Communicating Your Story with Style


How can you become a more effective communicator? Dr. John Jackson discusses four basic communication styles to help you achieve success.

Have you ever started telling your story and recognized that you were being “turned off” or “shut down” before you ever got to the exciting part? Ever feel like if people could only “see” or “feel” what happens at your organization they would become supporters, but you can’t seem to break through their disinterested gaze? If you have had these experiences, you are not alone. Learning to tell your story well is central to greater effectiveness in your ministry—and in every area of your life.

I want to equip you to tell your story, whether you’re talking with a staff member, supplier, or a spouse in a way that connects with the heart of your hearers, because when your communication is effective you will be heard and you will build healthy relationships, establish common ground with other people, and you may even increase support for your ministry!

Each person you share your story with has a particular style to how they like to talk AND how they like to listen; if you learn your communication style and the preferred communication style of your listeners, you will become more successful in connecting with them and developing friends and partners in life and ministry. My co-author Lorraine Bosse-Smith and I wrote the book, Leveraging Your Communication Style (Abingdon, 2008) as part of our toolkit to equip communicators and leaders to connect with various personality styles. In the book we identify 4 communication styles, 3 key types of communication content and 3 points of engagement.

Before explaining the communication styles, let me give some background on the communication content of your story. Your story contains facts, feelings and figures. Facts are the data and details that we all are either trying to share or get agreement upon with our audience. Feelings are the emotions we are either experiencing or want our audience to experience. Figures are the symbols or images that help us to connect with our audience.

Understanding how to tell your story with style has to do with the ability to connect your heart and passions to those of your hearers. We have all experienced speeches or presentations where the speaker appeared to have some level of mastery of the material and seemed to genuinely believe the material had some importance to him and to us. However, we left the presentation frustrated and bored because the presenter never connected with us. I believe that an effective communicator must address three primary engagement targets. Unless a speaker engages the head (the thinking place), the heart (the feeling place), and the hands (the action place), the presenter has missed the mark. Understanding those 3 points of engagement will equip you to shape how your think about both your informal and formal communication with people.

Years ago, I was fortunate to have a fantastic experience in a series of college communications class. That professor often trained corporate presenters, and I will forever be in debt to him for his excellent training. He was always clear about the importance of connecting at a cognitive (mind), affective (heart) and behavioral (action) level with your audience. Based on the professor’s advice and the advice of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, I always try to “begin with the end in mind”. What do I want this person to do or what difference should this conversation make? By starting from that perspective, I am able to arrange the three elements (facts, feelings, figures) and the three points of engagement (head, heart, hands) as I outline my presentation.

Regardless of whether you are speaking to a person one-on-one or to a small group or large audience, recognize that there are four different basic communication styles. For purposes of this article, think about how these people like to HEAR your story; that will shape how you SHARE it. Most people have a primary style and secondary style (both in how they like to speak and how they like to listen); these definitions below will give you a very simple framework to utilize as you think about those who are hearing your story:

  1. Assertive listeners like declarative sentences, with clear and focused intent. These folks are used to bringing the future into the present with strength and clarity. Speaking with passion and humor but not being clear and decisive is death to this group.

  2. Animated listeners love stories. Make me laugh, make me cry, make me feel. Do not bore me with facts and figures, and don’t go “linear” on me. Tell me about “we” and not about “you” or about “me”.

  3. Attentive listeners are watching for one thing: do you care. You have heard it said, “I don’t care you much you know until I know how much you care”. That saying was invented for attentive listeners. Do you care about people and do you care about me?

  4. Accurate listeners are looking for data. Clear, concise, and yes, accurate! If you tell a great story, and demonstrate great vision, and communicate clear passion BUT have no solid data or clear structure and plan (or worse yet, you use bad data!), I won’t follow you.

So the big question is, how do you tell your story so people will listen, and so your words will be effective? Simply put, you must become proactive and intentional in the context of positive relationships. Once you know your style, think hard about the person, small group, or audience you are addressing. Realize in advance that you will be speaking with all 4 styles if you are in a larger audience. Present your story with passion and clarity to Assertives, with humor and emotion to Animateds, with personal care and empathy to Attentives, and with detail and consistent data to Accurates (in our book we have a test instrument that will help you discern your style and the style of others).

Learn your communication style—and your listeners will require you to rehearse the facts, feelings, and figures of your story—whether it’s training a staffer, sharing Christ with a friend, talking to your family, or communicating with your spouse. Rehearse in advance the parts of your story that engage with the head, the heart, and the hands (the components will change over time, but the sections will not). Then, as you consider who you are sharing with, you will likely have more than one of the communication styles listening to you; if you know the person, know their style and speak their language! When you say things in a way that your listener will receive—and relate to— it will improve communications, productivity, and personal satisfaction.Everyone wins. So practice it and do it!

JACKIE…the test instrument itself takes a couple of chapters in the book and would be hard to capture in a sidebar…but if you want, I could reprise a section of the explanations so that more detail is given on the 4 styles?

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