Communicating Under Pressure: How to Leverage and Flex the 4 Communication Styles

This past week, I led two sessions with the management team and the ushers at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center on how to leverage and flex the 4 communication styles for world-class customer service.

It was a thrill for me to be at the theater because I have been a balletomane since high school. In fact, when I was 17, I applied to be an usher at the New York State Theater just so that I could go to the ballet every night! I didn’t get the job but my enthusiasm for the ballet never died.

Working in the theater as an usher entails seating a large number of patrons quickly and efficiently and in such a way that patrons enjoy the experience of being in the theater.  When a patron complains about a seat mix-up or long lines at intermission, ushers need to be flexible with changing circumstances and follow established protocols to deal with illness or other emergencies that may arise. Thus, time is short and the stakes are high!

The goal of my sessions was to help the ushers master the skill of how work with the4 communication styles under pressure in order to provide patrons with the world-class experience that they expect at the theater.    Here’s what we can learn from these ushers on how to leverage and flex the 4 communication styles. 

What are the 4 Communication Styles?

Think about the last time you were at a large gathering and had the opportunity to observe a lot of people in action:

  • Who dominated the conversation and put a premium on being right and convincing others to go along with his solutions?
  • How about the serious person who rather cautiously talked in precise detail?
  • And how about the person who was bursting with enthusiasm and could not wait to tell you her great idea?
  • Who walked into the room and began by introducing herself to others, spending time with each person to establish a connection?

These are examples of 4 different communication styles:

  • Driver:  the person who takes charge and wants solutions;
  • Analytical: the person who values accuracy and details;
  • Expressive:  the person who thrives on fun and excitement and loves to be around other people; and
  • Amiable: the person who is warm and friendly and wants everyone to get along and be happy.

Our ushers come into account with the four styles as follows:

  • The Driver Patron who barges in and goes right to his seat of 30 years;
  • The Expressive Patron who can’t wait to tell you about her favorite dancer and with whom you would love to talk but it’s 7:27pm and the show is about to begin;
  • The Analytical Patron who wants you to tell her EXACTLY what row her seat is in and how far down the aisle she has to walk.
  • The Amiable Patron who calmly and warmly says “thank you” when you hand her a program.

The four styles are tendencies, not absolute rules. Most people have characteristics in more than one area. However, we each have a default style or styles—the style(s) we go to first.  Knowing how to use these styles can help you to become a better communicator. Indeed, strong communicators learn how to use their default style to the best advantage. They also can flex or adapt to each situation in order to insure that they are using the right style with the right person under the right circumstances.

Know and Understand Your Default Style

The ushers themselves told us what they were like on the job:

Drivers: Drivers wanted everyone to get to their seats with a minimum of fuss so that the show can start on time. They are great at getting the job done and at solving problems.

Drivers can come on strong so they need to be sensitive to patrons who love to talk and  patient with people who need a lot of detail.

Analyticals: Analyticals like to have a specific plan for the evening and and specific instructions.

They ask precise questions and want to know the details about a problem.  They also tend to get frustrated if people give you vague answers.

Since analyticals need specific information before coming to a decision, their questons may come across as cold or even critical.  Therefore, they need to watch their tone of voice, ask questions kindly and be friendly with the patrons.

Expressives: Expressive ushers love to engage with the patrons with an outgoing, sociable manner They love the ballet and want to share in the magic of the event. They care about the big picture.   If a problem arises, they may lose patience with a problem that requires focusing on details.

They need to watch out for patrons who just want to be shown to their seats!

Amiables: Amiable ushers like to listen to patrons and intuit what the patrons need to build rapport and make sure that everyone is happy. They are terrific listeners and are easy to talk to. They sense how others are feeling and tend to be warm and friendly. They get engaged when they feel valued and they want everyone to be happy.

Amiables don’t like conflict so if a patron complains, this can feel hard.  And when a patron does complain, their first instinct is to do whatever it takes to get them to be liked.

Each style can be used effectively depending on the context.

  • Drivers are great when there is a problem to solve. In a crisis, they want to solve the problem quickly and don’t want to get bogged down in details.
  • Analytical ushers are terrific at making sure that everything is organized and goes according to plan.
  • Expressives are wonderful at engaging with the patrons and conveying the excitement of being at the ballet.
  • Amiables listen carefully and know just what to say to make a patron feel at home.

How to Spot The Communication Styles

Once you know about the four styles, you can spot the style in others. This will help you to adapt your default style to make sure that other people hear and understand your message.

These ushers work in the fast-paced environment of a world-class theater. They need to read their patrons and situations very quickly which entails a lot of emotional intelligence. Indeed, the ability to leverage communication styles effectively is a powerful emotional intelligence skill. 

Here is how to spot the different styles:

Driver Patrons:

Driver patrons can be bossy.  In their communications, they are short and to the point. They don’t want chit chat. Just get them to their seats.

Analytical: The analytical patron wants precision. If a problem arises, they will ask a lot of questions before they are satisfied. You can spot an analytical by a somewhat skeptical tone of voice until their problem is resolve.

Expressive: Sociable!  Loves to talk and talks fast! Very excited! Passionate! Loses focus!

Amiable: Amiable patrons tend to speak slowly. They are warm and friendly.  They won’t raise a fuss but needs assurance if a problem arises.

How to Flex TheCommunication Styles

Once you spot a style, the real trick is to be able to adapt your style, in a skill known as “flexing to other communication styles”.

By flexing, you can deliver your message in such a way that others will hear you.  That will go a long way to creating rapport, getting buy-in from the listener and contributing to a successful outcome.

Our ushers were very adept at using all 4 styles as needed.  Our session showed them a few more ways to read and flex to the different styles.

For example, how you interact with patrons largely depends on how much time there is.

When patrons arrive early, many of our ushers enjoy speaking about the evening’s performance and sharing their love of the ballet.  As curtain time approaches, they are focused on getting everyone seated and have less time to talk, but they strive to be polite, solicitous and smiling in order to make patrons feel welcome.

In an emergency—such as if a patron becomes ill during a performance—the goal is to communicate the details of the problem quickly and efficiently in order to solve the problem with a minimum of disruption.

Driver ushers had no problem switching to crisis mode because they want a solution!

Analytical ushers follow the protocols for dealing with emergencies because they like a plan and are most comfortable executing on the plan.

And Expressive and Amiable ushers use their rapport-building skills to intuit the needs of the patron, while following the emergency protocols.

Here are some more tips on Flexing:

Drivers: Check the need for a quick solution and allow for an exchange of ideas

Analyticals: Check the need for accuracy so that you don’t shut other people down

Expressives: Focus on 1 or 2 ideas that will help to solve a problem, rather than getting flustered or putting out too many ideas.

Amiables: Share your ideas instead of focusing only on how others are feeling.

Bottom Line:

So let’s take a page from these world-class ushers:

  • Know and understand your default style: both when it is helpful and when it might hold you back;
  • Learn to spot styles in the people with whom you are dealing; and
  • Flex to the 4 communication styles by reading other people and understanding your context so that you are building rapport and providing what is needed for the best possible outcome.

See you soon at the New York City Ballet!