Leader Volume 9, Number 4
Rafe is President of Rapport Communications of Warrenton, VA, a
spokesperson-counseling firm (tel/fax 540-349-1039; E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org;
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
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.
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
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.
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.
to Spot Each Type
actives -- Their words, voice tones and body language say,
"I want to approach you."
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
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."
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.
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.
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
They are likely
to appear tense, with body postures closed or blocking. They may
also turn their legs or shoulders slightly away from you.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.