The 4 Communication Styles

4 min readFeb 8, 2024
Understanding how your customers communicate can drastically improve your relationships and results.

In this story: How knowing your buyer’s communication style (and your own) can accelerate or block your sale.

Written by Maria Edelson, Founder & CEO of Edelson

This is a true story. Once, in one of my workshops, a woman involuntarily stopped the class because she was struck by an epiphany.

Oh, no! THAT’S why he won’t buy!” she blurted out.

I didn’t know what she meant yet, but I was sure I’d find out soon.

The next time I saw her, she told me an awesome story. She was working for a Japanese camera company, and she’d been struggling with a buyer who wouldn’t budge. She couldn’t seem to figure it out. She understood his business, she had done all her homework, and she was trying to sell him something that was a truly great idea for his business. But he kept saying no, and she couldn’t understand it.

Then, during my workshop, she was inspired to try a different communication style. Previously, she had shown the buyer three different presentations — all unsuccessful. The fourth time, she went in with a one-page spreadsheet. The buyer went directly to the lower right-hand corner of the page and said, “Why haven’t you shown me this number before?” and bought her product immediately.

“But Maria,” the woman said to me, “that same number was in all three of my presentations! He just couldn’t see it.”

What happened?

In the workshop, I had shared the following visual, which is my personal spin on the Birkman colors. I use this to talk about how people have different communication styles, and how that can sometimes create challenges.

The horizontal axis here describes your verbal approach: Red and Yellow are more talkative, Blue and Green are more reserved. The vertical axis describes your cognitive approach: Red and Blue are more focused on work and tasks, while Yellow and Green are more focused on people, organization, and emotions. So, a fiery Red is a talkative person who’s mostly focused on tasks. An earthy Green person is quiet and more focused on people.

We all have a little bit of each color within our communication style. But usually one of them is dominant, and that’s the style that comes out by default — especially when we’re under stress or thinking on our feet.

Which quadrant do you think best describes you?

Whatever quadrant you’re in, you’ll find it easiest to communicate with people who are in the same quadrant. Conversely, you’ll find it most difficult to communicate with people who are opposite (on the diagonal) from you. You’ll have the least in common with the group that’s on the diagonal from you. Under stress or duress, or in a decision-making conversation, Blue and Yellow will find it hardest to communicate with each other, and Green and Red will find it hardest to communicate with each other. They’re like oil and water.

Now, the epiphany my student had was that she was in the opposite (diagonal) quadrant from her buyer. She believed she was a sunny Yellow, but her buyer was a cool Blue. Her PowerPoint presentations would have been persuasive for someone like her — someone who’s an ideator, who loves PowerPoints, colorful presentations, and talking about ideas. But her buyer wasn’t like her. In fact, he was as different from her as he could get. He loved order, numbers, and spreadsheets. He needed a slower, more precise, and more quantitative presentation of her idea. Once my student provided that, he understood her perfectly, and he agreed that her idea was the right path forward for his business.

Managing different communication styles

Many salespeople can avoid many headaches and roadblocks by paying a little bit more attention to this. And the same is true for managers and their internal communication.

This is NOT about changing your personality. I never suggest that you change who you are, or even how you generally communicate. But I do urge everyone to become aware of their communication style, and their buyers’ style, and learn to flex. It’s the seller’s responsibility to maximize the opportunity for communication between the buyer and seller.

To get started, just think about the horizontal axis. Are they more quiet or more talkative? Are they asking questions, or are they mostly telling? Is their style different from yours? Try mirroring their volume and speaking cadence. The results might surprise you.

(P.S. This works just as well at home as it does in business!).

Are your people aware of their own communication styles? Are you aware of yours? Are you and your ICs proactively becoming aware of your customers’ communication styles to improve their relationships and results?

Feedback is a gift. Let us know what you think about this story in the comments below.

This is part 9 of Sales Bites, a 12-part series of stories from 35 years of sales experience with P&G and from training 13,000 sales executives globally. Follow or Subscribe below so you don’t miss the next story.

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