#460  from Innovative Leader Volume 9, Number 4          April 2000

Communicating by “Type”
by Stephen C. Rafe

Mr. Rafe is President of Rapport Communications of Warrenton, VA, a spokesperson-counseling firm (tel/fax 540-349-1039; E-mail steve-rafe@erols.com; woprstarfire.safsoft.net/~starfire).  He is the author of three HarperBusiness books, including How to Be Prepared to Think on Your Feet (1991). He is also the principal author of The Executive's Guide to Successful Presentations (Communication Briefings).

How would you like a new way to determine others' communication types and use this knowledge to interact more effectively with them -- even under pressure? You can, once you learn to read four key combinations of voice tones, body language, and word choices.

The Concept

We are continually moving toward or moving away from something.  This movement can be either active or passive.  We can "sort" people into two types: approach and avoidance.  People display their types through their words, voice tones, and non-verbal signals.  Approach types tend to be externally oriented, relying on others and displaying more concern for others.  Avoidance types tend to be internally oriented, relying on themselves and showing more concern for self.

In addition, some of us are active in our relationships with people; others are passive. So we can expand the concept to consider four communication types: approach active, approach passive, avoidance active, and avoidance passive.

Naturally, each of us has varying elements of the four types in his or her personality. Yet in any communication, one type will predominate and, over time, one type will prevail.

Behavior is often situational: the same person might communicate in an entirely different way on another issue or topic, at another meeting, or in other circumstances. Different people may trigger different responses in others. Absolutes are rare. Also, the intensity of others' signals may vary according to the stake they have in the outcome of the discussion. So, use your initial input only to check approach/avoidance behavior and to determine whether it is active or passive.

How to Spot Each Type

Approach actives -- Their words, voice tones and body language say, "I want to approach you."

These individuals communicate that they want to take the initiative, to reach out to you. They tend to be people-oriented, gregarious, optimistic, enthusiastic, and confident. Their questions seem to invite you to bring out your best even when the issue is a tough one. They have moderated voice tones, their body language is usually open and outreaching, and they maintain friendly but non-aggressive eye contact. They are likely to appear relaxed and lean forward with open posture.

Approach passives -- Their words, voice tones and body language say, "I would accept an approach from you to me."

Such people are likely to be reticent but friendly. They are reserved, but their signals invite approach or dialogue. They are passive, amiable, patient, and self-controlled. They may express a friendly interest in, or curiosity about, what you have to contribute to the conversation, but are less active than approach-active people. When seated, they tend to lean back rather than forward. Standing, their postures are open, but generally not assertive. While they maintain eye contact in conversation, people in this category tend not to "seek others out."

Avoidance actives -- Words, voice tones and body language say, "I want to keep you away from me."

Such people can be either hostile or aggressive, or both. They want to keep you at a distance from them. They may badger, criticize, argue, and even try to bully you. They often perceive themselves as masters at one-upmanship. Their voice tones frequently sound pushy or argumentative. They are direct, forceful, and impatient. They expect evidence. They often want to debate the pros and cons of any issue they perceive as important. Within groups, avoidance actives may be less blatant and try to probe, pressure, and accuse or challenge others to elicit certain responses from them. They may interrupt, or speak out regardless of protocol. They may also be more demanding than others to hear bottom-line results.

Their body language may appear tense and threatening. Such individuals may also lean to one side and have closed postures while you are trying to make your point.

Avoidance passives -- Words, voice tones and body language say, "I want to keep me away from you."

They tend to be analytical, perfectionists, evasive, and defensive. While they may appear relaxed, patient, and even mildly amiable, they favor being in control. At times, they may seem to welcome any interest you show in them. They are often insecure, distrusting, and even fearful of others. They prefer to maintain space or distance from others, even if it means withdrawing from them. At times they fall silent, which may cause you to wonder what you should do next. They can also appear noncommittal about even your strongest opinions.

They are likely to appear tense, with body postures closed or blocking. They may also turn their legs or shoulders slightly away from you.

What Each Type Needs

It is far easier to adjust or adapt our behavior to the needs of others than it is to change the people with whom we interact. If we truly want to achieve a better rapport, our best approach is to understand each "type's" needs and fulfill them as best we can.

Approach-active individuals tend to be more responsive to the views or testimonials of others--particularly people whom they consider authorities. They will respond best when you present information in a friendly and entertaining way, and without a lot of details.

Approach-passive people are generally the most accepting of the four types. Your challenge will be to encourage them to participate, to draw them out, and to "defend" them against approach-active and avoidance people, in particular. They generally let you do most of the work in the communication, tending to leave a lot of silence. (However, if the gaps seem destined to tempt you say things you may later regret, you could be dealing with an avoidance-passive individual.) They will be most responsive when you present specific solutions that offer as little risk-taking as possible. Speak with them privately before meeting with them in groups so you can encourage them to share their views with you and find areas of agreement. Involve them in the process as much as you can.

Avoidance-active people rely heavily on "evidence." They tend to be impatient and will welcome a discussion of the pros and cons of any important issue. They like schedules, plans of action, and low-risk situations and solutions to problems. They respond best to someone who is well prepared, and gets right to the bottom line, supporting their arguments with specifics. However, they may expect these of others while tending to procrastinate, themselves. They prefer agreement with their views to disagreement and will respond best to people who draw them to acceptable conclusions rather than telling them what to do. They don't like to be told what to do, so avoid direct disagreement and forcefulness in communicating your views.

Avoidance-passive people also like proof, documentation, evidence, schedules, plans of action, and low-risk situations. They also welcome a discussion of the pros and cons of any important issue, so be willing to raise the possible objections to your own case which they may harbor but be reluctant to express. For credibility with people of this type, be prepared to offer strong counterpoints to your own arguments. Like avoidance actives, they respond well to someone who is prepared and gets right to the bottom line. They prefer agreement with their views to disagreement and will work better with people who successfully involve them in developing conclusions they find acceptable.

How to Respond

Until you determine an individual's communication type, it's a good idea to interact in ways that appeal to all four types.  This will get you off to the best possible start even as you gather more information. Use your initial input only to check whether the person is leaning toward approach or avoidance, active or passive, behavior. Try to understand his or her actions, thoughts or intentions. Careful observations lead to better conclusions.

Prevent your own feelings from coloring your opinions. Observe the person's behavior merely as a function of the dialogue, and don't get caught up in it. Consider the possibility that most of the time, others intend to do well by you; but may lack the requisite tools for conveying those intentions.  Holding that thought in mind should guide your interaction towards a better outcome.

As you speak with a person who displays any of the four modes, allow room for error or misjudgment. We all process impressions through our own personal filters and could misread others' signals or interpret them incorrectly. We might also need more input before we can confirm our initial observations.

So be sure to listen carefully, particularly when dealing with those you believe are in an avoidance mode. Keep your own feelings out of difficult transactions and try to understand others better. Especially, avoid self-talk such as "She's trying to give me a hard time," or "He's not going to dump that one on me." Instead, practice asking yourself, "What behavior is this person displaying?" This will allow for the possibility that others mean well. That's a major step toward concluding each communication successfully. Your goal is to use approach/avoidance information to establish better rapport.

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