The DAS model of communication styles

I recently received an email from a reader in which she said: ‘During the last few weeks I have been sitting in on a couple of management team meetings as an observer, and now and then I can’t help noticing that they communicate with each other ‘like apes’. It’s the egos that do all the talking, and nobody listens. People feel as though their voices aren’t being heard, and they start to feel isolated. No explanations are given, nor questions asking why (it’s obvious that everyone can read each other’s minds!). And the result is that few or no attempts are made to find common ground. If disagreements arise, no decisions are taken by the chairman – he just tries to calm the discussion down, doesn’t take a definitive decision, and outside the meeting he discusses the subject with the person concerned. A fascinating style of management!’’ And she asked me how I would deal with such a situation. The short answer is: get everything out in the open. Find out if the manager is aware of his behaviour and the impact it’s having on motivation, decision-making, collaboration, results, etc? And try to establish if he has the desire (or interest) to change his behavior.

Such questions can lead to a change in the way your manager acts. However, how open he is for such a discussion will be very much dependent on the way you approach him. How can you ‘seduce’ him into conducting this conversation without him going straight into combat mode, shutting down completely, or answering with some vague statements? And here’s where we get to the longer answer to the question: bring it out into the open so that you can take the other person’s style into account.

So how exactly do you take into account another person’s style? This is where I introduce the DAS model. This model is based on the premise that the means of communication can be divided into three styles: Dominant, Aloof and Social. And that an individual is never 100% dominant, 100% aloof or 100% social. We have elements of all three styles in us. However, there is always one style that will be more clearly represented in our behaviour: our preferred style. Furthermore, the model does not of course judge one style to be better or worse than another style. They are all effective or counter-productive, depending on the situation we find ourselves in. For example when we need to take thorny decisions, it’s practical if we can show dominant behaviour. But if you invite a shy person to give their opinion, and you yourself are dominant, the chances are high that you will get little or no response.

You can easily observe the various styles in a meeting situation. Someone who is extremely dominant will often be the one who does most of the talking, even if he has done little preparation! The aloof person is generally well prepared and will speak only when backed up by good arguments. Because such a person will allow himself to be shouted down by dominant individuals, his well-founded ideas will not always come across effectively. And someone who is primarily social will tend to support others easily. But because a social individual wants to be liked, it can be unclear where he stands. Here’s a question for you: which style is the chairman of this meeting using in this short video?

It is also important to realise that the various styles are influenced by questions that can encourage or enhance this behaviour; these are what we call the hidden motivations. For example, the dominant individual will ask himself if he is better than the other person and whether he has more influence or a higher status than the other person. This competition with others results in no thought being given to abstract affairs or other people’s feelings. Because this would only distract from his main goal: that of winning. And because he wants to win at all costs, he assumes that others also want to do the same. This leads to distrust (of the other person). But how can we best deal with this dominant personality? It sounds crazy, but you will get the best out of people who demonstrate dominant behaviour by ‘applauding’ them a little. They want to make their presence felt. So by first acknowledging this dominant person in this way, you will be reducing his ‘will to battle’. But remember to follow this up by stating your own opinion.

This newsletter is too short to analyse all three styles in detail so I’ll give you just a summary of the various styles here.

Dominant style (strength: able to act quickly, weakness: little acceptance of others)

  • Characteristics: wanting to ‘score’, sensitive to status, able to act quickly, wanting to win, very open, prone to exaggerate.
  • Implied questions: Are you good enough? Can I win? Do you look up to me?
  • What not to do: resist, engage in battle, brown-nose, want to win, be vague and cautious, adopt avoidance behaviour.
  • What to do: give compliments, listen, ask the other’s opinion, speak with self-confidence, keep things ‘straight’.

Aloof style (strength: well-founded arguments, weakness: unable to take decisions)

  • Characteristics: shy, quiet, reserved, keeps to the facts, well-prepared, critical, distant.
  • Implied questions: Do you think logically? Are you objective? Do the facts add up?
  • What not to do: talk a lot, overwhelm, put under pressure, try to create a pleasant atmosphere, commercial chit chat.
  • What to do: ask open questions, allow silences, listen, give the other person some space, be logical/stick to facts, remain impersonal.

Social style (strength: eye for emotions, weakness: doesn’t keep to agreements)

  • Characteristics: jovial, creative, emotional, unable to take decisions, not businesslike, keeps the atmosphere agreeable.
  • Implied questions: Do you like me? Do I belong?
  • What not to do: accept vague agreements, participate, be blunt/inflexible, overwhelm, ‘pressurise’.
  • What to do: show appreciation, go with the flow, put the other person at their ease, keep the initiative, short and businesslike, ask.

Finally the challenge for you this time. If you have decided to put forward a subject for discussion and that topic is important to you, then study the different styles again and make a conscious choice about how you want to direct the discussion. Assess afterwards the positive results it produced for you!

Communicate well!

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