Identifying SOCIAL STYLE® in Email Communication

Study Shows that SOCIAL STYLE Can be Determined Through Email

by Fairlie Firari PhD, Managing Director,

Most email miscommunications result from misunderstanding the tone or meaning of the message. Our biological communication apparatuses as well as our brains were optimized for face-to-face communication, but emails are void of familiar social cues such as eye contact, tone of voice, and facial expression. The recipient can’t hear the voice within these written exchanges; and recipients only correctly interpret emails about 50% of the time (Kruger & Epley, 2005). This often leads to misunderstandings, ill will, and the disintegration of trust and connectedness – all of which, if not managed or mitigated, negatively impact relationships and ultimately erode productivity.

How email-styling helps managers & sales professionals.
For my doctoral dissertation I recently used the TRACOM SOCIAL STYLE ModelTM as a template and guide for determining if Style could be determined through email. For this study, the content of over 300 business emails submitted by 32 managers from a variety of organizations were analyzed. Using the SOCIAL STYLE Profile for validation, my research was able to accurately determine the Styles of the majority of participants. Importantly, this was not based on my or anyone else’s judgment; instead people’s Styles were determined entirely by a computer program designed to analyze Style attributes.

Recognizing an employee’s email style and writing or adapting emails accordingly benefits managers in a number of ways, including: eliciting more responses and fewer reactions; showing respect to those of differing Styles, for example “asking” rather than “telling” those who are Ask Assertive, or focusing on business topics rather than personal topics with those who are Control Responsive; communicating interpersonally, using new email social cues that increase the comfort level of the employees; and helping develop and strengthen professional relationships with off-site staff.

Visualizing the sender and recipient
One way to improve email communications is to first think about the person receiving or sending the correspondence. Receivers – try to visualize the sender, put on their persona and hear their voice. Senders – set the stage with positive or neutral-sounding subject lines and try not to put the person immediately on the defensive.

Identifying the predominant email Styles
The key for managers is to recognize each employees’ Style and then craft emails at appropriate assertive and emotive levels. Below are brief descriptions of each SOCIAL STYLE and corresponding email communication styles.

  • Driving Style employees often use short or no greetings or closings and get right to the point. They rarely mix professional with personal conversation but if they do, the personal comments like “How are you and the kids?” are at the end of the email. They “tell” more than “ask.”
  • Expressive Style employees will often present several topics in one email. They like to brainstorm, often write emails that are disorganized and verbose, use greetings and closings, and like emoticons and exclamation marks. They also “tell” more than “ask.”
  • Analytical Style employees are apt to be slow in responding, often ask for more information or clarity, usually use short or no greetings or closings other than names, prefer to speak of specifics rather than to brainstorm, and will present information in a well-organized format. They “ask” more than “tell.”
  • Amiable Style employees use greetings and closings, will talk as much about you as themselves, are laid back and easy to direct and redirect, will usually “go-with-the-flow” putting other’s needs ahead of their own, and will ask questions in response to questions. For example: “Where do you want to meet?” They too “ask” more than “tell.”

With practice, identifying and adapting to an employee’s Style can become routine. Here are some clues:

  • Driving: craft emails that start with the bottom line and do not refer much to people and feelings, but rather to impact, results and consequences.
  • Expressive: write emails with energizing words that appeal to and challenge these out-of-the-box thinkers. Use a balance of directness and friendliness.
  • Analytical: they generally require lots of facts and figures. So leave the bottom line for the end of the email and be very precise with word choices.
  • Amiable: write emails that are friendly. Make suggestions rather than issuing directives and show your appreciation.

When desiring to communicate most effectively, it’s not as important to correctly identify the Styles of others as it is to have the knowledge that others have different Styles to which you can learn to adapt your communications.

Email style test
Here’s the same subject line written in the 4 different styles identified above – can you tell which style is being addressed in each different line?

a. Do you have time to update the State account report today?
b. Tell me what’s new or exciting to report on the State account.
c. May I get the current State account report metrics with backup data along by
COB today?
d. Send update on State account today.

Dr. Fairlie Firari is a New York-based performance consultant.

Email style test answers: a. Amiable b. Expressive c. Analytical d. Driving

1. Email in style: Improving corporate email communications with employees at remote locations: A quantitative study. Firari, F. October 2007.