Situational Communication

Different Strokes For Different Folks

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Situational Communication -
Different Strokes For Different Folks. Graphic

This is the last article in a short series on communication, persuasion and change and we are focusing on situational communication - which is to do with how you adapt your style of communication according to certain key situational factors.

Goal Oriented Communication

People communicate for many different reasons but in this article we are looking specifically at situations where you have a clear objective that you want to influence and persuade the other person:

  1. To accept and agree with, and
  2. To take action to support you in the achievement of that objective.

Situational Communication

The Task-Relational Spectrum

Effective communicators change their styles to fit the situation and move appropriately along the spectrum of a task versus a relational orientation.

[1] The task end of the spectrum is directive 

It is where you deliver short, focused instructions and tell the other person exactly what you want them to do in as few words as possible.

This can include telling the other person what you want them to do, how you want them to do it, when you want them to do it, where you want them to do it.

A task focused communication is a one-way communication.

It will typically be used in one of two contexts:

  1. An emergency or a situation of extreme urgency where is an immediate physical, psychological or financial danger.
  2. Where you are in a role of oversight with the other person and you are mentoring, teaching or instructing them.

[2] The relational end of the spectrum is about affiliation

It is about preserving and deepening a relationship with the other person.

Relationship oriented communication is where the communicator engages in a two-way communication that includes listening, facilitating, and supportive behaviours.

It will typically be used when your intention is to be collaborative, participative and collegiate.

Most of your communications will likely be somewhere in the middle area of this spectrum.

The key point here is having the flexibility and insight to be able to read the situation and thus be able to adopt the most appropriate style of communication on the task-relational spectrum.

This is not about your tone of voice, the type of language  you use, the style of your delivery or your body language - important as these are.

    Situational communication is about taking account of 3 often ignored factors about the other person:

    1. Legacy - factoring in their past experiences
    2. Readiness - understanding their current stage of development and competence
    3. Behaviour - observing their behaviour and knowing how to change it in a way that preserves your relationship

How to engage with people

As it says in the old African saying in the header to this article:

"If you want to go far, go together."

Bringing people with you is a process not a one-time event.

Here are 3 tips for getting people to care about what you find important:

  1. Find out what is important to the other person
  2. Support others in achieving their goals
  3. Share what you care about.

    You are a situational communicator when you recognise that effective communication is not an event but a process.

    This process is about understanding the other person's past experience, their competence and the way they behave in relation to whatever it is you want to accomplish, and then adopting the appropriate type of communication.

Situational Communication - Understanding The Legacy

Situational Communication - Understanding The Legacy. Graphic

Everyone has a background of prior experiences in many areas of life.

These past experiences will most likely have a significant influence on how someone responds to your attempts to influence and persuade them to accept your suggestions and proposals and to take action to support you in the achievement of your objectives.

    As individuals, and organisations, we all carry scar tissue from past bad experiences and we are energised and motivated  by past good experiences.

    In the business world we refer to this as "change readiness".

    If you understand the other person's past experience, of whatever it is that you are wanting to persuade them to do, you will tailor your communication to take account of this.

So make sure you understand the other person's past experiences of this type of holiday before you try to engage their suppport.


You are pitching the idea to someone you know socially the prospect of their family and yours [plus children and dogs]  sharing an Airbnb property that is large enough for 2 families and has enclosed land attached suitable for dogs to run around safely and unsupervised.

Because you are sensitive to the importance of establishing the other person's change readiness, over the course of several conversations you find out that they had a holiday like this 2 years ago with another family and it didn't work out.

Alternatively, you find out that they have done it before and it was a big success.

Clearly you will tailor your approach to address and take acount of these prior experiences.

Situational Communication - Understanding Their Readiness

Situational Communication - Understanding Their Readiness. Graphic

In addition to understanding someone's past experience and change readiness, it is important to understand their current stage of development and competence. In summary we refer to this as maturity.

    Readiness is the preparedness and ability of a person to take responsibility for directing his or her own behaviour in a specific field of knowledge and activity.

The level of maturity displayed will depend on the nature of the specific task, function, or objective for which you are seeking to gain their engagement and support.

The higher the level of maturity the greater will be your emphasis on a relational style of communication.

Conversely, a lower level of maturity will require you to exercise a task oriented style of communiciation.

    Situational communication styles matched to the other persons level of readiness can be seen in 4 stages along the task-relational spectrum:

    1. Directing - you provide clear instructions and specific direction as the other person is not competent or confident.
    2. Coaching - you encourage two-way communication and help build the other person's confidence and motivation.
    3. Supporting - you and the other person work together and they no longer need or expect you to be directional.
    4. Delegating - you use this style when you know that the other person is confident and competent and committed to take full responsibility for their actions.


Whenever I have been on holiday with my grown up daughter I am very happy to delegate the planning and arrangement to her because I know that she has travelled extensively and taken holidays all over the world.

I was recently trying to encourage a young friend to take a gap year before university and to travel overseas. She liked the idea but was nervous about it, so I adopted a more prescriptive approach and tried to coach her through the process and a range of options she could consider.

If I had reversed my approach to each person the results would have been a disaster!

Situational Communication - How To Give Negative Feedback

Situational Communication - How To Give Negative Feedback.Graphic

In your personal life there will be situations when it is necessary to give some feedback on their behaviour.

This can be hard enough in the workplace where you are responsible for other people and how they perform. But out of the workplace it can be very difficult and can lead to serious friction in relatiomships.

Many years ago I learned simple simple but powerful tips from Ken Blanchard in his seminal book The One Minute Manager

  1. Give people clear simple goals. Be precise about what you are asking the other person to do, and when you want it done by.
  2. Give frequent and regular positive feedback. Keep it short and focused. As Blanchard put it: "Catch them doing something right- and praise them".
  3. If you have to give negative feedback, keep in short and specific. You earn the right to do this by doing so in a context of frequent and regular positive feedback.

    The absolute key to giving negative feedback is to do so constructively and without destroying the other person's self esteem.

    Never lose sight of the fact that you are addressing the behaviour and not the person.

As the old preachers used to say: "Love the sinner not the sin"!


When I was a young manager in a large corporation, many years ago, I had a number of staff working for me on business developement.

There was one girl on my team who was quite well intentioned but chaotic and she failed to deliver to me some important documents on time for a business meeting.

Having recently read and been impressed with, the "One Minute Manager" and so decided to put it into practice.

I took her to one side and quickly explained that her behaviour was unacceptable, and I told her why.

She looked extremely upset and became tearful. But as I then proceeded to praise her as a person and a good intentions, her face changed and she broke into a smile.

I will never forget that first experience of practising these tips.

Free Download:

Situational Communication - Summary Notes

Further Reading:


[1] The Art Of Persuasion The One Fundamental Principle - Create A Win-Win

[2] The Art Of Persuasion Advanced Communication Skills - Gaining BuyIn

[3] The Art Of Persuasion Planning For Success - Here's How To Do It!


Getting From A to B Is Not Aways A Straight Line

Group Culture - The Invisible Software That Rules Your Life

Change Questions To Change Your Outcomes


How To Influence without Authority - 6 Key Tips

Situational Communication - Different Strokes For Different Folks

Return from "Change Questions" to: Communication Persuasion and Change

Or to: Walking The Talk

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