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Bar News - October 15, 2014

Alternative Dispute Resolution: Seven Communication Styles and How They Affect Mediation


In mediation or everyday conversation, do you ever find yourself getting frustrated with someone else’s communication abilities (or lack thereof)? You are speaking clearly, but the other person, is giving you a blank stare, asking you to repeat yourself, talking on and on, misinterpreting what you said, getting overly emotional, or just not talking.

It could be that you have different communication styles.

In his book, “Do You Know What I Mean?,” Robert Keteyian describes seven different communication styles: intrapersonal, interpersonal, auditory, kinesthetic, visual-spatial, logical, and linguistic. He theorizes that each of us uses some combination of these seven styles to communicate. Most people are strong in some and weaker in others.

An intrapersonal communicator is the stereotypical introvert. An internal processor who thinks things through before speaking, this person plans, sets goals, and functions well independently.

An interpersonal person, on the contrary, is the stereotypical extravert. This person is an external processor and needs to talk things out. He prefers to work with others on projects and goals and is intrigued by the emotional dynamics in interpersonal relationships.

Most lawyers are likely linguistic. Linguistic people like to use words, pay careful attention to their meanings, and often refer to something they’ve read when talking with others. Writing is an effective form of communication for linguistic people, who enjoy explaining, teaching, or persuading others.

Lawyers also tend to be very logical. We reason things through, step-by-step, and are intrigued by analyzing, problem-solving, looking for patterns, relationships, and connections.

If someone is a visual-spatial communicator, he or she typically sees clear, visual images when talking, listening or remembering. These people can seem spacey to others when trying to explain something, and they tend to use a lot of metaphors.

Kinesthetic communicators often fiddle with something or gesture when communicating. They connect to others through feelings and easily absorb the energy of others. Physical movement helps them process information.

Auditory communicators pay close attention to tone of voice and often speak out loud to themselves as a tool for remembering or processing information. They enjoy music and tend to hum, sing, or whistle when alone.

How can you best communicate with your client? By speaking your client’s language.

If your client is interpersonal, make sure you book enough time to speak with this person before mediation. It is not enough to send a letter. This person needs to speak with you to process how to proceed. You should anticipate that this person will also want to talk during the mediation and discuss it afterwards.

On the other hand, if your client is intrapersonal, starting with a letter could work. Once your client has processed the information, he or she will give you a detailed response. In mediation, you may want to call a break to check in privately with your client from time to time.

If you are a logical person, and many attorneys are, you may get very frustrated with clients who want to focus on the emotions. In mediation, there are likely to be some emotions that come up, so be prepared to have your sequential processing derailed from time to time.

If your client is visual-spatial, then a chart, graph, or calendar will be much easier for your client to absorb than words on a page. What may feel like a tangent to you could be a crucial piece of information for your client, because this client sees things as interrelated. You may need to slow things down and make sure that your client understands the elements of the agreement and that you understand the needs of your client.

If your client is kinesthetic, check in about how best to address his or her need for movement. Fidgeting may be enough. Others will need to stand, pace, or even go for a walk. You may want to consider meeting with your client while walking to help your client to process the information. This client also may want to start with a temporary agreement to see how it feels.

It can be helpful to think about these different communication styles when working with opposing counsel as well.

An intrapersonal attorney will likely give you a written proposal in advance and will want yours in advance as well, so that she has time to process it first alone, and then with her client. An interpersonal attorney may show up at mediation without any written proposal, anticipating that you can craft the agreement together by discussion.

A logical attorney will want a clear definition of problems and goals, without much focus on emotions. There will be an emphasis on things happening in sequence, with a logical progression.

A visual-spatial attorney will talk about the big picture, but may have difficulty with the details. You may reach agreement in theory, but have a tough time nailing down the exact details.

A linguistic attorney can get so caught up in defining the words and concepts that the agreement dissolves over a minute issue. You will have to focus on the veins on the leaves of the tree before you can get to the forest with this person.

If opposing counsel is kinesthetic, and you want to reach agreement, you might want to join that person in doing a little pacing in the hall. It may also help you to stand, rather than sit, when discussing things.

Think about your own communication style and how it affects you. Now, think about your clients and opposing counsel. What stylistic changes can you make to improve your chances of a successful mediation?

Meredith Richardson
Meredith Richardson is a mediator, conflict coach and trainer in New Hampshire and Maine. She writes a weekly blog about conflict at

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