Mastering Workplace Communication: Adapting Style for Success

Ever wonder why you’re able to communicate seamlessly with some of your colleagues but struggle with others?

Perhaps you’ve wondered why one of your colleagues likes to communicate through Teams and another prefers face-to-face meetings. These preferences are most likely due to a difference in communication styles and could also help explain the different interactions you have in your broader life.

So, what are communication styles?

People receive information differently. And for an interaction to be successful, we need to be able to effectively communicate and connect with others. Understanding the way people communicate as well as self-reflecting on our preferences can aid in forming connections, leading to successful communication.  

The theory behind this is wide. You’ve more than likely encountered tools that categorise people into different traits (for example, the Myers-Briggs personality test and DiSC profile). For this article, we’ve focused on a four-quadrant communication styles model.

This model1 consists of the following quadrants of styles characterised by their key traits:

The quadrants are a simplified way of categorising people’s communication styles. We generally exhibit elements from all four quadrants, with one or two dominant styles.

Communication styles can also change throughout your career. For instance, actuaries tend to be more ‘analytical’ during the early stages of their careers. When transitioning to more people-focused roles, actuaries can move towards an ‘amiable’ style. Recent surveys show that new actuarial managers tend to have ‘amiable’ or ‘analytical’ communication styles, with less than 15% having ‘expressive’ or ‘driver’ communication styles.2

A new actuarial manager…

Let’s consider a typical new actuarial manager called Amy. Amy works at a life insurance company in their Group Valuation team. Like other actuaries at this point in their careers, Amy has an ‘analytical’ communication style, having spent the last few years of her career diligently studying for her Fellowship exams and honing her technical skills.

Amy’s style means she is thorough and extremely detailed in the various tasks that she undertakes. She’s well prepared for meetings with detailed presentation packs full of charts and tables to explain the results to her stakeholders.

For lower priority tasks, Amy has a preference to send out emails of her findings and results she completes rather than through meetings or phone calls. In managing her direct reports, Amy has a methodical approach with daily huddles on progress updates on pieces of work.

Amy’s been comfortable in her role for the last few years but with the transition to the managerial role, she has faced some new hurdles.

Interaction with a ‘driver’ communication style

Amy is managing a project, reporting to the Appointed Actuary (AA), who’s very busy and is responsible for several projects running concurrently with Amy’s project.

Amy has identified a minor error in her work and sent a very detailed and lengthy email to the AA describing the issue. She briefly notes the impact and path to resolution; however, this is hidden towards the end of the email.

The working spreadsheet is also attached which, while intuitive to Amy, can be complicated to someone new.

Due to the AA’s busy schedule, they generally gravitate towards the ‘driver’ communication style and were confused by the email. Several clarifying emails were sent before the AA was satisfied by the result.

What could Amy have done better?

Amy could have tailored the messaging of her email to better accommodate the AA’s communication needs such as:

  • Instead of a detailed email, provide a summary that briefly outlines the issue, financial impact and the path to resolution.
  • Consider the materiality: if the level of detail provided was required, the email could be structured with different sections of importance bolded.
  • Exclude the spreadsheet attachment: in scenarios like this, sometimes less is more! Rather, provide the option of being able to share further details upon request.


Interaction with an ‘expressive’ communication style

Contemplating the remaining issues of the project, Amy bumps into the CEO in the elevator. Amy hasn’t had any previous interaction with the CEO, though she knows that they are a charismatic leader with a grand vision for the direction of the company. They greeted Amy with enthusiasm and asked what she was working on. Amy gave a quick rundown of the project and to her surprise, they were also aware of it.

The CEO spoke proudly of the value this project could bring and their plans to expand it to an even greater scale and scope. Considering all the work involved, Amy was alarmed by this proposal. She tried to explain current challenges around resourcing and timing constraints but they continued to smile and thanked Amy for her and the team’s contribution and re-expressed their optimism around what this could bring to the company.

The elevator stopped, they waved and strode out, leaving Amy pondering if they even heard what she was saying.

What could Amy have done better?

Amy could have better handled this conversation by:

  • Matching the tone and enthusiasm of the CEO by discussing the greater impact of the project and the benefits that it would bring.
  • Utilise the CEO’s awareness of the project. Ask about the elements of the project of interest, and focus on these areas.
  • Collaborate on solutions for any resourcing and time constraints, to find an alternative of the way forward.


Going forward

Amy’s story is not unfamiliar to many of us in the workplace. Communicating effectively and having your voice heard are challenges we face every day. Tailoring your interactions with other people’s communication style can help get your point across, and greatly enhance the overall communication experience.

This means being flexible with your own communication style and tailoring it depending on the situation and other people involved. Communication is an art; mastering it can help you build mutual respect and long-term relationships.


1 Adapted from Guardian Actuarial Leadership Program presentation slides Module 2: Managing people and teams (part 1).

2 Guardian Actuarial Leadership Program surveys 2021 – 2024.

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