, communication could also lose reciprocity. Some people are just afraid of conflicts or don’t want to show what they really think. This also happens when they are confronted with a strongly-opinionated person. The result is that it’s just one person gibbering to your face, but you are not really interacting anymore. Even if you react to whatever this person says to you, you get to say things that wouldn’t conflict their opinion. People could still like talking to you, because nobody minds a listener, but at the end of the day, it would become fake communication. People will notice that they didn’t really have a meaningful conversation with you.      

3. Opportunities (positive extremes)

In spite of dangers mentioned above, being a persuasive communicator has good qualities as well. One thing is that you are being yourself as you don’t mind conflicts with others. It gives people certainty that you say what you mean, because you are not going to change your words nor opinion because of how others might judge you. Another thing is that you give people a chance to understand you and probably also a chance to adapt themselves to you, or at least negotiate their opinions with yours. A lot of leaders who communicate propaganda to people are examples of good persuasive communicators.

The best quality of interpretative communicators is that they make people feel understood, so that people get to open themselves more to them. They are adapting themselves to others’ way of communication and make sure that you are on the same page as them. It makes people feel that they are listened to, which will lead people to feel they are really interacting. In that sense, when interpretative communicators want, they can be more persuasive than persuasive speakers. They can convince others of their opinion better because they can talk in a way that others can best understand.

 4. Personality

I noticed that extroverted people tend to be more persuasive communicators, whereas introverted people tend to be more interpretative communicators. Again, people are neither 100% introverted nor 100% extroverted. It’s more about which side is more dominant in their personality. But as I have observed, people who identify themselves as extroverted don’t mind showing their opinion to others. On the other hand, introverted people are more careful and considerate about how their opinion might affect others, so they tend to be selective in who they are showing their opinion to.

Personally, I’m more of an extroverted person and a persuasive communicator. I can see that I’m quite direct and I don’t mind saying whatever is in my head, which is beneficial in times but also gets me into trouble sometimes. But thank God, for some reason I surrounded myself with people who are introverted and interpretative. I always ask them about how to communicate better. They are thoughtful, insightful, and always give me a new perspective I have never thought of.

Of course, as I mentioned in the beginning, most of the people are in the middle. If one is a 100% persuasive communicator, they would be left alone because nobody likes to be around a person who doesn’t try to understand you. If one is a 100% interpretative communicator, it means either they are hiding their own opinion very well or they just don’t have opinion. The important thing is that communication should be based on trying to find a negotiation point where both sides can understand each other. Therefore, balancing out being half persuasive and half interpretative would be ideal.

Eindhoven News author: Chae Ryung Park

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