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Social styles Big Idea

What’s the Big Idea?

If you want to have a good relationship with your colleagues, managers and leaders at work, the best thing to do is to perform your job well. But there will be times when you need to actively influence someone – to get help or resources, to get buy-in for your ideas, or to raise a particularly difficult problem. And to do this effectively you need to communicate in a way that works for them – which is where understanding Social Styles can help.

Social styles theory was developed by Dorothy and Robert Bolton in the early 1980s. They identified four communication styles – and the fact that most people have a preference for one of them.

When two people communicate using different styles, they share information, ideas and thoughts in a way that the other person finds hard to process. This can cause friction and conflict. Working relationships can improve dramatically if you adapt your communication style to suit others’.

A person’s social style is determined by the extent to which they are perceived to be assertive and responsive.

  • Assertiveness: how much a person asserts themselves or responds to others in a social setting
  • Responsiveness: how much a person displays emotion and is responsive to emotion, or is very much in control of their emotions
People with high assertiveness People with low assertiveness
Move more quickly Move more slowly
Speak rapidly, louder voice with intensity Speak slowly, softer voice
‘Tell’ orientated ‘Ask’ orientated
Emphatic when giving opinions or directions Try to understand others
Make decisions more quickly Make decisions less quickly
May sit up and lean forward when giving an opinion May lean back when giving an opinion
Take the interpersonal initiative Let others take interpersonal initiative
More intense eye contact  Less intense eye contact


People with high responsiveness: People with low responsiveness:
Appear more people-orientated Appear more task- than people-orientated
Focus more on feelings Focus more on facts
More facial expressions and gestures Less facial expressions and limited gestures
Appear more friendly and playful Seem more serious
More interested in small talk and anecdotes Less interested in small talk and anecdotes
Let feelings have an influence on decisions Decisions based more on facts not feelings
Less guarded with their emotions More guarded with their emotions

Four types of social styles

The four social styles are based on combining these two behavioural dimensions:

Social Styles Matrix

Analytical Driver Amiable Expressive
  • Prefers to work alone
  • Wants time to think
  • Cautious
  • Sets high standards
  • Needs accuracy
  • Slower reaction time
  • Neat and tidy office
  • Task is the priority
  • Great at planning and implementation
  • Reacts and deals with situations quickly
  • Wants to be in control
  • Need for achievement and results
  • Minimum concern for relationships
  • Prefers working alone
  • Enjoys a challenge
  • Decisive
  • Works to build harmonious teams
  • Anxious about making the wrong decision
  • Personalised work surroundings
  • Unhurried reaction time
  • A good listener
  • Appears warm and accepting
  • Works to involve people and join in themselves
  • Avoids working in isolation
  • Can be impulsive
  • Creative
  • Gets excited about new ideas
  • Likes the big picture
  • Quick reactions
  • Jumps to conclusions

It is valuable to recognise that although you may have one preferred social style, which you use most frequently, this does not make your behaviour inevitable. You can easily adapt how you communicate and can interact with others using all four styles. However, your most frequently used style will feel like it requires the least amount of energy.

It is also important to recognise that your communication style does not display your feelings:

Someone who appears warm and friendly may not like us anymore than someone who appears serious and more detached. Someone who appears forceful and dynamic may not believe in their idea as strongly as the quiet, less assuming person.

Social styles theory is really useful at work as it helps us understand others and how they might see themselves. It also gives us an insight into how other people, who have a different style to ours, might perceive us.

See themselves as…

  • Serious and exacting
  • Logical and rational
  • Focused on goal
  • Precise and considered
  • Great at planning
  • Reserved
Others may see them as…

  • Stubborn
  • Nit picker
  • Perfectionist
  • Pedantic
  • Slow
  • Indecisive
  • Unemotional
See themselves as…

  • Efficient
  • Resourceful
  • Getting things done
  • Decisive and direct
  • Determined
  • Confident
  • Entrepreneurial
Others may see them as…

  • Impatient with slower paced people
  • Autocratic
  • Critical
  • Insensitive
  • Domineering
  • Demanding
See themselves as…

  • Supportive of others
  • Seeks views
  • Patient
  • Cooperative
  • Consider issues carefully
  • Building consensus
Others may see them as…

  • Slow to make decisions
  • Submissive to others’ needs
  • Not wanting to upset
  • Lacking goals
  • Weak
See themselves as…

  • Innovative
  • Enthusiastic
  • Fast and reactive
  • Ambitious
  • Inspirational/visionary
  • Motivational
  • Friendly and open
Others may see them as…

  • Over confident
  • Exaggerating
  • Over excitable
  • Disorganised
  • Undisciplined
  • No follow through
  • Day dreamers

By observing how your colleagues talk you can spot their preferred style and start to communicate with them in the way that works for them.

Working with an Analytical style person

The analytical style tends to be biased towards order, routine, and detail. This often means a suspicion of change and a desire for consistency. A person with a preference for analytical will be comfortable with policy and doing things that are in the best interests of the organisation or authority.

If your manager or colleague has an analytical style, you will need to tread carefully if you want to  make recommendations for change. A useful approach is to stress that the recommendations are in keeping with – or build on – historic methods and systems. Your arguments will be more persuasive if they emphasise conformity and logic. And demonstrate why your idea is needed. When attempting to influence, be respectful of organisational norms or standards. Speak slowly. Be well prepared and have relevant facts and information to hand – this person will want to be confident that you have explored all possible options before she or he agrees to your proposals. They will also need time to make a considered decision rather than being rushed or pressurised.

Working with a Driver style person

The driver style tends to approach tasks in a fast and strongly independent manner. The main aim of the person with a driver preference is to achieve results, challenge others, and get on with doing things.

It will help if you take a direct approach when dealing with a driver style colleague. This means demonstrating your capability and showing independence, but not being afraid to use the person as a resource for assistance when it is required. Speak fast. When you are confident that you are right, it may help if you stick to your views and meet objections head on. They will not appreciate servile behaviour, though the temptation for subordinates is to take a submissive stance in dealing with such a strong character. This person will enjoy a challenge and the cut and thrust of a strong argument; when influencing, you need to be prepared to mirror the direct and straight-talking approach.

Working with an Amiable style person

The amiable style is likely to believe in the importance of personal relationships. A person with an amiable preference will tend to approach problem-solving as a collaborative exercise, and will be supportive to people who are less experienced. They are likely to enjoy working with others and share responsibility and resources readily. Trust is an important issue for this person and they are likely to build long-term relationships.

If your manager demonstrates a predominantly amiable style, it is important to demonstrate your value and contribution to the organisation. Sincerity and honesty is particularly respected and it is be better to admit mistakes and seek help rather than cover them up. Willingness to participate in team activities and tasks is important. When influencing an amiable style person, it is important to stress the worthwhile nature of your proposal in the long term. Show how your idea will help others and benefit the organisation. Talk more slowly and ask for their ideas and input. They are likely to respond positively if you ask for help in tackling a problem.

Working with an Expressive style person

The expressive style enjoys change and thrives on new opportunities. Typically, a person with an expressive preference appears optimistic, active and sociable. They tend to relate well to dealing with new and different people and situations.

With an expressive person, it helps to be eager, open and positive to new ventures and ideas. If you are looking to influence they are likely to respond positively to new ideas. You should emphasise the benefits of change, and stress the excitement and emotion associated with any proposal. Link your idea to the big picture. Speak quickly. Be wary of going into too much detail when explaining things. They will pay attention if you can express yourself succinctly and clearly – and make an impact quickly. It’s likely they will want to make a decision there and then, but you might have to remind them of the benefits of your idea at a later stage, because it might not stay at the front of their mind.


There you have it – four different social styles that require four different approaches to influence. Don’t forget, though, that these styles are preferences not absolutes and beware pigeon-holing your colleagues. Exhibiting particular behaviours that mark someone out as an Analytical, a Driver, an Amiable or an Expressive does not – as we said earlier – make their behaviour inevitable. So if your influence approach doesn’t seem to be working, try tweaking it towards another preference and see if that helps.

Next steps

If you’ve found this article helpful and you would like speak to one of our experienced consultants about our Influencing & Negotiating Skills programme, please call +44 (0)20 7978 1516. We also offer a one-day programme exclusively for fundraisers – The Influential Fundraiser.

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Charlotte Scott

About Charlie Scott

Charlie specialises in leadership development, team facilitation and strategy development. Charlie worked for over 20 years in the not-for-profit sector. Before joining =mc ten years ago, she created and...