Sheriff, Diplomat, Investigator: Which Style are You? (Trick Question)

Sheriff, Diplomat, Investigator


By Josh Williams, Ph.D.

Leaders with effective communication skills are better able to constructively express their vision, relate to employees, and achieve their own work goals compared to leaders with poor communication skills (Poertner & Miller, 1996). This directly impacts employees’ attitudes and behaviors for safety.

Unfortunately, communication with employees is sometimes strained, confrontational, or non-existent. Some interpersonal communication problems may be caused by incompatible communication styles between people. The following classification model may be useful (and fun) for understanding your communication style. This includes the sheriff, diplomat, and investigator (adapted from Poertner & Miller, 1996). A person’s communication style is a mix of all three components although one component (or two) is often most pronounced.
Sheriffs are task oriented. Their strengths include being decisive, direct, practical, and closure-oriented. However, they are often impatient, overly independent, combative, insensitive, and domineering.
Diplomats are supportive and patient. Their strengths include being consistent, easy going, responsive to others, and effective listeners. However, they can also be too passive, indecisive, slow to change, and overly wary of confrontation.
Investigators are analytical and detail oriented. They are generally well prepared, systematic, and accurate. However, they can also be inflexible, overly cautious, insensitive, excessively critical, and may have unrealistic standards.

Quick exercise: Take a few moments and rate yourself from 1 (weak) to 10 (strong) for each of these styles. For example, you may be a “5” for sheriff, “7” for diplomat, and “3” for investigator. Next, answer these questions:

• What was your highest score? Lowest?
• How close together are your numbers? (the closer together the better)
• What are the styles of those you interact with most (including at home)?

Good communicators have incorporated elements from all three components into their own communication style. However, some people overuse one component and underuse others. This leads to an inflexible communication style and an intolerance of different styles in others. For instance, a one dimensional, closure-oriented sheriff may get impatient with the laid-back diplomat instead of acknowledging his/her patience and support. Similarly, diplomats may only notice the overly assertive behavior of sheriffs instead of appreciating their assertiveness and ability to get things done. With that in mind, here are some recommendations for improving your safety communication style:
• Recognize limitations of your dominant communication style.
• Accept the diverse communication styles of others.
• Use different communication styles in different situations. Match the communication style with the context or interpersonal situation.
• Develop a communication style that incorporates the strengths of all three components.

Developing a more effective and holistic communication style will help you interact more effectively with employees for safety. It may even help at home interacting with family.