Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Communicator Style and Social Style: Testing a Theoretical Interface

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Communicator Style and Social Style: Testing a Theoretical Interface

Article excerpt

The purpose of this empirical study was to examine the interface between two key models of communication style: social style and communicator style. Social style is based on a two-by-two matrix composed of two dimensions of observable patterns of behavior: assertiveness and emotiveness. Communicator style was established in the communication discipline and involves nine factors and one global assessment of communicator image. The current study measured self-assessments of social style and communicator style by 852 individuals to test the theoretical interface of the models. Factor analysis confirmed the social style dimensions and some of the communicator style dimensions. The resulting components were factored, resulting in four dimensions of transactional style: emotive, assertive, relaxed, and accurate. Regression results indicate three of the dimensions are predictive of communicator self-image and explain nearly 36% of the variance.

Keywords: communication; leadership style; social style; communication style; behavioral style


It is by now axiomatic that effective communication is an essential component of effective management and leadership. The search for ways to understand complex communication behavior, however, is an evolving process. One mechanism for understanding communication behavior has been the notion of style. A number of models of style have been proposed in various disciplines, including leadership style (Blake & Mouton, 1974; Fiedler, 1967; House & Mitchell, 1974), relational style (e.g., Bales & Cohen, 1979; Borgatta, Cottrell, & Mann, 1958), social style (Buchholz, 1976; Buchholz, Lashbrook, & Wenburg, 1976; Merrill & Reid, 1981), and communicator style (Norton, 1978, 1983). Although each model has distinct features, all have in common the notion that some pattern of human behavior can be observed by others and will have some impact on an individual's success in interpersonal communication, organizational leadership, management, or other interpersonal endeavors. Only two of these models--social style and communicator style--are specifically concerned with general patterns of communication behavior, and these are the focus of this investigation.

Although each model has been tested independently, to date the models have rarely been examined together. The purpose of this research is to examine the dimensions of communication behavior underlying each model and to test the theoretical interface among them in hopes of establishing a coherent, unified model of communication behavior.

Social Style Model

Over the past 30-plus years, social style has been used extensively to train managers and sales personnel to increase behavioral versatility through role shifting. This model has been the subject of extensive research and application in the private sector, as well as the focus of limited academic testing. A trainee is typically asked to have five coworkers or regular co-interactants complete an instrument (Snavely, 1992) to indicate the trainee's other-perceived social style. The trainee is taught to understand and accurately identify his or her social style and those of others. Ultimately, the participant learns how to alter his or her communication strategies to adapt to the styles of others.

The result of learning such strategies appears to be positive. Prince (1986) reported that "both formal and informal assessments have found that more productive and satisfying work relationships have resulted from the [social style] training" (p. 66).

The social style model was developed as a two-dimensional matrix descriptive of human interactive behavior (Buchholz, 1976; Buchholz et al., 1976; Merrill & Reid, 1981). V. J. Lashbrook and W. B. Lashbrook (1980) and Snavely and Waiters (1983) reported four underlying assumptions about human behavior that frame the concept of social style:

1. Humans develop relatively stable behavior patterns. …

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