Do you ever feel frustrated when someone doesn't seem to hear a request you've made? Or perhaps you have been labeled "bossy" despite your best intentions. Maybe you know someone who seems to be so passive-aggressive that you just want to shout at them "will you just ask for what you actually want already?!"
These communication issues may be explained by personality theory!
There are two styles of communication: informing and directing. And guess what? We each have a natural preference for one or the other, and it tends to coincide with our other thinking preferences (see previous personality posts for the type functions).
How do you ask for something? There are many ways to communicate a simple request. Suppose you are asking your spouse to get bread when they go to the store. How would you phrase that request?
We're out of bread.
We need bread.
Would you be able to get us some bread?
We're out of bread and I was wondering if you could get us some?
We're out of bread. Would you please get us some?
Would you please get us some bread?
Please get us some bread.
Get some bread.
This list illustrates the continuum from informing to directing style. The styles are rather self-explanatory. The intent of directing is to direct the actions of others to accomplish a task, often by telling or asking. The intent of informing is to give information in order to engage others in the process.
As with all cognitive functions, we have a natural preference for one style. We all use both styles for different purposes, but one style feels more comfortable. Often, our natural style can be heard when we are relaxed, whereas when under stress we may awkwardly use the non-preferred style. Also, life experiences can train us to use the non-preferred style, sometimes making it difficult to determine our natural style. For example any naturally "informing" person who undergoes military officer training is going to become very competent with the directing style. Likewise, many counselors are trained to use an informing style.
What can really interfere with communication, though, is how we also prefer to receive communication in our preferred style. Thus, when we are talking to someone of the opposite style, all manner of miscommunication can happen! A directing person may not even hear the request imbedded in an informer's statement. Imagine the frustration of an informing mother who tells her directing daughter that "the laundry is finished" with the intent that the daughter will fold the clothes. I can just hear the daughter twenty minutes later when mom is upset: "but you didn't ask me to fold the clothes!" And how about a directing girl telling her informing friend "Let's color! Go get the crayons." Her friend may start to feel that she's too bossy and stop playing with her.
The examples I've been using are clearly one style or the other. But, sometimes it's difficult to determine what style is being used. A directing person may try to soften their request by adding "please" or "would you mind" and an informing person may think they are being directive by saying "we need to go now!", but both are still using their preferred style. More examples of each style can be found here.
Ideal communication incorporates both styles -- it simultaneously provides information and tells the listener what's wanted of them. For example: "Please open the door because the guests are here." OR "The guests are here so please open the door." Only saying, "The guests are here" provides insufficient information, while only saying "Please open the door" seems rather bossy without the accompanying explanation.
So, have you figured out what your natural style is? Here's what personality theory predicts. If your preferences are: I/ENFJ, I/ENTJ, I/ESTJ, or I/ESTP you probably prefer directing. And if your preferences are I/ENFP, I/ENTP, I/ESFJ, or I/ESFP you probably prefer informing.
So (in my natural style), go forth using this knowledge and communicate more successfully with your friends and family! (please?)
(back to part 6)