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How Understanding Your Social Style Can Improve Your Relationships

Group socializing at table

In this article, we explore the Social Style Model™, the characteristics of each social style, and how an understanding of this model can help you not only be more aware of your individual style, but also improve your ability to communicate and manage relationships with others in your professional and personal lives. Ivey Academy Professor Kanina Blanchard offers insights from years of experience in the world of international business and academia.


What is the Social Style Model™?

The TRACOM group is a leader in Social Intelligence that develops research-based learning solutions for professionals to help improve the way individuals think, act, and react. Their Social Style Model and related assessment is designed to help individuals understand their personal way of thinking, acting, and communicating and learn how to accommodate the social preferences of their peers.

While this article focuses specifically on the TRACOM Social Styles Model, it's important to note that there are many different models and assessments that aim to group individuals by their social behaviours and motivators, and many other models can have parallel or similar structures, insights, and conclusions. For example, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Keirsey Temperament Sorter are two of the most well-known social/personality style assessments.

“There are many solid assessments and approaches,” says Ivey Professor Kanina Blanchard. “I find that each offers something unique – a specific lens that can be particularly helpful for different individuals.  What I appreciate about Social Styles and TRACOM’s approach is the focus on adaptability and versatility, which are crucial for all professionals, especially for emerging and current leaders.”


Diving into the Social Style Model™

In this model, there are four dominant social styles: Driving Style, Amiable Style, Expressive Style, and Analytical Style. Each style has a unique way they tend to use their time and predictable behaviours when interacting with others or making decisions.

Social style model shown in grid form


Social Styles emerge in observable behaviors and in the choices individuals make. 

“Learning to be a student of human behavior is incredibly valuable.  It isn’t a perfect science, but considering certain cues using your senses can help you better understand and adapt to others.  From one’s pace to their space, learn to look as a way to guide your engagement.  As you learn more, you can adapt to build valuable relationships,”  explains Blanchard.

Driving Style

The Driving Style is characterized by being decisive, fast-paced, and sometimes controlling. People with this style are perceived by others as action-oriented, direct, forceful, and determined. Extremely goal-oriented, they tend to focus their effort (and the efforts of others) on the objectives they want to get accomplished.

Expressive Style

The Expressive Style is characterized by being enthusiastic and emotional. People with this tend to make their feelings (both negative and positive) known to others and can seem to react impulsively to situations. Individuals with the Expressive Style are often perceived as personable, chatty, and sometimes opinionated.

Amiable Style

People with the Amiable Style openly display their feelings to others. People with this style are often perceived as agreeable, informal, easy-going, and generally seem less demanding than others. They tend to prioritize relationships, and they need to feel personal security in order to perform their work.

Analytical Style

Individuals with an Analytical Style are characterized by their tendency to look hard at the data and sometimes be cautious. People with this style are often perceived as quiet, logical, and sometimes reserved, and they tend to want to make sure they’re correct before making a decision. Individuals with this style may not initiate communications unless they see a specific need to do so.


Since individuals with these social styles all tend to have different needs, strengths, and priorities with their work, it’s easy for clashes to occur, especially for styles that seem opposite to each other. For example, Expressive individuals’ spontaneity can be jarring against an Analyticals’ desire to think through all of the available options before proceeding. Similarly, individuals with an Amiable Style can find those with a Driving Style to be abrasive and too mechanical when they prioritize completing tasks over the feelings of those on their team.

In fact, a great deal of the friction created in relationships, either personal or professional, can be attributed to differences in our Social Styles. When we’re so accustomed to our own approach to projects and relationships, it’s easy for us to get frustrated when someone else can’t seem to approach things the same way.


Start with Self-Awareness

Understanding your personal social style is a great jumping-off point to understanding how you’re motivated and how you like to operate, and also gives you clarity on your strengths and weaknesses when approaching tasks and relationships. For example, an individual with the Amiable Style could acknowledge that their personal feelings and needs might be getting in their way of making a decision in a high-pressure situation. Upon discovering that they have an Analytical Style, an individual could make a conscious effort to speak up in situations without first collecting enough evidence to prove they are right.

When it comes to relationships, understanding this model also can help you understand the actions of those around you. Based on someone’s behavioural patterns, we can often ascertain what their personal Social Style is and how our actions can come across to them as someone who operates very differently than us. For example, by acknowledging that they have a Driving Style, one could consider altering their approach to be more personable when collaborating with someone with an Amiable Style.


Focus on Others

Self-awareness is just the beginning.  With self-awareness, an individual can learn to engage more effectively, have more impact and influence, motivate, and inspire.  Considering sage words spoken by leaders such as Theodore Roosevelt, “people don’t care what you know till they know you care,” learning to adapt and be versatile to the needs of others is a pivotal skill in building connections.

Showing others you care involves shifting from your comfort zone for communication to a modality that really works for the other.  Kanina can speak from experience: “As an Expressive, for example, I have learned over the years to tone down my enthusiasm and desire to ‘talk things out’ with analytical people who tend to prefer information short and sweet – especially in times of stress.  A family joke is that I flow charted both my Hindu and Christian wedding to help my then fiancé and a broad array of our family and friends that love processes and checklist.”


Applying the Model to Your Daily Life

Tools like TRACOM’s Social Styles model give us a helpful framework to engage in difficult conversations that would normally cause us to feel fear and frustration. When we approach our relationships with an understanding of our differences and intentionally try to bridge that gap, we can communicate more productively and positively with one another.

Think about a relationship that you’ve been having trouble with in your life—personal or professional. What about your interactions is creating tension or making you frustrated? Or in what situations do you find yourself experiencing unproductive conflict with this individual? Think about what their Social Style might be and how the way that Style might conflict with your own. Think about how an individual with that Social Style tends to approach their relationships and/or tasks—how does that Style tend to communicate?

As a challenge, plan to tackle a difficult conversation with a person you want to improve your relationship with, keeping your respective Social Styles in mind. Consider how you can adjust your personal approach to that discussion, and give it a try.