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The Best Communication Style

Virgina Satir noted that people tend to communicate using a certain style when relating with others: Placater, Blamer, Computer and Distractor. Men tend to be Blamers and Computers; while women tend to be Placaters and Distractors. A fifth style, the Leveller, is the ideal communication style.

Levellers, used by 4.5 percent of people, are congruent in their beliefs, respecting their own and other people’s views. The Leveller style is about win/win.  They focus on solutions and when negotiating they stress facts and truths as well as expressing feelings. They apologize when they are in the wrong (rather than placate); they evaluate a situation (rather than blame); and, they know when abstract language is appropriate (e.g., when talking to experts).

A Leveller has straightforward conversations with you about their beliefs and feelings. Their gestures are symmetrical and waist level, with body and feet facing forward. This stance shows credibility in and congruency to their words.

Our task is to note what style we default to in certain situations and then, move towards the Leveller stance.  Placaters need to know it is okay to disagree. Blamers need to be able to speak on their own behalf without accusing others. Computers need someone to ask how they feel about specific things. Distracters need to know that they are safe, not helpless, and that problems can be solved and conflicts resolved.

Since most of us start with one of the four ineffective styles, try using the positive aspects of an existing style and build upon it.  For example, Placaters can be sensitive, loving and empathic without being submissive or self-denying.  Blamers can be assertive without trying to demolish others.  Computers can use intelligence to analyze, plan and solve problems while still taking into account their own feelings and those of others. Distractors can keep the ability to have fun and still maintain a balance between pleasure and purpose.

When communication with others, try to identify the style of the other person and move them (and yourself!) towards the Leveller stance. A Placater may feel intimidated or bullied by the Blamer or may be challenged to rally up some boundaries and assertiveness.  A Blamer might be annoyed by a Placater’s weakness or may be able to shift to the Placater’s point of view.  A Computer stance may be helpful when dealing with a Distractor, if it does not trigger even more distraction.  No doubt, a Computer style will be triggered by a Distractor style.

In all stances but the Leveller, matching a stance with the same stance will not produce good results. Two Blamers will argue, two Placaters will wallow, two Computers will be bored and unproductive, and two Distracters will be in utter chaos.

Be aware of when you are manipulating, avoiding, blaming, being dishonest, or resisting change – all signs of ineffective communication styles.  Remember that you are probably feeling hurt or stressed out about something. Also, if the other person is resorting to one of these styles, one can ease their tension by being sensitive to what might really be at the root of it.

You can’t change your communication style overnight; but, one key to developing a Leveller style is to use mainly “I” messages:  “I feel …,” “It hurts me when …,” “I am afraid.”  Starting a message with “you” often makes it sound like blaming. Often changing our body language shifts one into a more Leveller-like style.

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.